Cover Story: Unsporting spirit

Meeting Prime Minister Modi and being felicitated in their own states brought cheer after the meagre haul

Sending our largest ever Olympic contingent to Rio de Janeiro hasn’t been enough. We are an ambitious country hungry for victories and medals. We Indians like sports less for the adrenaline boost and more for the pride and glory that comes with winning. We are not fond of sportspersons per se; what we want is sports stars who we can worship. We do not necessarily appreciate the sweat and blood that is spent over many years to make a champion. We only recognise the medals and the trophies.

Qualifying for an international sporting event as prestigious and alluring as the Olympics is an achievement in itself for many sportspersons. The fact that 117 men and women from our country, the largest Indian contingent ever, qualified for the Rio Olympics points to a promising trend in Indian sports. However, the performances of our Olympians have been mediocre, barring a few exceptions. During the nerve-wracking competitions, we were disheartened to see some of them miss medals by a whisker as they stood fourth. While some put up aggressive fights, many had a not-so-confident body language. Even as Sakshi, Sindhu and Dipa have become household names after their ace performances, most people don’t even know of the others who gave their best performances but couldn’t reach the podium. For many of them, not being able to win a medal has nullified years of perseverance.

So where do we pin the blame for the country’s collective disappointment? Are the players not responsible for their own dismay? We Indians can be unrelenting in our criticism of sportspersons who stop short of winning. We have been ruthless towards the same players whom we held as our idols and gods when they have brought us glory. On the contrary, our sportspersons who represented India at Rio must be applauded for fighting against all odds despite government apathy. As at many other international feats, this time too it’s not our players who have failed us at the Olympics. It’s the system that has failed them.

The responsibility for ‘failure’, if that’s what we want to call the inability to clinch medals, lies directly with the government-administration combine. Countries such as USA, Great Britain, China, Russia and Germany that rule the roost in international sports put in a lot of effort to provide utmost support in terms of training and infrastructure to their sportspersons. The multiple medals earned by these countries at the Olympics and other international events are a direct consequence of the cooperation between players and the administration — the players’ utter hard work and determination and the enormous logistical support provided by their sports administrations. In India, however, the sports mechanism is underdeveloped and not streamlined enough to churn out gold medallists.

The Plan outlay for sports has been hiked to Rs 1,592 crore in this fiscal. A large chunk goes to hockey, shooting, archery, boxing, wrestling, weight-lifting and badminton, where winning is likely

It will be incorrect to say that the government does nothing to support sports. There is a lot of money allocated for sports and immense desire too to see Indian athletes do well. However, there are several glitches in the system that prevent Indian sports from realising its full potential.

The total plan outlay for sports in the current fiscal has been 1,592 crore, a hike of around 50 crore from the previous year’s allocation of 1,541.13 crore. This was 384 crore more than the total allocation in 2014-15 which was 1,541.13 crore. The previous year, i.e, for 2013, the sports budget was hiked by

214 crore. Thus, there has been an increase in the amount of money allocated for sports in recent years. Though many feel that this amount is paltry for a country as vast as ours, the problem lies with improper utilisation of these funds. The amount of money already allocated should first be put to full and legitimate use for the benefit of players and sports before a further hike is demanded.


 Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced the setting up of a task force which will help to plan for the “effective participation” of Indian sportspersons in the next three Olympics, to be held in 2020, 2024 and 2028

The task force – comprising in-house and outside experts — will prepare an overall strategy for facilities, training, selection procedures and other related matters.

 Modi has asked for a report on the doping charges against wrestler Narsingh Yadav

“There are sufficient funds allocated for sports. No (sports) association can complain for money. But still we are far from achieving what we are capable of,” Jiji Thomson, former Director General of the Sports Authority of India (SAI), told Tehelka. According to him, a large chunk of total funds is allocated for sports such as hockey, shooting, archery, boxing, wrestling, weight-lifting and badminton, where we have a much better propensity to win. “The responsibility of selecting athletes lies with the sports federations. There is sufficient support for these federations. For instance, at least when I was the DG, which ever foreign coaches the federations wanted we hired them at phenomenal costs. In fact, Abhinav Bindra, Mary Kom and Vikas Krishan were sent abroad for training,” says Thomson, who was appointed the Director General of SAI from March 2013 but resigned in January 2015 citing injustice by the government over his promotion.

He says the problem lies in the paltry number of players being trained. “We are an enormous country and very few athletes are being trained in proportion to that. The total number of athletes being trained by SAI would be 10,000 or less. We should train at least one crore players if we want to win more accolades.”

The 1980-batch IAS officer pointed out that there is a lot of focus on training of elite athletes and that’s what leaves us in the lurch. “If all attention is paid to star players, how will you ever find someone to match their level? As a result, there are no replacements for these elite performers. Saina (Nehwal) won a medal at the previous Olympics but this time she had a bad injury. What if one of our ace performers gets an injury in 2020? Do we have anyone to replace them? After four years we will be talking about the same problem,” he says.

Moreover, another factor is that immense attention is paid to the players once they achieve medals but not during their years of struggle. Gymnast Dipa Karmakar, who astonished the world by gracefully performing the most challenging Produnova vault that only four other women in the world have successfully performed, became the first ever female gymnast from India to compete at the Olympics despite lack of even minimal support from the administration. She is certainly an exception. It’s not possible for other budding gymnasts to come up to her level without proper scientific training that can only be provided by experts.

