Self-fulfilling prophecy of sports
NEW DELHI: As the curtain came down on the 2022 Birmingham CWG, India could justifiably take pride in its performance that fetched it a rich haul of 61 medals, including 22 gold. The Indian athletes have surpassed everyone’s expectations by finishing fourth in the table. The fact that such an accomplishment was possible despite the absence of shooting, a sport that yielded 16 medals at the previous edition at Gold Coast, makes this feat even more laudable. Indian athletes have demonstrated that they have the credentials to hold their own against the best in the world despite the odds stacked against them.
However, there were a few disappointments, none-more-so-than the men’s hockey team that surrendered meekly to Australia, losing 7-0 in the final. Coming as it did after almost exactly a year to the day when the Manpreet Singh-led side was the toast of the nation — for beating a powerhouse in Germany at Tokyo Olympics to finish a credible third against all odds — made it a particularly bitter pill to swallow. One superstar athlete whose absence was felt was Neeraj Chopra who pulled out on the eve of the games citing a foot injury.
Coming back to the high points, Indian weightlifters punched above their weight with several hitherto greenhorns proving their mettle and established ones such as Mirabai Chanu enhancing their reputation. In badminton, PV Sindhu yet again rose to the occasion, winning her maiden Commonwealth gold in her third attempt. However, what should gladden badminton enthusiasts is the emergence of Lakshya Sen (20) who belied his inexperience on the biggest stage to clinch the coveted gold. His post-triumph revelry only emphasised how much it meant to him.
Amidst the euphoria, there are several loose ends that warrant immediate attention from the powers that be. For starters, rewarding meritorious sportspersons with hefty sums of money and land parcels after their triumphant return only serves to accentuate the glaring deficiencies and misplaced priorities that have been bedevilling sport at large in India.
Those entrusted with the task of running various sporting disciplines in India have all too often grown wise after the event. That path should be avoided if we aspire to become a dominant player. The key lies in spotting and nurturing talent at grassroots level and providing those promising athletes with state-of-the-art infrastructure with accent on physical fitness and mental conditioning. One must also take into account the importance of international exposure for Indian athletes, vis-a-vis training modules, where they can be coached in world class facilities. This will also offer them a perspective on the enormity of the competition and talent on the global scale. This involves investments and requires India to allocate Central and State budgets for sports in a realistic manner.
Private enterprises can also be roped in to lend a helping hand financially to the deserving athletes coming from economically-challenged backgrounds. Too often we come across poignant anecdotes of athletes having to make do with worn-out shoes and tattered apparel. And this is where noble initiatives such as The Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), launched in 2014, would act as a godsend to those in dire need of assistance. There are several notable beneficiaries of this scheme such as Tamil Nadu paddlers A Sharath Kamal and G Sathiyan. The Centre had already identified 148 athletes as TOPS beneficiaries for Paris Olympics 2024. One can take heart from this pleasing development and hope that more such schemes are introduced in the foreseeable future.