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By fluke, not plan

If India has given a record performance at the Asian Games this year, the credit should not go to sports bodies but to individual athletes

2018 was a monumental year for Indian sports. In the 2018 Asian Games at Jakarta, the Indian contingent clinched a record tally of 68 medals , thus registering their best ever performance at any international event. The gold medal tally too, at 15, was an all-time high for the country. India got medals in varied sports ranging from shooting to badminton to e-gaming.

But despite all these achievements, is India really on the verge of being a superpower? The table below shows that, while India has clinched gold medals in 15 different events, the winning timings or distances that have clinched the gold medals in this apparent ‘best ever’ performance is all much lower than the Olympic, Asian and Commonwealth records.

So, while countries like China and USA, still produce medalists and record breakers in each and every year, why is the 1.2 billion people strong nation of India so far behind in producing sports people of that high international quality?

“The major reason for this lack of quality can be blamed upon the ignorance of different sports governing bodies, associations and governments,” says Rakesh (name changed), a former shooter. “The authorities announce different schemes and always fail to implement them”, he says.

“What happens is the services of authorities like Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Sports Ministry are only reserved for those who get into the Indian team. If you are selected for the internationals, the authorities will take care of you, if you win a medal they will give you lakhs of rupees as prize money,” says Rakesh. “But what about those kids at the grassroot level who train day in and day out to achieve laurels for the country?” he adds. According to him, the authorities hardly look after the schemes that they implement at the grassroot level. “Just announcing them isn’t enough. You have to conduct regular checks to see if those are being implemented properly”, he adds.

In fact, in other countries like China and Australia, they have a separate school scholarship programme, where they identify people at the very basic level, and if the children are talented at one particular sport, the government bodies take full responsibility of their education, and they provide rigorous training to that particular child. “In our country, people still have the mentality that a career in sports can never be an option, and hence in spite of such a big population we cannot produce medals or even establish records at a regular basis,” says Rakesh.“SAI gives us a grant of only Rs 500 a month,” says Anuj (name changed), a Sepak Takraw player. “Such a miniscule amount doesn’t even cover the cost of the ball required to play the sport. It gets very difficult for people like us, who are from the economically weaker section of the society to survive in sports,” he says. “In fact most of the players who are successful, especially in shooting, are well off financially, and can buy equipment and arrange for facilities on their own, and don’t need the support of any federation.

According to Santosh (name changed), a former javelin thrower, too much attention and spotlight is given to cricketers in our country. “A sport that is played and followed by only 10-12 countries gets so much publicity. The fees of the players are sky high, and the BCCI is provided with so much money, so that they can do whatever they want. Large amounts of money should also be provided to the other sports so that we can produce champions and bring laurels to the country which fare more important than a cricket world cup”, he says. In fact, recently, gold medallist Bajrang Punia made a public statement, that in spite of accumulating 0 points in the calendar year, Virat Kohli won the Khel Ratna this year, even though there were so many other deserving sportsmen like him who should have received the honour.

The politicisation of sports bodies is another major reason as to why sports remains underdeveloped in India. “If you see, all major sports bodies in the country are either headed by a political figure or someone close to the ruling party,” says Rakesh. “These people have limited knowledge of sports, and do basically nothing to improve Indian sports at a very grassroot level. It is sad to see that the highest sports award in the country, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, is named after a politician and not a sportsperson”, says Rakesh. “In fact, what these people do is that instead of selecting worthy candidates for the international contingent, they select people who are close to them. This clear case of nepotism is also why India fails to perform at international events,” he adds.

These allegations were however dismissed by the SAI. . “We have introduced a lot of schemes at the grassroot level. In fact, the Khelo India, organised by the authorities was a huge success, with so many children participating in the programmes”, said a SAI representative.

“The Khelo India scheme is a positive step, but how it comes about and whether it is at all useful for development of sports in India, will ultimately be proven 5-6 years down the line. Until then, let’s wait and watch,” concludes Rakesh.