PV Sindhu
Basking in glory: PV Sindhu is facilitated by Venkaiah Naidu and officials back in India

Once sportspersons win medals at events such as the Olympics, they are showered with huge monetary rewards, expensive gifts and sponsorships. The irony is that even if half of this money is spent on players while they are struggling to make a mark, we will have many more champions. “There’s no shortfall of cash and rewards once you win a medal. But you always struggle and there’s hardly anyone to support you in India during the journey to the games,” Indian Greco Roman wrestler Hardeep Singh told mediapersons after he crashed out in the first round of the 98 kg category at Rio.

There is also the question of infrastructure. We do have a number of stadia and fields but it is poles apart from the highly advanced facilities and scientific training that is needed to make sportspersons attain their maximum potential. For instance, the Indian Grand Prix was held at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, one of the best stadia in the country. In the 100m men’s and women’s dashes respectively, promising Odisha players Amiya Kumar Mallick and Srabani Nanda timed well above the Olympic qualifying standards. However, they couldn’t qualify for the Olympics as they could be timed only manually thanks to a power cut at the venue. According to rules, manually recorded timings cannot be considered for Olympic qualification.

Large delegations of officials flew business class to Rio while the athletes flew economy. But Deepa Karmakar was denied her personal physiotherapist as it was deemed ‘wasteful’ expense

Our existing infrastructure is insufficient to impart the kind of strenuous training needed to win an Olympic medal. Jitender Sharma, a national-level football player who represented Delhi team in 2005, laments that had there been better facilities and scientific training for players he wouldn’t have quit sports. “When we used to prepare for national tournaments, there was no dedication from authorities. Sometimes we couldn’t find any footballs in the stadium to practise with. Sometimes only one-fourth part of the ground was given to us as the rest was to be used for some non-sports function. And after such events when we wanted to play in the whole ground, we had to clean up the litter and mess ourselves as we didn’t know when someone would bother to clear it up. We were also not allowed to use the gym,” says Sharma, who now works as video editor with a TV channel in New Delhi.

Players also told this reporter that even where facilities are provided, they fall short if a lot of youngsters are interested in utilising them. While Sharma says that sometimes a single coach has to train as many as 500 players, Mohita Sahdev, who represented the Indian women’s badminton team at the world championship in 2015, said there are too few academies in different parts of the country.

“At least in badminton, we have just a handful of academies. After Saina and Sindhu became national sensations, every badminton player wants to train at Gopichand’s academy in Hyderabad. But a player from Delhi or Jammu or Nagaland may not be able to go all the way down south. And how many people can a single academy train? What we need is a few good academies in every zone in the country,” she says.

Even as the SAI and sports federations might pay a lot of attention to senior players while preparing them for big international tournaments, a major fault line is that no attention is paid to players at the grassroots level. There is a vast difference between the facilities available for senior players of national teams and those playing and training at the grassroots.

A big problem with Indian sports is misappropriation of funds. During international championships, a large number of people are sent along with the players in the garb of support staff. Sometimes fake posts such as ‘analyst’ and ‘manager’ are created to send those close to the people in-charge for such all-expenses-paid foreign trips. During the 2014 Asian Games, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) had sent a list of 935 names of members of the contingent, which the SAI had axed to 573 after due diligence showed that a large number of them had nothing to do at the tournament.

The amount of money lavished on paying foreign coaches — $58m in 2012 — would be better spent on training our own coaches in state-of-the-art universities built for the purpose

Even during the recent Olympics, large delegations of bureaucrats and officials flew business class to Rio while the athletes flew economy in long and uncomfortable hopping flights. A lot of fingers have been raised at some of these people, including Union Sports Minister Vijay Goel, Haryana Sports Minister Anil Vij and INLD leader Abhay Chautala, who had full accreditation and thus complete access to the Games Village, despite having no role to play there. Their trips were sponsored by the state exchequer and there has been no accountability as to who approved their names in the contingent list. Chautala, currently facing trial in a disproportionate assets case, was out on bail when he visited Rio at the government’s expense.

Born to fight: Wrestler Sakshi Malik became an overnight sensation in her home state of Haryana, where the girl child is usually not welcome

Many such persons were allowed to go for a ‘holiday’ while Deepa Karmakar was denied her personal physiotherapist, an essential for any athlete, as the authorities thought it would be a “wasteful” expense. Punjab’s Manpreet Kaur, the first-ever Indian female shot-putter to qualify for the Olympics, was not allowed to take her coach with her. On asking the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) about this, she was allegedly told that she won’t win a medal anyway! Inderjeet Singh who represented India at the men’s shot-putt event, was preoccupied with arranging a sponsorship for his coach to travel with him, when all his attention should have been on his performance. While the coach of triple jumper Renjith Maheshwary was allowed to travel with him to Rio, he was not given accreditation, which meant that he couldn’t be physically present with his trainee and was reduced to a mere spectator.

The presence of coaches is highly essential for participants as coaches know of every positive and negative factor of the players and guide them about every tiny detail about their performances. Apart from technical support, coaches also give mental support to their wards. Players’ performances can suffer serious setbacks if their coaches are not present with them during competition.

Another absurd example is that of Pawandeep Singh Kohli, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of the Indian team at this year’s Olympics. Far from being an expert in sports medicine or sports injuries, Kohli is a radiologist. Any points for guessing how a radiologist can help athletes cope with muscular discomfort or injuries? He probably swung the trips thanks to his father Tarlochan Singh, vice-president of the IOA.

“There is plenty of corruption in sports bodies. There is no accountability as no audits are held. The Sports Development Bill has not seen the light of the day.

