Why we are a two-medal nation

first_imgIts the same old story every four years. The frenzy begins at the Opening Ceremony. People from across our nation start baying for medals as if it’s our birthright. There are celebrations, there are felicitations. There is criticism of the athletes who fail to win. There is an uproar against,Its the same old story every four years. The frenzy begins at the Opening Ceremony. People from across our nation start baying for medals as if it’s our birthright. There are celebrations, there are felicitations. There is criticism of the athletes who fail to win. There is an uproar against our self-serving officials. There are sarcastic references to how a nation of one billion hardly wins any medals. Then, by the time the Closing Ceremony comes along, this frenzy peters out. It is sent into hibernation to be reawakened before the next Olympics.PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar: A look at India’s new wonder women Rio Olympics 2016: How Indian athletes marked their presence despite a broken system We, in India, are suffering from a strange syndrome. We think we ought to be among the top sporting nations in the world, but in reality, we are confused about what kind of sporting nation we are, and what kind of sporting nation we want to become. So let’s address the basic questions: Do we want to be known as one of the leaders of the sporting world that wins 20, 30, 40 medals every Olympics? Or are we happy being a two-, three-, or five-medal nation? The confusion is a very understandable one. There are so many problems in India, and so many priorities to focus on-poverty, healthcare, water, power, unemployment, social inequality-that sport ends up taking a back seat. If we are happy with keeping sport on the backburner, on not treating it as a priority item in our larger national agenda, fair enough, and so be it. If we decide, as a nation, that we cannot invest in sport and we cannot afford to join the race for medals, let us re-engineer our hopes and set realistic targets. Let us be fine with winning a few medals, if at all, at the Olympics, and be content. But if we want to break out, if we consider sporting excellence as a reflection of the nation’s health and its place in the world, then drastic action is needed.advertisementFirst, we must examine how sport is run in India. We have funding from the government, which may not compare with that of several other countries, but has been getting better over the years. We have some corporate houses who invest in sport as a matter of course. And we have a few NGOs, such as the Olympic Gold Quest, that help manage elite athletes and try to ensure they get the facilities they need. Every aspect of this structure has improved somewhat in the last few years, and that’s why we have gone from three medals in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Games to 11 medals in the three Olympics that followed. But even when it is functioning at its peak, this system will never be enough to make India a sporting power. There is too much arbitrariness and too much reliance on the good nature of people and companies, rather than institutional strength, for this to be a successful model. A system in which we don’t properly encourage people to play, identify talent at the grassroots, build facilities in every town and village, have the best coaches, trainers and sports doctors available in every centre, can only achieve so much.The need, therefore, is for us, as a society, to ask ourselves if we really want sport to reflect who we are as a people. If the answer is yes, then how we approach Olympic sport-as a pastime that comes along once in four years-must change altogether. For, remember this, and I know something about it, medals are not won only by what athletes do on the day of the competition when the world’s eyes are trained on them. They are won by what is done in the four years in between, when athletes are preparing to fulfil their dreams, away from the spotlight.Photo: Getty ImagesIf we are to become a genuine sporting nation, the first thing that we need to do is to treat sport as a long-term project. This will require a huge investment-not just money, but also investment in knowledge, infrastructure and technical knowhow. Today, the majority of our elite sportsmen have to go overseas to train because we don’t have the kind of experts we need at home-perhaps with the exception of Pullela Gopichand in badminton, who is among the best in the world at what he does. Let me give my own example. I spend several months a year outside India, training in Germany for the most part. Why do I go? Because in India I cannot get the expertise-coaches, doctors, mental conditioning trainers-I need. Even at the best of times, these are just short training stints, sometimes three weeks long, sometimes six weeks long. I gain access to facilities for a limited period of time, somehow get what I can from them, and then come back home. This can never be Plan A. In a large number of the countries we compete with, and certainly most of the countries that win a lot of medals, such facilities are available to athletes 365 days a year. In Germany, every little village has a proficient sports medicine expert. In India, we have barely two or three of repute in the whole country.A successful sporting system must have experts, and it’s important that we are in a position to produce these experts at home. We must have programmes and courses that allow their development and ensure that it’s a viable profession. Only then will the grassroots have access to these experts and be able to develop from a young age in the right way. That’s the only way bad habits, deficiencies in technique and an injury-prone body-often impossible to fix at a later stage-won’t form from a young age. With these experts not available, becoming an athlete in India requires a