View: Let Tokyo Olympics be for Indian sports what 1983 World Cup was for cricket
This is the best time to
stock of where we stand as a sporting nation. Have we done enough for our athletes? Or is there room for much more? Will our pride and joy remain a one gold, two silver and four bronze flash in the pan, an ‘anomaly’ like the six-medal haul in the 2012 London Olympics that was followed by a paltry two in 2016 in Rio? Or can Indian sport pivot from this point and make medal-winning at the highest levels of sport — not just in the Olympics — a regular feature?
Also, have India’s athletes performed to the best of their abilities? It is heartening to know that along those who did win medals for India in weightlifting, badminton, hockey, boxing, wrestling and javelin, Indian athletes reached 31 quarterfinals and beyond across 10 disciplines, with athletes like the women’s hockey team, wrestler Deepak Punia and golfer Aditi Ashok missing out on a bronze medal by the proverbial whisker. The men’s 4×400 m relay team created a new Asian record in the qualifiers, despite not reaching the Olympic final. These are all sure signs of sporting ascendancy.
With 126 athletes across 18 sports disciplines, India had sent its biggest-ever contingent to Tokyo, which participated in 69 cumulative events, the highest ever for the country. Experienced campaigners like weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, wrestler Bajrang Punia and shuttler PV Sindhu performed superlatively, while Olympic newbies like boxer Lovlina Borgohain and wrestler Ravi Dahiya stepped up when needed to make their mark. Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, of course, reached that rare level of individual sporting excellence by winning Olympic gold — joining an elite list populated only by India’s hockey legends and shooter Abhinav Bindra.
Victories and medals also need a bit of luck and form. But what has been truly epic is the new fearlessness — chutzpah, if you will — displayed by this new breed of Indian athletes. No longer are they there to just ‘be part of the Olympic ethos,’ but they are also hungry to win glory. This has been made possible by the tireless efforts of a vastly improved support system that includes both public and private infrastructural support.
Kudos to the Sports Authority of India (SAI), the ministry of sports, the Indian armed forces, and the retinue of coaches, managers and support staff who worked behind the scenes tirelessly, especially challenging with a Covid-19 pandemic raging. Through innovative schemes like the sports ministry’s TOPS — Target Olympic Podium Scheme -— exposure trips were organized well in advance, world-class coaching was provided wherever needed, nutrition and fitness experts were hired, and infrastructure beefed up and freed of red tape.
Private investment was welcomed in disciplines deemed medal-worthy. Organisations like JSW Sports and the Geet Sethi and Prakash Padukone-founded Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) understood the requirements for top-level performance and worked steadily and quietly to create a nurturing environment for our medal hopefuls. Such endeavors go beyond the four-year cycle of Olympics, and includes world championships and other round-the-year international meets and tournaments at the highest sporting levels.
There is still a long way to go before we start challenging the big boys of world sport. A good way to follow up on Tokyo would be to now identify more Olympic disciplines where Indians can be trained to reach medal potential, much like what the Chinese have done. We have seen Indians participate with a lot of gusto in sports like fencing, rowing, golf, sailing and equestrian events. Now we need more. The door is ajar; we need to push it wide open.
Let India use the 2020 Tokyo Olympics the way it used the 1983 World Cup victory in cricket. Let us take sports from a recreational and lifestyle positioning to a way of earning livelihoods. This mindset needs to be inculcated at all levels of society ground up. Adding sports and physical education to the standard educational curriculum is a necessary first step, followed by a talent scouting and management system that can supply a steady pipeline for the years to come.
As India enters its 75th year as a free country, this is the time to free Indian sport from its shackles, and let it breathe in this new air of success, inspiration and fearlessness.
(The writer is vice president and head of content sales (sports and entertainment) for the Indian subcontinent, IMG Media.)
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