Parliament has to pass an Act to make sports bodies financially accountably,” Thomson says. Ironically, most people who are given responsibility for sports in India have nothing to do with sports. A lot can be fixed if people closely associated with sports are given the responsibility to head sports. According to sports activist Rahul Mehra, a Delhi-based lawyer who has filed PILs against the BCCI and various sports federations and got favourable verdicts, it’s essential that a person who understands not only sports but the various struggles and needs of sportspersons, is at the helm of affairs. “For the first time, we have a sportsman at the cabinet level, Rajyavardhan Rathore, who inspired Abhinav Bindra — our sole gold medalist in shooting. Now why is Rathore heading the I&B Ministry and not the sports ministry? We should have a sportsperson as sports minister so that he can be an inspiration for citizens,” Mehra told Tehelka.

“The biggest ill of Indian sports is that the wrong people are at the right places. Sports is being run and micro-managed by political individuals who have no understanding of sports. There is a huge amount of talent which is simply being destroyed. A couple of generations of talented sportspersons have been lost. The entire system is averse to talent. This will never be reversed unless the right people — who know what sports and being a sportsman is all about — are given the charge,” he said. In 1999, Mehra filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court taking every nationally recognised sports federation to court. “There has to be accountability and transparency to citizens. The sports person has to be the nucleus to every decision,” he says.

Every sport in our country has a federation running it. These federations are funded by the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs and SAI, though they are independent in their functioning. Shockingly, most sports federations are headed by politicians, who consider them their fiefdoms and use them for advancement of their personal interests. Many of these federations are embroiled in power struggles — some of which go on for years — which has had a negative effect on the sport and the players.

Let’s consider the example of boxing. The Indian Boxing Federation (IBF) was in December 2013 suspended by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) following allegations of corruption and manipulation in its election. IBF was led by politician Abhay Chautala, who we have already talked about above. Chautala was elected President of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) after he came into the fray as an IBF representative. BJP MLA from Rajasthan Abhishek Matoria, who was elected as the next president of the IBF, is his brother-in-law. The AIBA suspended the IBF for holding elections in violation of the procedure laid down in the sports code.

As a consequence of such illicit practices by the heads of sports federations that have complete charge of the concerned sport, sadly, it’s our athletes who suffer at the end of the day. “My humble request to the government is that please form our federation as soon as possible. Our players are really suffering because there is no one to support them,” Amanpreet Kaur, who has been a SAI coach of the Indian women’s boxing team for over a decade, told Tehelka. She said that as a result of there being no sports federation for boxing, national-level championships are not being held and new talent is not being scouted. “For the past three-four years, we haven’t got any new reed of boxers because no one is there to hold the Nationals,” she said.

While seven male and one female boxers had qualified for the London Olympics, this time only three Indian boxers qualified. Vikas Krishan, who lost his quarter-final bout, told mediapersons at Rio that due to the absence of a boxing federation, their preparation for the Olympics had suffered as they had hardly

got any international exposure. Krishan, a rare southpaw, couldn’t train well as only about five per cent Indian boxers are southpaw; his requests to bring in a southpaw to aid his training went unheard. Surprisingly, many sportspersons told this reporter that had there been a boxing federation, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Mary Kom would have won her qualifying bout for Rio.

The All India Tennis Federation, the Basketball Federation of India and the Gymnastics Federation of India have also been too busy indulging in infighting and factionalism to focus on the well being of their players and sport, which is their primary responsibility.

In April last year, the International Paralympic Committee had derecognised the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) over infighting within the body and giving shoddy treatment to athletes during the National Para-Athletics Championship in Ghaziabad.

India was suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in December 2012 for contravention of its charter, that says that there should be no government interference in the election to national sports bodies. This had led to a two-year ban on Indian athletes from representing the country at international sporting events. Even as the IOA came out of the 14-month suspension in 2014 after it held a fresh election after much dilly-dallying, the infighting among its top brass got exposed only a year later. During his one-day visit to India in April last year, IOC President Thomas Bach appealed to IOA members to work together for the betterment of Indian sports and sportspersons.

IOA President N Ramachandran remains highly controversial. In September 2015 the Delhi high court had asked the sports ministry to take back the Rashtriya Khel Protshan Puraskar awarded to him, after he was found to have made false allegations about his contribution to the sport of squash. Many sports federations have stood up against him for running the show by himself without consulting other officials. Some have even alleged that he had offered money to buy votes. Ramachandran is president of both the IOA and the World Squash Federation which is definitely a case of conflict of interest.

India’s meagre medal haul is a direct consequence of less number of people taking up sports professionally. There is a lack of sports culture in or country. “Scouting for talent should start at a very young age. Sports curriculum is not followed in any of our schools. In countries like China and Great Britain, they start very young. Once I went to the Wuhan Sports University in China and saw tens of thousands of players, some of them as young as three years old, being trained so well. Though we cannot emulate China as there the government imposes its will on the people, India should certainly follow the footsteps of a democratic country like Great Britain — the second superpower in international sports — that has recast its education system and made sports a part of people’s everyday lives,” said Thomson.

In our country, not many coaches have the right kind of training to generate gold medallists. While many former players have the determination to become good coaches and work hard on the players’ training, they lack scientific training as well as knowledge in sports science to impart that edge. If we have even a few universities where coaches can get the right kind of training, it will go a long way in giving a

big push to Indian sports. The amount of money spent by our government on paying foreign coaches would be better spent on training our own coaches. For instance, in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics, the Sports Ministry had earmarked $58 million to employ 28 foreign coaches. Now if the same amount of money is used to set up sports universities where coaches are given state-of-the-art training, it will solve a lot of problems.

