Want Olympic Gold ? Then Fund sports
Columns, In Black & White

Want Olympic Gold ? Then Fund sports

August 7, 2021

Interest in sports, other than cricket, is a seasonal affair in our country. Now that the Olympic Games are here, there is patriotism-driven interest rather than love for a sport. But that’s ok, for we as a nation are slowly but surely heading towards being a sporty one.

In the last few years, a certain sense of viability has crept into sports and allied activities as sportsmen are getting sponsors more easily than before, as private companies are getting involved to create viable leagues and the government too has a positive attitude towards sports.

For too long now politics, bureaucracy and funding have been the biggest hurdles in the development of sports.

 As we celebrate Indian hockey’s success after 41 years, some of us may recall the then Indian Hockey Federation chief, K.P.S. Gill, who in his 14 years as chief wreaked havoc on the sport. Gill even sacked the legendary forward Dhanraj Pillay, the coach and several other players after they had just won gold at the 1998 Asian Games because they asked for a salary raise. 

In fact, during his tenure, Gill sacked 18 coaches and destroyed the careers of many players. When Gill was once asked about the debacle of the hockey team, he said, “The team has lost. I have not.”

In 1995, during the SAF Games, P. T. Usha, one of India’s greatest female athletes, was the designated flag-bearer. But during the opening ceremony, a shameless official snatched the flag from her in full public view and walked forth. In Rio Olympics 2016 the Indian sports officials did not even arrange water for marathon runner O.P. Jaisha, who collapsed of dehydration and who later said “All countries had their stalls at every 2kms but our country’s stall was empty”. This clearly shows our sports associations and federations are run like public sector units and just like many PSUs, these sports federations are sick and dying.

In 2014 after BJP came to power, we thought things would change, but two years later in the 2016 Olympics we could not provide our athletes uniforms in time to be worn at the inaugural ceremony! Also our bureaucrats flew in business class while athletes were put in economy. Worse, when the bureaucrats were asked to state their purpose of visit, the reply was: “To cheer and study infrastructure.”

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But a lot seems to have changed since then, and some credit has to be given to the present government for that.  First there was the ‘Target Olympic Podium (TOP)’ Scheme launched in 2015 to help potential medal possibilities for the Olympic Games of 2016 and 2020.  Obviously 2016 was bad, but the medal tally will tell us if 2021 was better.

In 2016 the government launched the ‘Khelo India’ Scheme, meant to increase mass participation of youth in sports.  The next year a Sports Talent Search Portal was created where anyone could upload their sporting achievements and if they were good they would be shortlisted, called for trials and the qualified candidates then take part in the schemes of the Sports Authority of India (SAI).

The same year, the Empowered Steering Committee (ESC) was formed on the recommendations of the Olympic Task Force. This Committee’s job is to prepare an action plan for Indian players in the Olympic Games of 2021 (Tokyo), 2024 (Paris), and 2028 (Los Angeles). Whether all this will bear medals we’ll know in time, but for now there is definitely a sense of “sincerity” to achieve this.

 Pursuing any sport is more than just talent and hard work, it requires good equipment, periodic purchase of new gear, medical assistance, physical therapy, recovery and nutrition. All this costs money. There is ample proof that money “well spent” produces athletes of international calibre.

 The girl who beat P.V. Sindhu in 2016, the Spanish shuttler Carolina Marin, is from a nation of just a few million where, just like in India, the sports scene is hogged by football and tennis. In fact, Carolina did not even have a sparring partner, that’s how few people play badminton there! Yet, like a one-woman Spanish armada she has destroyed the dominance of the Chinese in badminton.

 How did she do it? With the help of good infrastructure, good coaches, good support staff, good equipment and good nutrition… and all these good things cost money which the Spanish have spent on their athletes.

 After the Barcelona Olympics, the Spanish government and the private sector spent a lot of money to retain the sports infrastructure they had built and on athletes they felt had potential, and today they have the richest football club in the world, they have won the famed cycling event ‘Tour de France’ four times, they have won 5 of the 12 tennis Davis Cups, they won silver in Basketball at Beijing and have 5 players in the famed American Basketball league.

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In 2016 this tiny nation won medals from badminton to swimming to weightlifting! All this from a nation with a population of just about 5 crore, less than Karnataka! Same thing with the tiny nation of South Korea who today stands number 14 in the Tokyo medals tally! How? Simple, money well “invested.”

There is another example close home that proves money well-invested bears result, the Gopichand Academy. In 2003, the then Andhra Pradesh CM N. Chandrababu Naidu gave Gopichand five acres of land on a 45-year lease. But Gopichand did not have money to build infrastructure. He asked for sponsorship but no one saw potential. Then Nimmagadda Prasad, former owner of Matrix Pharmaceuticals, donated Rs. 5 crore — that’s why it’s named Puellela Gopichand Nimmagadda Foundation Badminton Academy. Gopichand built a world-class facility and today is producing world-class shuttlers.

 Recently the Union Sports Ministry announced 143 Khelo India Centres (KIC). Spread across seven States in its endeavour to be among the top-10 countries in the 2028 Olympics. For this the allocated budget was a meagre Rs. 14.30 crore! 

 India will not be able to develop Olympic podium finishers with these meagre budgets. Rs. 14.3 crore is less than what a top IPL player makes in one season and you are budgeting this for multiple sports in 143 centres across a country of a billion!

 As we continue to suffer from ‘Medal Deficit Syndrome’ at the Olympics, we can take solace in the fact that it is amazing that most of our athletes, who come from tough backgrounds, have even made it this far. But then the harsh reality is… is this is as far as they will ever go? Or will the government be pragmatic about funding sports so that Indian athletes reach their full potential and deliver Gold in the next Olympics?

