Till grappler Sakshi Malik wrested a gutsy bronze towards the fag end of the Rio Games, there was a very real possibility that India may draw a blank at this Olympic edition, which would have been a repeat of its low point in 1992. And then shuttler PV Sindhu had a rousing run, ending with a historic silver. Thanks to them, the large Indian contingent will not come back empty-handed from Rio. But the soul searching will begin now; the country, after all, had won two silvers and four bronzes in the 2012 London Games. It just goes to show how tough competition at the Olympics can be, that it is exceedingly difficult to make a mark at the highest sporting levels. Among the 121 Indian competitors at Rio, there were a few who did creditably well, most notably Dipa Karmakar. Her appearance in the women’s gymstics vault fil was itself an achievement. She may have missed the bronze by a whisker, but her story shows once again how sportspersons plough a lonely furrow in this country. Dipa slogged it out despite a medical flat feet condition and makeshift apparatus. She could get a leg-up only because her father is a weightlifting coach and the Tripura sports administrators put her under the wings of former tiol gymstics champion and coach Bishweshwar ndi. It is now emerging how she ran the gauntlet of machitions by some top gymstics officials pushing their own candidates. The fact that she routinely executes the ‘Produnova’ vault in major competitions, which can cause paralysis or death, itself indicates the challenge facing our gymsts.
Questions are being asked whether gymsts like Dipa are staking their very lives to impress judges with dangerous routines, in the near-total absence of quality infrastructure to hone safer skills. Beijing gold medalist shooter Abhiv Bindra too lost out on a bronze this time, but the entire country knows the story of how he came on top despite a hostile system, that the credit goes mostly to his father for fincing all his training abroad. As for badminton, it is sobering to think how Pullela Gopichand has single-handedly trained protégés Sai Nehwal and PV Sindhu to earn Olympic medals for India, with P Kashyap and K Srikkanth too giving good account of themselves. After Sakshi Malik’s podium finish, her coach reminisced how he had to withstand public taunts for admitting her to his wrestling academy. All this points to the primary reason why Indian sports has never amounted to much at the Olympic or World Championships. The country simply lacks a sporting culture, but its people crave medals at the highest intertiol levels. This is a sure recipe for a losing battle, an opportunity for collective self-flagellation and chest beating every four years the Olympics come around. ysayers despair about the our players’ lack of strength, stami and killer instinct; they point out that India may be a force in cricket, but then cricketers do not have to train at the intense levels athletes do. There is much anguished talk about how our parents want others’ sons and daughters to win medals, but push their own to earn degrees or fame in reality shows.
And the less said about our sports administrators, many of them politicians and bureaucrats sticking around for decades, the better. Four years back, the Intertiol Olympic Committee had to suspend the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for electing office bearers with pending crimil charges! Is it at all surprising if such sports officials have no love, let alone understanding, for the sports they lord over? The bitter resistance BCCI is putting up against the Supreme Court’s efforts to reform and make it transparent, is indicative of the attitudes of other sporting bodies. In a country struggling to allocate scarce resources to a host of competing priorities, funds for sports are mismaged and stolen. Political interference, official red tape and conflicts of interest rule the roost. Even the selection process for Olympics gets mired in needless controversies, as it happened this time too. Sustained funding and investment in even chosen sports disciplines have been falling over the years. Talented sportspersons from poor families have a hard time in getting access to quality sports training facilities. In such a system, most sporting talent in the country remains undiscovered, unless they are born in families that value and back sports. If the Centre in conjunction with State governments now plans to take lessons from the Rio Games, it is high time for a complete overhaul of the sports administration system. It can go for targeted incentives for gaining maximum returns, as well as nurture public-private partnerships to build up sports profile in the country and support sporting talent.