Surjit Singh, who was SAI coach for over three decades and now runs his badminton academy at the CWG Village in the capital, said that most parents of children with immense potential think twice before letting them take up sports as a profession. “They think studies are more important and that sports will not take their child anywhere. This attitude can change if schools give equal importance to various sports and there are facilities at the grassroots level for players to get scientific training,” he said. The disinclination towards taking up sports professionally also stems from the fact that not enough well-paying jobs are offered to sportspersons. “Players don’t want to take up sports because there are no good jobs, no secure career. Even if jobs are on offer, they are too few. And most jobs offered to sportspersons are blue collar and contractual. The new generation doesn’t want to do this kind of work,” Singh said.


Photo credit: Vijay Pandey
More than a nation’s pride, sports help in keeping a nation fit to reduce burden on its healthcare system. (Photo:Vijay Pandey/Tehelka)

 Shifting the goalposts

Though it has been found that prosperous nations tend to perform better in the Games, India can improve its own score once new government schemes kick in, says Bharat Hiteshi

Is there a correlation between prosperity and performance at the Olympics? Yes, if the medals won by the athletes and the countries they belong to is any indication. A look reveals that of the Top 10 nations had taken most gold medals eight of these countries are from the West. It is not a coincident that they are among the world’s top economic powers. The two Asian countries in the Top 10 are China and Japan, both economic superpowers. In the 11-20 rank, we have Europeans such as Hungary, Spain, Brazil, Croatia, New Zealand and Canada, Jamaica, Brazil and Kenya.

There is another reason — or you may call it correlation. Strong economies have better sports science research which makes a big difference between a bronze and the fourth place as the margins for error become tighter and tighter.

Strong economies, better performance

Strong economies provide better food for their citizens. The citizens of US, the top gold winner on the Rio table, are among the top calorie-consumers in the world. In comprison, India’s daily per capita calorie-consumption stands at 2,360 which is much lower than the European, Asian and some African countries. To India’s 2,360 calories consumed per capita per day, Nigeria’s number is 2710, Indonesia’s 2,550, Jamaica’s 2,840, Iran’s 3,050, Morocco’s 3,260, and Kazakhstan’s 3,510. It has been medically proved that good energy intake leads to a fitter, stronger population. Genetics is a big factor too: Europeans are physically bigger and stronger.

On another count, Olympics is not only about winning medals or only a nation’s pride. More than a nation’s pride, sports help in keeping a nation fit to reduce burden on our healthcare system. This is very relevant to the countries like India in view of our crumbling healthcare system. We must play sports not just for reasons of jingoism, but to keep fit and disease free. As a consequence, we would produce world-class athletes. Agreed that sports infrastructure in India is patchy and the best infrastructure is rarely available to the sections of the society who actually provide the largest number of sportspersons for India. These are generally the rural, often disadvantaged sections of the society, who take up sports as a passion.

Ways to come up TOPS

Interestingly, when it comes to India, we find that after every debacle, a blame game follows! That has become a habit with us. However, this time, it is different! Indian players would find it difficult to pass on the buck for their poor performance at the Rio Olympics. The reason is simple: the Modi government had come out with an innovative Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) in April 2015 itself, over a year before the Olympics. The idea was to help our players train and equip themselves much ahead of the games.

Close to a hundred athletes were shortlisted for the TOPS. Lo and behold, even for those who were not part of the TOPS, substantial financial help was extended by the National Sports Development Fund. The central government spent Rs 30 lakh to Rs 1 crore on the training of each of the 118 players who were part of Indian contingent at Rio. A whopping Rs 122 crore was spent on the players for the Olympics. Of this, 10 crore was given to sportspersons under TOPS and Rs 56 crore for camps and foreign coaches’ salaries. Among the many beneficiaries were shooters Manavjit Singh Sandhu (Rs 3 crore between 2012 and 2015), Abhinav Bindra (Rs 1.12 crore) and Heena Sidhu (Rs 62 lakh), discus-throwers Seema Punia (Rs 1.12 crore) and Vikas Gowda (Rs 57 lakh), shuttler Saina Nehwal (Rs 90 lakh), tennis players Leander Paes (Rs 90 lakh) and Sania Mirza (Rs 75 lakh), sprinters Jauna Murmu (Rs 56 lakh) and Tintu Luka (Rs 50 lakh).

When male athletes from India were falling like nine pins, it was the women power that showed the silver lining. It is time to recognise the might of women power in all spheres and above all sports

The Sports Authority of India had included three Rio-bound boxers — Shiva Thapa, Vikas Krishan and Manoj Kumar in the TOPS, but also provided them money whenever they sent in a proposal. Thapa and Manoj trained for more than a month at the English Institute of Sports in Sheffield in the UK. Similarly, Vikas trained in the US for a month and then in Venezuela before deciding to establish his training base at the NIS centre in Patiala. Our tennis players played round the year at various events and got the government support. The archers were provided with world-class training, physiotherapists and mental trainers. They even landed in the Brazil three weeks days before the Olympics.

Dipa Karmakar who became the first Indian gymnast to qualify for the Olympics final was also included in TOPS and extended a financial support of Rs 30 lakh for training.

