This year’s National Sports Day, August 29, which commemorates the birthday of hockey wizard Major Dhyan Chand, followed a glut in international performances by Indian athletes in the month of August.
India’s shooters bagged 14 medals – six gold and eight bronze — in ISSF World Championship in Azerbaijan, and Indian athletes made history at the World Championships in Hungary, with Neeraj Chopra earning India’s first ever gold in the competition and 4x400m relay quartet finishing fifth, India’s best ever, in the final of the event.
India’s 18-year-old chess star R Praggnanandhaa finished second behind Magnus Carlsen in World Championships while compound archers, under-20 wrestlers like Antim Panghal and Priya also won gold at the World Championships in their respective events.
It was no surprise then that members of the 4x400m quartet comprising Muhammad Anas, Amoj Jacob, Muhammad Ajmal and Rajesh Ramesh, along with javelin thrower Kishore Jena, who came fifth behind gold winner Chopra in the World Championships were the toast of the National Sports Day event hosted by Sports Authority of India in the Capital on Tuesday.
“We have a good chance of winning Asian Games gold medal next month. We created Asian record [at the Worlds], so we should win gold at the Asiad. There won’t be as much pressure as it was in Budapest. For the 2024 Olympics, we will try our best,” said Jacob to select media on the sidelines of the event.
“We expected and aimed to run 2:58 but we clocked 2:59, we are really happy and satisfied,” said Jacob, a Delhiite who trains in Kerala where his parents hail from.
The Indian quartet had created the Asian record at the Tokyo Olympics but it was broken by Japan last year. The Indians wrested back in an amazing performance in the 4x400m semi-finals where they were pipped only by the United States.
Rajesh Ramesh, who ran the final leg, was pushed by his American competitor after he had taken the lead. The Indians finished second eventually and their protest wasn’t upheld.
“Rajesh had gone ahead of the American runner and when the American climbed back, he pushed Rajesh with his elbow, disturbing the rhythm. It becomes tough to pick the pace after that,” Jacob explained the incident since Rajesh cannot converse in English or Hindi.
Teammate Anas, who ran the first leg and passed the baton to Jacob, said, “We were confident of succeeding in World Championships. Before I went in for the start, I said to Amoj, I will give you baton as quickly as possible, you just focus on the run. We are hopeful of gold medal in Asiad. This was an experience. But we need to qualify for Olympics through World Relays.”
The quartet has sacrificed immensely.
“We have been together since November last year, training in Trivandrum. Sometimes it is important to make sacrifices like staying away from family to achieve performances. We are glad we did,” added Anas.
The event, presided by Anurag Thakur, the Union Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, also witnessed the launch of a website for the National Sports Federations (NSFs), ‘for ensuring ease of business and good governance’.
“It is a unified online portal for the NSFs which shall be a single window system for processing of annual renewal of recognition of NSFs, elections of National Sports Federations among other things,” said a statement from Sports Authority of India.
“This will do away with the existing system of physical mode of submission of documents by NSFs and examination of the same by the Union Sports Ministry. The online portal will also be ensuring better coordination among the Department of Sports and the National Sports Federations,” the statement added.
Thakur said that sports has grown in the country.
“There are 3526 [sports] events being held in the country now.”
He also launched a website for athletes.
“When players used to return after winning, if they wanted to take their award or reward, they would roam the government offices. We have initiated an online portal and I am quite happy to say that players don’t have to approach government offices now,” said Thakur addressing the gathered media and athletes.
“You go online, log in, put your record and your name. Your account will be credited with the money. We have launched web portal for NSFs. This will be a dynamic hub for information. We will update it real-time with results and policies.”
The minister also announced financial assistance for sports academies.
“Khelo India scheme will be used to employ former athletes. 1,000 Khelo India centres will be established in India in one year. There will be financial assistance for establishing sports academies. The government has given [2000 Olympic medallist in weightlifting] Karnam Malleswari Rs 5 crore for an academy in Yamuna Nagar,” he added.
Thakur also said that former players will be given Rs 5 lakh for equipment and an additional 5 lakh per year for operational expenses, ‘which will work as salary’.