A series of ugly exchanges between the Indian Olympic Association, the Sports Authority of India and the sports ministry dominated the headlines even before the Indian contingent had departed for the Asian Games. One would have imagined that the euphoria of a fine showing at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow would have put the sports fraternity in an upbeat mood, but it just was not so.
The bureaucrats had laid down some senseless rules — teams should not be sent more than five days before the competition; they would have to leave within 24 hours after the event; and teams could do without managers. Then again, the federations that enjoyed enough clout managed to get things their way, while the others were left to fend for themselves. Indeed a pitiable state.
In such circumstances, it was only to be expected that there really was no one to help or console boxer Sarita Devi in her hour of need. It was universally acknowledged that she got the worst decision at the Games, yet she got the least help. In the end, she was made to look like a villain.
The government may have talked tough about reducing the number of freeloaders, but if you counted the number of officials in Incheon, it was pathetic. Virtually everyone in every federation was there — either as a representative of the Indian contingent, or as an official of the Asian or World bodies or as observers and so on.
It would be interesting if the government decides to ask for an explanation as to how and why they went and what was their contribution. It does not matter who paid for the trip, whether it is the government or state associations — in the end, it was taxpayers’ money.
Coming to the medal tally, the Indian team was not expected to win as many medals at the Asian Games as they did at the Commonwealth Games in Galsgow because of the presence of heavyweights such as China, South Korea and Japan as well as West Asian countries with imported African athletes and former Russian states make it a tougher competition.
Yet, the count dropped from what India had achieved in 2010. From 65 medals, including 14 gold, in 2010, India ended up with 57 medals, including 11 gold, in 2014. Not a very happy figure for the world’s second most populated country, especially when the most populated country, China, had 342 medals, including 151 gold.
India won gold medals in nine disciplines this time as compared to seven in the previous one, but in 2010, India won medals in 18 disciplines and it was only 14 this time. But then three of the disciplines in which India won medals the last time — chess (two bronze), roller sports (two bronze) and cue sports (one gold, one silver and two bronze) — were off the programme this time.
So, India is still where it was four years ago. Certainly a poor commentary as the rest of the world is marching on.
There were just four individual gold winners. Shooter Jitu Rai’s gold on the first day of competition gave rise to heightened expectations, but the contingent had to wait for almost a week to get a second. Apart from Rai, the other individual gold winners were wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, boxing legend MC Mary Kom and discus thrower Seema Punia, who was left out of the 2010 Asian Games. Then there was the high-profile Sania Mirza partnering a near-tyro Saketh Myneni in mixed doubles tennis.
The women’s 4×400 quartet, comprising 400m bronze medallist MR Poovamma, 800m silver winner Tintu Luka, besides Priyanka Pawar and Mandeep Kaur, ensured a fourth successive gold in the longer relay.
The men’s kabaddi team created a record with a seventh successive gold medal — no other country has won a gold in the discipline since it was introduced in the 1990 Asian Games. The women added to the supremacy with a second successive gold medal.
The triumph of the men’s squash team made up for the gold that Saurav Ghosal lost in men’s singles after almost winning it by getting to match-point and then losing to Kuwaiti Abdullah al Mezayen.
For India, this Asian Games’ best story was the group of compound archers — both men and women. The men’s trio included Abhishek Verma, a smiling Income Tax Department assistant, who trains the Hansraj College team in his spare time. His teammates were Sandeep Kumar and Rajat Chauhan.
In the women’s competition, Trisha Deb was initially part of the recurve team. She was at a crossroads without a job and hope, but made it in compound with an individual bronze and a team silver. She gave full credit to her coach Jiwanjot Teja, who convinced her to shift from Kolkata to Patiala and pursue a degree and the sport. She has succeeded, but is still looking for a job.
The government awards will give some succour to her modest family — her father is working as an assistant at an old-age home, and her mother is a housewife — and that may well be the story of the Games for India.
And finally, a word or more and a lot of fist pumping for the hockey team, which beat hosts South Korea and defending champion Pakistan to the gold. And, what’s more, the win ensured a ticket to the 2016 Olympics.
Jitu, Yogeshwar & Co are all set for Rio. They will inspire more as long as the officials don’t become a greater impediment than what they are now.