There is also a new scheme National Sports Talent Search Scheme (NSTSS) for (i) identification of sporting talent among students in the age group of 8–12 years and (ii) nurturing of the sporting potential/talent in district-level sports schools/central sports schools/National Sports Academies, etc. They can help broaden the pool of sportspersons in the country. What can also prove a boon is the Himalayan Region Sports Festival (HRSF) for promoting unique sports traditions in the Himalyan Region, which includes Nepal and Bhutan and Indian states such as J&K, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and the North-eastern states. A special package for development of sports in Jammu & Kashmir was announced by Prime Minister with a total assistance of Rs 200 crore for enhancement of sports facilities in J&K can prove to be a trigger.

Myths about women broken

All said and done, the Olympics are not just about winning medals or Indian performances or simply the failure of our players not coming upto the mark. It is about the superb feat of athletes from across the globe that is enough to stir in us the kind of passion and patriotism that nothing else can do. An outcome of Rio Olympics is the discovery of the impressive duo of PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik that has broken several myths to firm up India firmly on the medals table at Rio. Dipa Karmakar too excelled in the gymnastics competition, a sports discipline that was hitherto a taboo for for Indian sportspersons. These zestful girls have truly made us proud. Women who were considered the weaker sex have proved all wrong and the saving grace for India has been their performance. When male athletes from India were falling like nine pins, it was the women power that showed the silver lining. It is time to recognise the might of women power in all spheres and above all sports.

The clincher for Indian sports in the coming times will indubitably be to cleanse the system of officialdom, of malpractices, of nepotism coupled with will to refurbish infrastructure facilities across the the country, particularly in the hinterland which sends most sportsmen to different sports arenas. A country of India’s stature cannot afford to languish in the lower rungs of the list each time the Olympics arrive.



Girl power: Rio Olympics 2016 Bronze medalist Sakshi Malik being felicitated by Harayana CM Manohar Lal Khattar

The Sultanate

It is the excellent sports infrastructure in Haryana, as well as government-assured jobs, that set the state apart from others, says Smriti Sharma Vasudeva

Of all the things the northern state of Haryana is known for, producing world class sportspersons is what sets it apart. From athletes to boxers to wrestlers to hockey players to judokas, Haryana churns them all out.

Sample this: For the Rio Games, Haryana’s contribution of over 20 athletes to the 118-member Indian contingent, was the highest among all the states. Silver medal winner Sakshi Malik is from Haryana’s Rohtak district.

At the 2012 London Olympics, 18 out of 81 athletes in the Indian contingent were from Haryana, and of the six medals won by India, two were won by athletes from Haryana, Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt. Dutt’s bronze is being upgraded to silver after Russia’s Besik Kudukhov tested positive in a dope test. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, eight players in the Indian contingent were from Haryana including Sushil Kumar, who won a bronze.

At the 2014 Commonwealth Games, out of 64 medals won by India, 22 were bagged by Haryana’s athletes. Similarly, their score at the 2010 Commonwealth Games was 15 golds out of India’s 38. Prashant Karmakar, who hails from the state, won a medal in the Commonwealth Paralympics.

Athlete Krishna Poonia, the lone Indian woman track and field athlete to have won an individual gold in the 2010 Commonwealth Games is also from Haryana. She finished sixth in the 2012 London Games.

What has made Haryana a nurturing ground for budding and eventually winning sportspersons, is a robust, result-oriented sports policy in which the government has invested lot of thought and a huge cache of funds. One may call it ‘motivation’ but the prize money offered by the Haryana government coupled with the ‘right to a job’ is a huge attraction for sportspersons in Haryana to win a medal at a state, national or an international level. Most recently, Haryana government announced a reward of Rs 2.5 crore and a job to wrestler Sakshi Malik for winning a bronze medal in the Rio Olympics.

The new Sports Policy, besides conferring jobs to medal winners in recognised international competitions, provides for an insurance scheme and concrete lifetime assistance

The Haryana government in January last unveiled its new sports policy: ‘Haryana Physical Activities and Sports Policy-2015’. Under the latest policy,the Olympic and Paralympic gold medal winners from the state get Rs 6 crore instead of the earlier Rs 5 crore, Rs 4 crore for silver and Rs 2.5 crore for bronze medal.The remaining participants of these mega events will now get 15 lakh cash awards as against 11 lakh. As part of the policy, the Asian Games gold medallists now get 3 crore, silver winners get 1.5 crore and bronze winners get 75 lakh as against 2 crore, 1 crore and 50 lakh respectively.

The Commonwealth Games gold medal winners now get Rs 1.5 crore as against 1 crore, silver winners get 75 lakh as against 50 lakh and bronze medal winners get Rs 50 lakh instead of Rs 25 lakh given earlier. Award money for World Cup/World Championship winners was hiked to Rs 20 lakh from Rs 10 lakh earlier for gold, Rs 15 lakh for silver from Rs 8 lakh earlier and Rs 10 lakh for bronze from Rs 6 lakh earlier. Not only this, the state government increased the monthly scholarship meant for refreshments after the training sessions for the 885 state and national medallists training at the 56 sports wings across the state from Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000.

The award money was also substantially increased for various other sports competitions, including World University Games, Youth Olympic Games, National School Games, All India University Tournaments and World Marathon for Mentally Challenged, among other events.

The new Sports Policy, besides conferring jobs to medal winners in recognised international competitions, provides for an insurance scheme and concrete lifetime assistance to sportspersons in the shape of a pension scheme. Also on the anvil is an insurance scheme for players to insure them against sports accidents, sports injuries and other exigencies.