tremendous personal investment. In many other countries, particularly in the West and even in China, Japan and South Korea, the investment is much less because the best facilities and top experts are available as a matter of course.advertisementAnother important thing holding back Indian sport is the bureaucracy that has been built into the system. The red tape exists at two levels. First, we have politicians who have squatted over certain federations for decades-without any technical skills or knowhow, without even the administrative expertise to run them-and converted sports bodies into their personal fiefdoms. Their posts are only meant to facilitate foreign junkets and to increase their clout. They treat athletes as second-class citizens and worry only about garnering votes so that they can remain in power in perpetuity. We tried to address some of these issues in the Sports Bill-I was one of the members of the drafting committee-but such is the political interference in sport, that it was always going to be a losing battle. The federations and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), instead of allowing themselves to be professionalised, used their ‘autonomy’, as listed in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) charter, as a convenient excuse the moment the government tried to implement some good governance rules. We tried to put an age cap and a tenure cap for posts, and bring the federations under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to promote transparency. During the drafting process, when we were being hurried to finish the Bill, I would often joke with Justice Mukul Mudgal, who was on the committee, why are we being rushed, because this Bill will eventually go into the dustbin. That is what happened in the end. I believe India desperately needs to revive the Sports Bill to end opaqueness and get experts into key administrative positions.advertisementThe other kind of bureaucracy is that the government’s sports structure is too multi-layered. As an athlete, I have to constantly deal with three different bodies-the sports ministry, the shooting federation and the Sports Authority of India (SAI). Each of them has its own set of rules and procedures. If I need equipment, since I’m funded largely by the government like most other international sportsmen in India, it’s a process of meetings, approvals, sanctions and procurements-often in triplicate. It’s a typical sarkari daftar attitude, and getting equipment or trips approved is as frustrating as applying for a passport or a ration card. The file keeps bouncing around from table to table, and everything takes longer than required. It’s a huge handicap because, as an athlete, time is always at a premium. The government must step in and clean this system so that elite sportsmen have the facilities they need without logistical problems. The government often speaks about ‘ease of doing business’, maybe they should also do something about the ‘ease of playing sport’.We also need to understand that sport is not just about elite athletes who have somehow risen despite the system. When we talk about re-engineering our sporting system, we usually talk only about athletes. But there needs to be a larger, holistic change in our society. To evolve as a sporting nation, we must embrace sport as a social activity. Families need to be able to play in every small town and village. At the moment, only a small fraction have the inclination to play or have access to sport in their daily lives. We need to build a club culture, where people play for fun and develop a love for the game. This will only come if we build enough facilities for the public. Every Sunday, when faced with a choice between going to watch a movie or playing sport, millions of Indians should be pushed towards choosing sport. Only when more people play will the pool of elite athletes-the best, who rise to the top-grow exponentially. This is a paradigm shift that requires time, effort and interest, along with infrastructure and money. Not everyone can invest 20 years of their lives to play and make the huge sacrifices that competitive sport requires. But only when people play will they realise the true value of excellence. That’s when they will see P.V. Sindhu or Dipa Karmakar or Sakshi Malik at the Olympics and understand what their quest is all about. That’s when our aspirations will be genuine, rather than a short-lived spurt during the Olympics.The true test of sporting glory cannot be restricted only to Olympic medals, but it is still a yardstick to measure yourself by. Let me break down how difficult winning is: of the 11,500 athletes at the Rio Olympics, there were only 300 gold medallists. All the countries that won multiple medals had a robust sporting system, and those that climbed up the ranks in recent years had launched projects that allowed them to achieve their targets. If Britain transformed its Olympic performances after winning one gold medal in Atlanta 1996 to 19 golds in Beijing 12 years later, to 29 in London and 27 in Rio, where they finished in second place, India can too.We are a sleeping giant, and it’s time we woke up. If we do want to be a sporting nation, it is important to have the same passion, the same energy we have during the Olympics even in the gap years. This energy must come from a system that has clear targets and is working towards fulfilling them. The Olympics come once in four years, but preparation is every day.So, in the aftermath of Rio 2016, let us decide what we want. If lip-service, and a dash of celebration and outrage is what we’re after, we have achieved our goals already. And achieved them handsomely! But if we want something more, we have to work for it. We can’t wait till next year, next week, or even tomorrow. The time to start is now.Also read:Silver Lininglast_img

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