In mission mode, for a change

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani | Updated on January 27, 2018

On the mat Wrestler Narsingh Yadav (right) at the SAI Centre, Sonepat Sandeep Saxena

Talent-spotting and training are receiving urgent attention from sports administrators

On April 8, the Sports Authority of India (SAI), the apex national sports body, set up the “Mission Olympics Cell”, a first-of-its-kind sporting initiative.

It had the mandate to take snap decisions so as to be able to achieve monitorable goals, which included preparedness of the athletes who have qualified for the Rio Olympics or were expected to do so. With foresight of the sorts rarely seen in the Indian sports administration, the Cell has additionally been assigned the task of developing a “robust criteria for identification of young talent to be part of the Developmental Group for 2020 and 2024”.

Sports Authority of India Director-General Injeti Srinivas pointed out that such a “24-hour kind of Cell” did not exist ever before. The Cell, he said, has been working at notable speed to take quick decisions to support athletes who have qualified for Rio Olympics

Does this signal a change in government policy initiatives and will it enhance India’s presence on the Olympics stage?

India is sending its largest-ever contingent of 120 athletes to the Rio Olympics. SAI reckons that Rio could see India’s best-ever medals tally and is hoping that the country will touch the double-digit mark. Categories such as archery, lawn tennis, badminton, wrestling, golf are likely to see India put up a sterling display; some strong performances in athletics are also expected.

But has there been enough support and funds for the athletes who have qualified?

The Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs has formulated a programme called the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) Scheme, within the overall ambit of the National Sports Development Fund to identify and support potential medal prospects for 2016 and 2020.

An official said that the idea behind TOP Scheme is to provide financial assistance to the qualifying athletes for their customised training programmes at world-class institutes. The TOP Scheme is in addition to other schemes, notably the scheme of assistance to the National Sports Federation to fund and support athletes who have qualified for the Olympics, he added.

SAI’s Srinivas says that through the TOP Scheme , efforts have been made to create an institutionalised system to help identify and support high-performing athletes and offer them fund customised training.

The selection of athletes who can avail of funds through this scheme has been done keeping in mind the international standards and consistency of their performance.

For instance, a men’s discus throw athlete received ₹95.06 lakh from the TOP Scheme and about ₹6.5 lakh through the Central government’s scheme of assistance to National Sports Federation. Meanwhile a boxer secured ₹30.63 lakh through the TOP Scheme, while another got ₹13.55 lakh from the NSF scheme. Factors such as training needs, the need to travel to international destinations besides coaching facilities were kept in mind.

“I am not saying we have found the perfect model to spot and groom Olympics talent. It will need more tweaking. But we are learning and the focus will be on enabling even more robust preparations for the 2020 Olympics, preparations for which have started right away,” Srinivas added.

The onus of scouting for talent and training them is also on various National Sports Federations. India might be sending its largest-ever contingent, but compared to the US or China, the numbers are still small.

Onkar Singh, Secretary-General, Cycling Federation of India, said that while sports federations work towards generating their own funds, the government is also required to pitch in a lot more with funds and with strengthening sports infrastructure.

“In the past two years, the government seems to have opened up and there have been positive changes. I believe over the next 6-7 years, we will start seeing results. In cycling, for instance, we have identified talented youngsters who are training for the next Olympics,” he added.

Members of some sport federations feel that corporates too should step up, and that instead of looking for funds from the government, National Sport Federations need to look at raising funds independently.

Wg Cdr Arun Kumar Singh, Director-General, Indian Golf Union, believes India cannot blindly ape the Chinese or the American model for building on talent for the Olympics.

“The growing numbers among the aspirational middle class will hopefully also increase the number of youngsters who aspire for a sporting career. I don’t think the government or federations alone can contribute; one also needs enterprising and talented individuals,” he said, adding that the country will need a unique strategy to increase its medals tally at the Olympics.

Published on August 05, 2016

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