Boxer Akhil Kumar, a 2006 Commonwealth Games gold-medallist and 2008 Beijing Olympic quarter-finalist who got a job under the government scheme and is currently posted as a DSP in Haryana Police says, “Haryana government has a huge contribution in the present status of sports in the state. Be it the prize money or job security, it is a great motivation and a way of earning respect for a sportsperson. Its policies are being emulated by various other states and why not? Winning a medal and getting instant recognition by one’s state catapults one to a celebrity status immediately. As a result, more and more sportspersons want to emulate the success story. There is a healthy competition among sportspersons in Haryana and they all want to do better than the other,” he articulates.

“It all started in 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth where Haryana’s contribution to the national tally was one gold, three silver and a bronze. This was followed by Beijing Olympics, where Vijender Singh got a bronze medal. A momentum was set,” he recalls.

Sports infrastructure

Sports centres dot the length and breadth of Haryana, be it Hisar, Bhiwani, Rohtak, Kaithal, Jhajjar, Narnaul, Ambala, Sirsa — almost every district has sports grounds and facilities for budding sportspersons. In all, Haryana has two state sports complexes besides 21 district sports complexes, 13 sub-divisional stadiums, 226 Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Khel Parisars and 232 mini rural stadiums besides several training grounds, multipurpose halls etc. Also, in the pipeline is the development of mini stadiums in each gram panchayat across the state to ensure every child takes up at least one sport. The state has also proposed in its 2016-17 sports policy the right to fitness and right to play for everyone.

Women in lead

Despite Haryana having a skewed sex ratio, female athletes outnumber their male counterparts. For instance, in the recently concluded Rio Olympics, among 20 sportspersons from Haryana, 11 were women.

“There was a time when girls were not allowed to play sports at all. But slowly, after several names such as Krishna Punia, MamtaKharb, GeetikaJhakhar, Phogat sisters including Geeta Phogat, Sister Babita Phogat and now their cousin Vinesh Phogat (who bowed out of Rio Olympics after suffering an injury) and many others made a mark for themselves, things started changing. Though girls are still not allowed to practice at village akharas, they are allowed to join sports academies to follow their dream”, says Geeta, a budding wrestler from Panchkula, Haryana.

“Now parents have realised that sports is not a bad thing. If we win, we get good amount of money from the government as well as a job, so why not”, she adds.

Says her coach, “Sports here have become synonymous with job security and success, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There was a time when the grounds would be empty and neither parents nor schools would encourage children to participate in sports. There would be a handful of children who would take up sports, that too casually. And expecting girls to play even in school grounds was totally out of the question. We have witnessed the change and things are improving gradually with more and more parents even from villages encouraging their daughters to take up sports, even if that means staying in a different city, away from the family.”



Getting there The UP contingent on its return to Lucknow

Ready Steady…

The UP Chief Minister has been building sports infrastructure. If he provides good coaching and builds a sports culture, the state can sprint ahead, reports Mudit Mathur

The patriarch of the ruling clan was himself a pehelwan (wrestler). His son keeps a hectic schedule as UP Chief Minister but makes time for a couple of games of badminton during the evenings, besides taking active interest in football and cricket. He went to a Sainik School, where sports is given as much weightage as academics. Together, the clan has built ‘world class’ infrastructure, spending over 233 crore for building an indoor stadium and all-weather swimming pool in their native village of Safai to host international competitions. It is another matter that these facilities are underutilised for want of suitable coaches.

Akhilesh Yadav indulged in a bit of one-upmanship with other state CMs by announcing before the Rio Olympics that any player who won a gold medal from UP would receive prize money of 6 crore from the government. Perhaps he knew that there was no change of a gold.

Talent, however, abounds in the state. Legendary hockey wizard, Dhyan Chand, after whom the Lucknow stadium is named, dribbled his way to gold several times for his country. KD Singh Babu was a legendary hockey player on whose name another stadium was built in Lucknow. Zafar Iqbal and Mohamad Shahid (who died recently in Varanasi) were equally fabulous, as was Ashok Kumar. UP once dominated the national badminton landscape with champions like Syed Modi, Amita Modi and Madhumita Bisht. 

There is a tough process for selection of sportspersons for the Olympics, as a prerequisite is the winning of international tournaments. Those who brought pride to the state by going to Rio included athletes Seema Punia, Sudha Singh and Ankit Sharma, men’s hockey player Danish Mujtaba, women’s hockey players Vandana Kataria and Preeti Dubey, shooters Jitu Rai and Miraj Ahmed Khan, badminton player Manu Atri and wrestler Sanjeev Tomer. They made it on account of their natural talent and hard work and not on the strength of state-sponsored initiatives.

The state government is felicitating and giving Rs 10 lakh to the players on their return, except wrestler Narsingh Yadav who was debarred from participating on account of doping charges.

Three sports colleges have been built in the state and two are under construction but the sports culture and the mindset that can produce winners is sorely lacking

Secretary of the UP Olympics Association Anandeshwar Pandey, who is also Joint Secretary of the Indian Olympics Association, told Tehelka after his return from Rio, “Indian wrestler Narsingh Yadav was very close to winning a medal and was reducing his weight. Why would he take drugs to increase it? He is a victim of some deep conspiracy and would come out clean once criminal investigations are over,” he says.
Sharing his long experience, Pandey — who witnessed many Olympics — says there is need for long-term planning for winning medals. He points out, “While other nations start training a kid from the age of 6-10 years keeping in view the next 10-12 years, we focus on our players only after they win some national award on their own merit and strength. By the time we start training them for international events, our exercise is too late to yield positive results.”

