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Who blocks India’s medal hunt at Olympics?

  By Vijay Darda | 22-08-2016

Going by our previous performances, we should be glad that our athletes have performed well in Rio Olympic 2016. Even when some of them have not won medals, they have delivered a performance that is quite creditable even in the international arena. In terms of medal, the silver for shuttler P V Sindhu is a truly golden achievement. When she played the final against the Spaniard Caroline Marin, for the women’s singles title, she had the nation hooked on to her fortunes. The 21 year old lanky girl from Hyderabad is sure to go places. She is ranked number ten in the world, and on her way to the finals conquered many opponents ranked higher to her. She showed tenacious fighting spirit, and high class sportsmanship all throughout the Rio games.

We are all celebrating Sindhu’s success. There are cash awards galore, and someone is also offering a BMW car to her. But let us ask ourselves a simple question. How many of us had watched her play the game before the Rio Olympics caught our attention? She was not a nobody before that as she had twice won the bronze medal at the 2013 and 2014 World Championships. This is akin to being the bronze medallist in a World cup, and yet she was ignored. The message is very simple, our athletes deserve attention, respect and support even before they have landed us Olympic medals. May be then our medals tally would not be that dismal.

Also take the case of Dipa Karmakar, the lone gymnast from India who finished fourth and literally won everyone’s hearts. Now here is a determined girl from Tripura who performs a routine Produnova vault that Olympic champion Simone Biles refuses to perform as she feels that it could even lead to death. So, our little girl from Tripura power packs a talent that defies death, but how do our sports officials treat her? They did not allow her physiotherapist to travel with her to Rio, and it was only when she reached the finals that the physio was flown in. That her training facilities are quite primitive when compared to other countries that are the power houses of gymnastics goes without saying. Besides, no cash rewards have been showered on for finishing fourth. So, even as she pledges to win a gold at the 2020 Olympics in all probability her struggle would continue against all odds.

We are doing well in sports like boxing, archery, wrestling, rowing, shooting, and gymnastics to name a few and have decent hopes of winning medals in the next Olympics games. But then our medal hopes have to be identified and nurtured properly. It is not enough for the nation to go ecstatic over girl power only when a Sakshi Malik or a P V Sindhu wins an Olympic medal.

But how do we go about doing this task of nurturing the sports talent. Two examples from Rio Olympics tell the tale. India’s chief medical officer at the Olympics, is a radiologist called Pawandeep Tony Singh. He knows nothing about sports medicine. There have been media reports that the only solution which he offers to athletes when they approach with some pain or niggle is the over the counter drug Combiflam. Obviously, he does not need to be good medicine professional to get this job, as he is the son of Tarlochan Singh, who is the Vice President of the Indian Olympic Association! This kind of nepotism is the bane of Indian sports. Another malady is reflected in the way that the IOA  functions. It has taken a huge delegation of state Olympic office bearers to get votes in future. They were all flown business class, while the athletes were flown in economy. Despite accreditation being limited, it is being given to officials rather than the support staff of the athletes. So, this combination of nepotism and a system for sharing of the spoils hardly makes for the kind of excellence that is required to win medals at the highest level in international contests like the Olympics.

Our sports minister Vijay Goel, otherwise a sensible man stirred a lot of ‘selfie controversies’, going in to areas from which he was barred to take photos with the athletes. The IOC had to warn him, and there was a need for the chef de mission to issue clarifications. Then there was also the story about the Haryana sports minister Anil Wij and co. enjoying themselves on the beach when they had gone for the ostensible purpose of cheering their athletes. Such a waste of money brings us to a critical question. Do we really need a sports ministry? After all the United States of America that heads the medal tally does not have a sports minister, and since we are into loving all things American, why not emulate them in this respect and abolish the sports ministry alltogether? After all the Goels and the Wijs are simply making merry at our expense without making any contribution to our medals hunt.

In so far as the IOA and the other sports bodies are concerned, their officials are merely concerned with perpetuating their rule, and the interest of the games and the players come secondary to them. We have to change this, and unless this is done our quest for medals at Olympics would always continue to remain a hurdle race. The question of resources and the quality of training is of course very critical in the medal hunt.

It would have to be accepted that we have mismanaged the entire sports effort and we need to overhaul the system to make it player friendly. We also have to realise that there are many medal winners within us and that they have to be identified and groomed very well. The private sector needs to come forward and share this responsibility. It should work in conjunction with the sports association, and there is no reason, as to why it would not succeed given the fact that it has the managerial resources and the discipline to succeed in such ventures. It would be a good idea for them to spot the talent and then take the overall responsibility for the players’ needs. We have to change our ways of doing the business of sports or else this business as usual approach would lead us to the same disappointing conclusions very four years with tiny islands of success.

Before I conclude…

In the context of Pakistan’s aggressive interference in Kashmir, prime minister Narendra Modi has effected a major shift in his foreign policy approach by changing the tone and tenor of his approach towards Pakistan through his references to Balochistan, and the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. This has always been a consensual affair and barring a few questions about the details, he has got the support of all political parties on the Kashmir issue. But the key issue is restoration of normalcy in the valley and the need to have a dialogue with or own people.


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Who blocks India’s medal hunt at Olympics?


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