Focus on a few sports for achieving excellence

Assam has taken several steps towards realizing the vision of making Guwahati the sports capital of the country.

Update: 2020-11-30 05:15 GMT

Onkar Kedia

(The author is the Director General of Sports Authority of Assam. Views expressed in the article are personal. He can be reached at okedia@gmail.com)

Assam has taken several steps towards realizing the vision of making Guwahati the sports capital of the country. It has successfully organized huge sporting events like National Games 2007, South Asian Games 2016, U-17 FIFA World Cup 2017 and the Khelo India Youth Games 2020. The State has already created a reputation for itself as an efficient organizer of big sporting events. Guwahati also has reasonably good sports infrastructure, much of which is attributable to holding of big events. Some good sports infrastructure of the Assam Government, Sports Authority of India and other bodies exist in other parts of the State as well. Athletes from Assam have won medals in big international events like Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and World Championships. What has been eluding the athletes of the State is a medal in Olympics, the most prestigious sporting event in the world. Of course, India itself has won only 17 individual medals in the Olympics so far with the only Gold going to Abhinav Bindra in Shooting.

Olympic medals are known to fuel interest in sports. When an athlete wins an Olympic medal, he or she becomes an icon overnight. Thousands of young people look up to the athlete and take up the sport concerned seriously. The bench strength in the sport increases and this enhances the possibility of more medals in major international competitions. Thus, a cyclical process starts. When Mary Kom wins an Olympic medal in Boxing, thousands of youngsters in the country, especially in her home State Manipur, take up Boxing. Similarly, when PV Sindhu wins an Olympic medal, youngsters in the country and her home State get convinced that it would be possible for them to win an Olympic medal in Badminton and take up the sport seriously. This applies to every game.

But how do we get an Olympic medal? For this, an entire eco-system is required. Good sports infrastructure, early identification of talent, nurturing of talent, nutritious diet, sports supplements, excellent coaches and support staff, a good competitive structure, sports science support- all this is required. The standard of training has not only to keep pace, but has to be actually ahead of the rest of the world. Professional management of sports is also essential. Our sports bodies which have been formed to look after individual sports and enjoy monopolistic powers to manage those sports have to play a crucial role in the process. Of course, Government has to provide full support to them.

Budgetary support for sports is limited in our country. Neither the Central Government nor State Governments are in a position to provide the required resources, as winning an Olympic medal is a very costly and long-drawn process. Hence, corporate sector also must come forward and contribute to investment in sports through CSR funding or sponsorship. But even with corporates pitching in, the deficit may not be fully met. Excellence in sports is such a costly proposition.

It, therefore, makes sense for a State to focus on a few sports for achieving excellence. This will prevent the resources from being spread too thin. While all sports disciplines including traditional games and adventure sports must be encouraged, some sports must be selected for focused attention. Such games have to be chosen professionally, keeping factors like natural strength, past performance, likings of people, availability of infrastructure and extent of competition in mind. Maximum funds should flow into these sports and best of facilities including infrastructure and coaches should be provided.

Government of India has also been extending significant help to athletes who have potential to win Olympic medals under its various programmes, including the Target Olympic Scheme. The challenge before a State is to take its athletes to the level where they qualify for Central assistance under these programmes. In many cases, athletes who show remarkable promise at the junior and sub-junior levels either leave sports for academics or are not able to maintain their performance at the senior level. Young athletes have to be ably supported through this process.

In several cases, it has been seen that nations get very high ranks in the Olympic medals tally by focusing on a few sports. They aim at winning a significant number of medals in their selected sports. For example, this strategy has worked for nations like Kenya which got 13 medals in the 2016 Rio Olympics, all in Athletics and captured the 15th rank in the medals tally.

The strategy may work for Assam as well. There have been six Arjuna awardees from Assam so far — Bhogeswar Barua (Athletics), Monalisa Baruah (TT), Jayanta Talukdar (Archery), Shiva Thapa (Boxing), Hima Das (Athletics) and Lovlina Borgohain (Boxing). Arjuna award is a prestigious national sports award which is given for sporting achievements. The list gives an indication about the sports which may be among those in contention for focused attention in the State.

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