An Olympian debacle


India’s dismal performance at the recently concluded Rio Olympics needs to be introspected deeply. Will Prime Minister Modi be able to change India’s fortune by the next Olympics?

We are fast turning into a nation of cribbers. We crib about everything: shortages, corruption, poor governance, poverty, communalism etc. etc. And once every four years, we inevitably wear sackcloth and ashes and mourn our abysmal performance at the Mecca of all sporting events, the Olympics. Our athletes who returned battered and bruised from the London Olympics in 2012 winning just six medals, two silvers and four bronzes have fared much worse this time around at Rio De Janeiro, with just a silver and a bronze to show for our efforts, despite the fact that we had sent the largest ever contingent of 118 this time.

There is a palpable sense of shame that a nation of 1.2 billion could win just a couple of medals, while much smaller nations manage to do much better. However, all those who follow Indian sports closely would aver that the large Indian contingent consisted mostly of mere qualifiers where the track and field events were concerned, and one does not have to be a rocket scientist to gauge that those who huff and puff just to reach a qualifying mark, which incidentally is the minimum required to board the flight to the Olympics, can hardly be expected to reach anywhere near the podium.

We had realistic chances of winning medals only in a handful of events like shooting, boxing, wrestling, badminton, gymnastics and archery, and in the rest we were hardly in with any chance considering the level of the competition. The Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) which aims to finance athletes for international events like the Olympics had set apart funds for the purpose, but due to the limited budget available, most of the funds were utilised for just a handful of sports disciplines.

The two medals that India won were in badminton singles where P.V. Sindhu who ousted even higher ranked players in the earlier rounds, finally bowed out in the final, losing to World No. 1, Carolina Marin after putting up a tough fight. Unfortunately, India’s number one player and a former world topper Saina Nehwal, who was the main medal hope however, was a pale shadow of her real self as she was burdened with a knee injury. The gritty wrestler Sakshi Malik won a bronze in wrestling, though the promising gymnast Dipa Karmakar and the winner of India’s only individual gold at the Olympics, Abhinav Bindra ended up fourth in their events. The only other silver lining was that India’s men’s hockey team entered the quarter finals in their event and this could be interpreted as a resurgence in the country’s fortunes where the national game is concerned. The hopes that were pinned on ace wrestlers Yogeshwar Dutt and Narsingh Yadav were dashed as Yogeshwar crashed out in the first round, and Narsingh who had been initially cleared despite a failed dope test, was later banned from participating.

But all is not lost and we can take heart that Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has taken the initiative to set up a task force that would be given a mandate to chalk out a comprehensive blueprint for success in the three Olympic Games to follow the one held at Rio. But what is imperative is that all the sports bodies in the country should be revamped and reconstituted and the likes of Milkha Singh, P.T. Usha, Viren Rasquinha, Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand, and those who had worn the country’s colours in various sports disciplines with distinction, should be brought in as consultants. The task force too should be packed with sportspersons and coaches who have intimate knowledge of sports and management, and the government would do well to appoint someone with a background in sports like Olympic silver medalist in shooting, Rajyavardhan Rathore, presently Union Minister of State of Information & Broadcasting as Sports Minister. If concerted efforts are put in by all concerned, the Olympic debacle at Rio can be forgotten as a bad dream.

C. V. Aravind

C. V. Aravind

C. V. Aravind is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.