'We should think seriously why we are third on doping list'

INTERVIEW

'We should think seriously why we are third on doping list'

Going into the Rio Olympics, much was expected from the Indian contingent that featured as many as six former Olympic medallists. But what transpired in the Samba land was disappointing to put it mildly. While Sakshi Malik and P V Sindhu helped India salvage some pride with their medal-winning shows, many of the big names failing to even qualify for the finals in their respective events left many shaking their head in disbelief.

“It was disastrous,” says Ashwini Nachappa, a former India international track athlete. “Disastrous because, from aiming a double-digit (medal haul) to returning with just two medals is simply unacceptable. Post the London success, if you look at the number of international competitions that our athletes were exposed to, a lot was expected from them. For example, archery and shooting. On paper, everyone was supposed to have done well (in the build up to the Games). But in Rio, none lived up to their billing except Abhinav (Bindra).” In a chat with Naveen Peter of DH, Ashwini gives an insight on what went wrong and what could be done to avert a relapse as we build for Tokyo 2020. Excerpts:

You’ve labelled India’s performance disastrous, what according to you could be the reason behind the poor performance?

We seriously need to look at why India is third on the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) list (for doping violations). If ‘X’ number of athletes are already on the list of the anti-doping watchdog, that in itself shows that there’s something really wrong in the manner sports is run in our country.

Does this mean that many tend to use fraudulent means to achieve the tag of ‘Olympian’?

The government should stop announcing rewards (in any form) for athletes qualifying for Olympics. We’ve gone way past just participation at the Olympics. Let them go there set a national mark or better what they’ve done here and then we can reward them. It’s no longer about participation for us. You look at Ankit Sharma. He jumped 8.19 metres in June (at Almaty, Kazakhstan). But at the Games he was nowhere close (Ankit could only manage 7.67 m in the qualifying). Renjith Maheswary is another example. He jumps 17.30 m here (in Bengaluru on July 11) and then in Rio all he can manage is 16.13 m. How do you explain such performances? Doping is the only reason I can think of. It’s rampant in athletics.

Who is to blame for this below-par show by the Indians at Rio 2016?

I believe the athletes and the federation need to answer. Both the parties are equally responsible for the poor show at the Games. The athletes got whatever they wanted. There was no question of them under-performing. I shall speak for my sport – athletics. The number of national records that went by, two to two-and-half weeks prior to Rio presented a different picture. And then when you reach Rio, everything disappeared into thin air. A far, far, below par performance than what you did just a week or two back. How is that possible?

India, for long has seen a trend of foreign coaches taking over the reigns as we approach a major international meet like the Olympics or the Asian Games. Is this because we don’t produce quality coaches in the country?

If that’s the case, how did Bisweshwar Nandi (Dipa Karmakar’s coach) produce a gymnast who is now a world number four in her discipline? How has Gopichand produced champions in Sindhu, Saina (Nehwal), (Kidambi) Srikanth and so on? It is not the question of ‘do we’ or ‘don’t we’... Just like how scouting is an important aspect of developing sport, coach development too is an important aspect. Today, we have a number of guys passing out from the NIS (National Institute of Sports) and that’s it, nothing beyond that. We need to understand that the coaching standards in our country have to undergo a sea change to be on track with world’s standards. The sport has changed and so has the manner in which everyone approaches the game.

Looking ahead towards Tokyo 2020, what according to you needs to be done so as to avert such a fate four years from now?

I think the planning should have started yesterday. You need to bring all the parties – the federations, coaches and so on, chalk out a plan and hold the stakeholders responsible for their actions. We need to hold everyone accountable, right from the athletes to coaches to federations. Going forward, perform or perish should be the way.

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