Blame It On Ourselves

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India came back from the Rio Olympics sadder although not necessarily wiser. The fact is the malaise that afflicts Indian sports bodies is well known but little is being done to free it from the grip of politicians and crooks.BY GEETA SINGH

With a population of over a billion and many sports enjoying cult following, it’s strange how India’s performance at the Rio Olympics was perhaps the worst ever. We were represented by biggest ever contingent of 120 sportspersons but bagged only two medals (PV Sindhu silver, Sakshi Malik bronze) compared to the 2012 London Olympics when India bagged six medals.

Smaller and lesser-known countries like Azerbaijan fielded 55 athletes winning 18 medals including a gold. Iran sent 63 athletes winning eight medals including 3 gold; Thailand with 55 athletes won six medals including two golds. There were at least 10 such nations including Fiji, Vietnam and Singapore that won their first gold medal in Rio.

The future is clear: We need to increase sports budgets and free sports bodies from the clutches of politicians, mediocre coaches and babus. Only then can we nurture Olympic-size ambitions.

So where lies the problem? Is it due to lack of talent for if one looks back, in 116 years of India’s Olympic journey, we have won just 28 medals in all with nine golds, eight in hockey and one in shooting (Abhinav Bindra 2008 Beijing Olympics).

“Each medal costs the UK £5.5 million. That’s the sort of investment needed. Let’s not expect much until we put systems in place at home,” tweeted Bindra, who missed the bronze medal by the proverbial whisker.

The problem lies in our sports administration, in the corruption and general malaise that afflicts spots bodies. Marathon runner OP Jaisha collapsed due to non-availability of water and energy drinks. She was not provided water and energy drinks by Indian officials despite provision being made for them at designated points. There was this story about a gentleman named Pawandeep Singh, a radiologist by training, who went to Rio as India’s chief medical officer because he was the son of Sardar Tarlochan Singh, vice-president of the Indian Olympic Association. He had nothing to do with sports and was prescribing Combiflam to athletes suffering from various injuries.

Let’s look at the larger issue of how much India has spent on sports in the last two decades. The budget of the Youth & Sports Ministry is about Rs 900 crore. Of this, over two-thirds go into organising local-level tournaments, awarding prizes and upgrading stadiums. Only around Rs 300 crore is actually available for improving the level of sport.

The report of the standing committee on sports says India spends three paisa per person per day on sports. Comparatively, the UK spends 50 paise, little Jamaica about 19 paise and the US Rs.22.

India came back from the Rio Olympics sadder although not necessarily wiser. The fact is the malaise that afflicts Indian sports bodies is well known but little is being done to free it from the grip of politicians and crooks

The panel also found that some stadiums like Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi were “death traps for athletes”. It found the running track worn out and “potholes several feet deep”. The Sports Ministry itself acknowledged that low investment is a major reason for India’s poor performance in sports. Although immediately after the London Olympics games, the then UPA government had announced an ambitious plan for 25 medals at the 2020 Japan Olympics, progress has been slow.

Corporate groups have been reluctant to come forward with funding because of the lack of transparency in the functioning of sports bodies. Billionaire Lakshmi Mittal had started a programme to fund sports training but most sports bodies are quite unlike the professionally run BCCI. The Narsingh Yadav-Sushil Kumar tussle and the doping saga that followed cost Indian wrestling internationally. The Wrestling Federation may have congratulated itself in standing by one wrestler, but the end result was ignominy. Dirty politics, inefficient coaching and a federation’s refusal to conduct trials in a professionally credible manner, cost our wrestlers dear.

The Gymnastics Federation of India is in a shambles because of a power struggle between the administrators. Boxing is one of India’s fastest growing sports in the last decade, but infighting among officials has frittered away India’s chances. Boxer Vikas Krishnan, a rare southpaw who represented India in the 75 kg category in Rio came away disappointed, losing to another southpaw. Vikas says he trained well but as he belongs to the tiny community of southpaw boxers in India, he never got an opportunity to train with somebody better than him. The vicious infighting in the Boxing Federation meant lack of opportunity for him as they “did not have the camp for last two years” and he could go to the US only for “fitness training”.

Recall India’s participation in the Sochi Winter Olympics our athletes competed under the Olympic flag since the Olympic association had been suspended due to its failure to comply with the Olympic charter. The IOC had pointed out that Indian Olympic Association primarily comprised politicians, which was against the rules. An unexpected assessment about India’s poor Olympic performance came from China, which blamed the lack of a ‘sports culture’. The gap between rich and poor made it hard for the poor to invest in training and equipment. Indian families want their children to become doctors or accountants. Sports talent is not encouraged, preventing young people from taking part in high-level competitions.

The Sports Ministry itself acknowledged that low investment is a major reason for India’s poor performance in sports. Although immediately after the London Olympics, the then UPA government had announced an ambitious plan for 25 medals at the 2020 Japan Olympics, progress has been slow

Chinapolitics.org, a website ran a well researched story from rural areas of Karnataka and Rajasthan. Villagers were asked what in their view, was the best job. In Rajasthan, the answers ranged from software engineer, to architect, doctor, lawyer and in some villages teachers or soldiers. There was not much difference in Karnataka.

The lack of focus on sports stems from poor sports infrastructure, which again is tied to economic underdevelopment and the overall standard of living. In the US, it is possible for somebody to try his or her skills at sports, and even if they fail it’s not the end of their story. They can still manage a decent quality of life. But attempting something similar in India is fraught with risk, he or she may have to struggle for the rest of their lives as they lack educational qualifications.

Summary

  • India’s dismal Olympics performance reflects the corruption and general malaise that afflicts our sports bodies
  • A sporting career entails risks, failure to do well could setback one’s life perhaps forever
  • Government spending on sports is low, infrastructure is poor and there’s only that much money to go around
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