Olympic dreams require early state support

Olympic dreams require early state support

India's quest for more Olympic glory can only be realised with sustained help for sportspersons at all levels and not just those at the top of their game

Indian athletes, like Tokyo Olympics silver medal winner Mirabai Chanu (inpic), have to surmount tremendous obstacles before they even reacha stage where they qualify for government support. Credit: PTI Photo

When P R Sreejesh saved a penalty corner to deny the Germans an equaliser, with six seconds left on the clock, an entire nation erupted in joy. State governments in India were quick to announce cash incentives to the hockey men in blue for their bronze medal effort at the Tokyo Olympics on Thursday.

The “hockey wall” of India didn’t have it easy when he started his career though. His father had to sell his cow to buy a goalkeeper’s kit for the Kochi boy.  


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Elsewhere, another bronze medal by Lovlina Borgohain in the women’s welterweight category made local authorities wake up from their slumber to construct a motorable road in her village of Baromukhia in Assam’s Golaghat district to welcome the newest boxing star back. 

When Ravi Kumar Dahiya looked disappointed on the podium for missing out on a gold, his father Rakesh could not stop smiling as hopes of a hospital getting built also swelled in the village of Nahari, about 10km from Sonepat, Haryana. Despite financial constraints, Rakesh, who toiled hard in the farm, played a key role in his son’s future ensuring his training at the national capital. 

Weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, who opened India’s account with a silver medal, rewarded about 150 truck drivers who gave the Manipuri athlete a lift every day, ensuring that she reached Sports Academy which was 25km away from her home. These trucks carried river sands to Imphal. As these athletes basked in glory on the podium and the nation swelled with pride, few would have known years of blood, sweat and tears that had gone into creating these special moments. While the medals assured attention and showering of rewards from the government, how much has India really taken care of its athletes during their developmental years?   Producing champion athletes is no child’s play. Quality equipment, coaching staff, physios, psychologist, right nutrition and competition exposure are mandatory from a very young age. 

In countries like China, the government is actively involved in funding and developing the sport right from the grassroots.

In India, the state support, whether financial or otherwise, only comes in at a later stage.

While many other countries train and nurture talent at a young age, in India, athletes have to surmount tremendous obstacles before they even reach a stage where they qualify for government support. 


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And this difference in state support can be the difference between gold and silver or a podium place and finishing just behind.

The lack of funds for athletes across sports has always been one of the main reasons for poor performances in the quadrennial event. The Government of India’s allocation of Rs 2,596.14 crore for the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) in the 2021-22 annual budget was a reduction by Rs 230.78 crore compared to the funds granted for the previous year. However, with most sporting events cancelled or postponed in 2020 due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Rs. 1,800.15 crore was approved for the revised budget plan 2020-21.  

On the other hand, the Sports Authority of India — the nodal sports body taking care of sportspersons’ requirements and managing national camps — was allocated Rs 660.41 crore, a slight increase of Rs. 160.41 crore for the previous year.

The official apathy is hard to miss when it comes to quality infrastructure, especially at the state level. Take the example of Karnataka. The state had little to do with shaping the careers of the three athletes that have gone to Tokyo. Golfer Aditi Ashok, who missed out on a bronze, equestrian Fouaad Mirza and swimmer Srihari Nataraj are all products of private-sector involvement. 

At the Tokyo Games, India sent their largest-ever contingent consisting of 128 athletes across 18 disciplines. All of them were part of the ‘Target Olympic Podium Scheme’ (TOPS) started by the MYAS in 2014 in order to provide holistic support to the elite athletes representing our country. 

Some of the benefits of the scheme include foreign training, international competition, equipment and coaching camp, besides a monthly stipend of Rs 50,000 for each athlete. The programme currently supports 107 sportspersons apart from the hockey senior men (33 members), women (25) and 53 para-athletes. There are also 254 athletes in the TOPS development group. 

Missed potential

That said, the ministry during the tenure of former Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju sounded confident that the substantial leap in funding sportspersons would result in India reaching double digits in terms of a medal haul at Tokyo.  

On the face of it, the Tokyo show may appear a considerable improvement compared to past editions, but a critical look will tell you that the results haven’t been commensurate with the promise and potential. And they certainly don’t reflect the investment in some of the elite athletes, especially the shooters and archers.


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With 7 medals in Tokyo, including gold in javelin throw by Neeraj Chopra, India put up their best show ever in Olympics.

There were some near misses and heartwarming performances in hockey, golf, wrestling and boxing. The shooting contingent had a forgettable outing for the second Olympics in a row. 

Ashwini Nachappa, an Olympian and former athlete feels that measuring performance merely by the number of medals won was a bit too harsh on the athletes. 

“We need to look at how we have evolved. The performances need to be analysed and the next road map should be better than the one we have taken leading up to Tokyo. The scheme, people who have invested, support staff and those who manage athletes are all accountable. Unless there is accountability, the scope of achieving our targets will be slim. It’s a continuous process. That’s a journey that each one of us should be willing to take,” she says.  

Building an ecosystem

Citing the example of unconditional support provided by Odisha State government in the past 5-6 years, which resulted in the men’s team winning an Olympic medal after 41 years and the women’s maiden Olympic semifinal berth, Ashwini added that everybody has huge learning from this. “Odisha has become the hub for the sport. It shows the enormous pool of talent we have and when the right kind of support is provided, we can do wonders,” she said. 

Supporting the best is just one part of the entire ecosystem. Our immediate focus needs to shift to creating a larger base to improve the quality at the peak of the pyramid.  

“While we need to invest in our elite athletes and infrastructure, we need to also largely invest in creating the ‘B’ and ‘C’ teams. If we don’t have the bench strength it will again be a one-off followed by a lull. If we have to achieve consistency, then grooming athletes from the base to the top plays a crucial role,” she stressed. 

This was precisely why the Khelo India initiative was launched: to nurture athletes from a young age with a long-term vision of making India a sporting nation. Under the Sport’s Ministry’s flagship programme, the government later launched the Khelo India Youth Games (for under-17, under-21 categories) in 2018 and the Khelo India University Games for athletes from universities across the country to participate. 

“It is a good beginning but needs to be managed more professionally. Now the sports ministry is combined with youth affairs but we need a separate body for sport to manage it better, from scouting to outcomes and resources, including creating our own in-house resources for coaching and sports science that match international standards. We majorly lack in these departments,” explained Ashwini.  

“The government has to work with communities to develop sports. Use the expertise of former players from each discipline. Create interest among people. This is where the federations have failed. They don’t want the expertise of former players because all they want are ‘Yes’ masters,” she said. 

Nisha Millet, Olympian and former swimmer agrees with this sentiment: “They have to involve former athletes in sports federations, administration and management. Officials who have nothing to do with sport are pocketing the money, when the funds are released from a central agency. This is a lost purpose.”

"Things have definitely changed now, but the financial support should be equally distributed across all sports and not prioritise one or two disciplines. If we want to increase our medal tally, those sports with multiple medals on offer have to be given importance apart from developing fencing, skateboarding, judo, sailing to increase representation," Nisha added. 

Most players in the Indian contingent come from never-heard-before corners in the country. This essentially indicates more investment needs to be channelised towards rural areas to build sporting communities across India.

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