Pandey feels our sports policy is shortsighted as no priority is given since childhood. “A lot of talented kids come from a rural background, and often suffer from malnutrition. In other countries, diet charts are made right from nursery and kindergarten levels, so that they get healthy nutrition. How can we expect to give good, rich diet in just the meagre amount of Rs 250 for an entire day, given in government hostels for full-time training?”

In addition, most players come under pressure at international events due to lack of exposure. They need good psychological councilors for boosting morale and effective stress management. There are not enough good physiotherapists to quickly attend to sports injuries. 

Three sports colleges have been built in the state and two are under construction at Saharanpur and Fatehpur but infrastructure alone is not enough to win medals at Olympics. It is the sports culture and mindset of society that produces winners. We have no dearth of talent in various sports but what is lacking is encouragement and support right from the basic education level. We have failed to recognise that sports can lead to a bright career. Parents discourage budding talent by saying this is not going to pay. Uttar Pradesh, despite being the most populous state of India, could not overcome the paradox of sending 11 players to the Games but not getting even a single medal.

The strategy of the Samajwadi Party government with regard to Rio Olympics has become a matter of breach of privilege in the Legislative Council. A ruling party MLC Madhukar Jaitley raised the issue of Principal Secretary, Sports, Anita Bhatnagar Jain going to Rio de Janeiro with her minister. Jaitley wanted Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to send a delegation of sport experts, including Arjuna awardees, to witness the Games, so that on their recommendations, the government could frame sports policy of the state. In an interaction with Tehelka, Jaitley said that his proposal was approved by the Chief Minister, but to his surprise, came to know instead that office bearers of sports associations were part of the entourage.

To this, Arjuna awardee and former captain of the Indian volleyball team Ranveer Singh reacts sharply. “It makes no sense to send anyone other than players and coaches to such events on public money. America wins more than 100 medals, but no sports minister or others attend such events. Out there, players decide their sport policies and there is no bureaucratic interference.”

India’s first professional woman tennis player Nirupama Sanjeev points out another anomaly. “India has a slightly skewed tradition of showering medalists with cash prizes and gifts. While they surely deserve that, it is important to note that they need the cash help before, to win the medal. We have failed them if they only get help after the event.” She shifted to the US and Europe due to perceived differences in sports culture between Indians and other countries. A sportsperson needs money for accessing the best equipment of international standards, whereas in UP boys who practice cricket for big events just have to be satisfied with poor quality products made in Meerut.

On his part, Akhilesh Yadav has shown determination to promote sports. An international cricket stadium and sport complex is coming up via public private partnership (PPP) mode on the Lucknow-Sultanpur road with an investment of Rs 400 crore. The government has decided to provide employment in Class II jobs to those players who win medals in Olympics, World Cup, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. Besides, there will be a reward of Rs 6 crore for individuals getting gold medals and Rs 3 crore for team games. Similarly, silver medalists in single events will get Rs 4 crore and Rs 2 crore for team games. Bronze medalists will get crore in single events and Rs 1 crore in team games.

The state government will be giving financial assistance of Rs 20,000 per month to Arjuna, Dronacharya, Khel Ratna and Padma awardees from the state. The prize money for Laxman and Rani Laxmibai Award has been increased from Rs 50,000 to Rs 3,11,000. The sports department has organised a specialised refresher course by Indonesian coaches for departmental trainers.

With its abundant talent, Uttar Pradesh needs scientific coaching, physiotherapists and psychologists to help children right from the day they step into the playground. A perfect balance has to be found among all the three concerned parties: sportspersons, their associations and the government.



The game hasn’t even begun

The sports scenario in Bihar is nothing short of dismal, writes Kanhaiya Bhelari

Three officials from Bihar flew to Rio in August: Abdul Bari Siddiqui, finance minister and vice-president of the Badminton Association of Inda (BAI), KN Jaiswal, general secretary of the BAI and Mushtaque Ahmed, general secretary of the Hockey Association of India.

Not a single sportsman from the state participated in any event, a result of the negative attitude to sports promotion of successive governments.

In Bihar, which has population of more than 10 crore, sports has never been on the government’s priority list. Even opposition parties have never raised a voice about the dismal scenario. Kumar Vijay, president of the Bihar Kabaddi Association, comments, “Both ruling and opposition leaders are on the same wavelength on the issue of promoting games and sports in the state”.

In the corridors of power, no one pays attention to grievances of sports lovers and sports associations about the poor infrastructure and coaching facilities. “People of Bihar should worry more about food, schools, roads and hospitals rather than foolishly wasting time and energy in sports activities,” says a senior BJP leader, who does not want to be quoted.

There is a new sports complex in Patna but the contractor in-charge does not allow sportsmen to practise on the grounds. The Bihar State Sports Authority has no funds to do work

The government claims to have constructed a sports complex at Patna’s Kankarbagh locality. “The complex is of no use to sportspersons because the contractor in charge does not allow sportsmen to practise on the ground,” alleges Kumar Vijay.

The Bihar State Sports Authority (BSSA) which has responsibility of promoting sports and games activities across the state, is a white elephant. Says Krishna Singh, who served as chief sports consultant of Bihar government for two years, “Our sole occupation was to play cards during duty hours at the headquarters of the BSSA in Moin-ul-Haq Stadium in Patna.” He further alleges that then director general of the BSSA had installed a well-furnished cot to have a sound sleep during
office hours.