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9 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Want Olympic Gold ? Then Fund sports”

  1. swamy says:

    If you cannot spend money, train and prepare olympic atheletes, why send them there and get embarassed. Just tell IOC(international olympic comittee that anyways India will not win any medals, so we will not participate..

  2. K Sridhar says:

    Its time that sports does not depend only on govt funding. Private corporate entities must also come forward to fund various sports facilities in the country. Philanthropists/Corporates through CSR, must also come forward to fund the training equipments and sports medicine of our sports men/women. Govt must also increase funding for building sports infrastructure and training facilities.

  3. boregowda says:

    All these sport events are an excuse for the corrupt politicians and their chelas for a free all paid foreign jaunts with shopping. They will bring Gold, silver and diamond on their way back. India will win big if corruption is a category of sport.

  4. Jalandhara says:

    the citadel of corruption.
    The funds whether at the Centre or states level are sliced off at the source as much as 30-40% to find their way into the pockets of key ministers and government officials. A percentage of the rest when routed through sports bodies finds its way to the pockets of the respective officials of the bodies, leaving a meagre sum to be spent on athletes preparing for events such as the Olympics. Hence, in an institutionally corrupt country will have minimal effect in terms of building the infrastructure and training centres for the athletes.
    The next Summer Olympics will be held in 2020 at Paris. I suggest that Vikram should visit and find out the reality of Indian Olympic team. Just like in 2004 Olympics, the team will be 1/3 athletes and 2/3 officials with state and centre government ministers appearing from time to time to enjoy the atmosphere- with 5 star hotel stays and the entertainment that foes with it. Many of the alter will be visiting, leaving the Olympiad, to universities, Industries and allied organisations to find opportunities for their sons and daughters, setting up deals! He will see also the athletes staying accommodations which at best will have basic necessities!
    This is independent India, after 70+ years!!

  5. Balaji says:

    So many armchair Olympics experts! So many opinions! Nothing is impossible for a person who dont have to do anything with his own two hands! This explains why we are so messed up!
    In one of the Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev’s sessions he explains ! There is a tea shop somewhere in Bangalore where he stops for a cup of tea! The Chaiwallah in a middle aged person who is serving team for a few years! He can eloquently talk about how Sachin Tendulkar should hit the ball or take the decisions about the batting order! What Modi should do to fix this country and how Obama should run his nation ! He even eloquently talks about world peace, International cricket, nations economy and how our government should fix it, and everything else under the Sun!
    Sadly the only thing he does not have a clue is, how to make good cup of tea! and Unfortunately that is the only thing he needs to be good at!!
    World is not going to change because of the grumpy and myopic citizens . Those who have the courage and conviction to act make all the difference! I have seen people criticizing the Olympians for expressing their thanks to the PM for all the support they got! It is almost time where they may be branded as RSS goons!

  6. citizen says:

    Parents should encourage children for sports , all parents need only Dr. and Engineer, they pay corers and lakhs to get seats. only few of them support. that too selective sport “cricket”
    SAI , sports authority of India should be given free lands in Taluk’s rural India to set up academy from state governments.
    At least 5 academy in each state in rural area only for athletes, gymnasium, swimming, archery, weight lifting etc, right now India has only 180 training center that to all in urban areas for a population of 100cr.
    This should be funded by union government for its operations, under CSR organize Indian Olympics every years in different states. Give importance like cricket and BCCI, look how amit shah appointed his son in BCCI, can he similarly appoint some big guy with caliber MS. DHONI, SACHIN, DRAVID, give them free hand cabinet minister rank as SAI chief who is clean and true sportsman.

  7. Kautilya says:

    India is seicking with the very noring colonial sport called cricket and is happy in beating teams in countries like NZ, Australia and England, where cricket has become a minority sport, NZ secured 7 gold medals after focusing on sports away from cricket, and these sports were Olympics sports. West Indies too has moved o athletics and basket ball, the former sport has emerged with 100m sprints ( popularised by Usain Bolt), middle distance running , very much the centre of attraction in Olympic events.
    Britain, Australia and NZ secured 2, 17 and 7 gold medals respectively by moving into other Olympic sports away from cricket. Thwere is a lesson here.
    Putting cricketers in charge of Olympic sports development shows the warped thinking. Getting good Olympians who have achieved , and who have retired,even from other countries is a good approach.
    The biggest elephant in the room is the corruption. No matter what funding is allocated, only a trickle goes to the development of athletes, and a large percentage is shaved off by officials along the way.
    As a poster put it above, whilw attending the last 2 Olympics, I could see Indian officials outnumbering the athletes, using the funds meant for athletes to enjoy a luxurious fortnight holiday , visiting neighbouring countries. The next 2 Olympics events in Paris and LA will see single gold medals if any, but many visits by ministers and officials interested only in their personal deals.

  8. Syed Matheen says:

    Look at Qatar a country just the size less than Bangalore in size and population both , won 2 Gold and 1 bronze, we 130cr, 7th largest country won 1 gold. Like Mr. Vikram said money rightly invested by Qatar and vision towards sports. Next year they are hosting FIFA 2020 world cup with world class stadiums ever built ! Amazing

  9. Suresh says:

    @ Syed Mathew
    Please note that there are hardly any original native Qataris who have have brought laurels to this country.
    Almost all of them were granted citizenship, imported from poor African countries, who were good at sports but lacked the financial backing in their respective countries.
    Sports persons from neighbouring Arab countries would always feel miserable that their talents would be dwarfed by the imported talents.
    The Qatar government would scout talents in other countries , bring them in and pay fabulous sums of money and other lucrative facilities. This has been an open secret about imported talents.
    Nevertheless, it needs to be appreciated that the Royal family rulers of Qatar are very ambitious and try to promote sports while hosting the Asian games in 2007 and forthcoming FIFA championship next year.


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