The situation today has not changed a bit. “No money, no work” policy has been adopted by BSSA employees. However, if one opens the website prepared by the BSSA, he will certainly get convinced that Bihar’s sports activities are at par with the other developed states in the country.

Bihar Players’ Association president Mritunjay Tiwary says that the Sports Authority of India (SAI) organises training camps and sports events to select players in different states. “But the SAI centre in Bihar does not hold any such event on a regular basis”. Bihar has four SAI centres in Patna, Kishanganj, Jamui and Muzaffarpur respectively.

During the first tenure of Nitish Kumar (2005-10), the state government had a comprehensive plan to promote sports and games. The department of art, culture and youth affairs had proposed constructing district-level indoor stadiums under Mukhyamantri Khel Vikas Yojna. Recalls the then minister, Sukhda Pandey, “Two categories of stadiums had been proposed for different types of towns ­— indoors and outdoors — in order to boost sports in the state.” 

The concerned minister, Shivchandra Ram, even after repeated efforts by Tehelka, did not make himself available for his reaction on the sports scenario in the state. Ashish Sinha, director of BSSA says, “Budgetary allocation for sports is meagre compared to other states. But with these funds, we are working hard to provide better facilities so that players can excel.”

Bihar’s claim to Olympic fame lies in sending Shivnath Singh as a marathon runner for the 1976 and 1980 Olympics. He finished at 11th position in 1976. Late Singh, who ran barefoot during his entire career, had unsuccessfully tried to motivate state government to be serious about sports enthusiasts, but in vain.

There is no dearth of officials who say that the other factor behind Bihar players not figuring at the top in any sports event is that majority of the players use sports as a ladder to grab government jobs. They give up active sports after getting jobs.




Grappling with apathy

At an akhada in Pune, 130 wrestlers train for big events with virtually no facilities and a single coach. Prateek Goyal reports on how willpower keeps them motivated

At 7 pm, 4-5 well-built boys are sprawled in a 350 sq ft ramshackle room. Dirty walls, steel trunks, a few mattresses, a small ceiling fan, a 100W bulb, clothes hanging on the windows: it looks like a shack for migrant labour. But the trophies on a wall tell us that these are young wrestlers who will represent India in the international arena.

Welcome to Mamasaheb Mohol Kushti Sankul (MMKS) in Pune’s Katraj locality, run by the Maharashtra state wrestling federation., whose president is none other than
NCP chief Sharad Pawar. Its 130 wrestlers are huddled in 14 rooms. Daigunde, a first year law student says, “I am okay living with 10 others, cooking my own food. But we definitely need a gym and grounds for better training.”

Some 25-30 young boys are training in a mud akhada. Sachin Daigunde, 21, is sparring with Abhijeet Daamdar, 20. When told to take a break, they do 100 pushups instead. The boys aspire to get medals for
India in the Olympics. They are aware that their training centre lacks facilities but still feel that sheer hard work will make them winners.

Daamdar, from a neighbouring village, belongs to a family of farmers.  He has been in MMKS for two years and is planning to move to Tumchadi Akhada in Punjab. “Let’s see what fate brings, but I will keep practising until I achieve something,” he says.

Akshay Yadav, 26, is a national-level wrestler. He tells Tehelka, “I came to this institute as it had some good wrestlers five years back. At that time even power and water were not provided. We pay from our own pockets to live here, we even spend our prize money on day-to-day expenses.”

A national-level senior wrestler who doesn’t wish to be identified says in the same vein, “We don’t want good rooms, we need good coaches and new techniques of training.”

The training centre did not even have a professional coach for 10 years. Two months ago, Amol
Yadav, who recently passed out from Netaji Subhash National Institute of Sports (NIS), Patiala was sent.

He tells Tehelka, “This centre is ill equipped, lacking basics like gym, grounds and dummies. There is only one mat for practice, whereas we require four. Plus there should be a psychologist and a nutritionist. There should be at least 10 coaches.”

“Ironically, though they come from poor families, these boys are spending from their pockets, even paying electricity bills,” adds Yadav.

According to Om Prakash Yadav, head of NIS Patiala’s wrestling department, “We still believe in traditional ways of training. Instead of doing weight training and adopting new techniques we still practice dunds, rope climbing, lifting stones or climbing hills.”

In general, says Yadav, Indian infrastructure is of very poor quality and dietary habits of Indian wrestlers are still traditional. “We still believe in milk and curd instead of taking protein-rich supplements. We need to evolve as our country is a pool of talent. We need to channelise it,” adds Yadav.

Even Gyaneshwar Mangade, ex-wrestler and railway employee, who has voluntarily taken charge of supervision, is upset. He says, “Federation people are embroiled in their own politics. They just make announcements that they will prepare wrestlers from Maharashtra for the Olympics. Wrestlers from this centre have achieved the title of Maharashtra Kesari, Hind Kesari, Rustam-e-Hind and some have represented the country at international level. But they are riding on willpower. In fact, the federation has not provided anything except land.”

When Tehelka contacted Balasaheb Landge, general secretary of the Maharashtra state wrestling association, he is not the person responsible for speaking on the issue.




What went wrong with Indian hockey?

As the Indian hockey team failed to make its presence felt at the Olympics yet again,
Ridhima Malhotra finds out what plagues our national sport

Field hockey, our national sport, is also the sport for which we have won maximum Olympic golds — a total of eight, six of them consecutively from 1928 to 1956. The men’s team also won us one silver and two bronze medals. We only have one other Olympic gold in any other sport, won by Abhinav Bindra for shooting, at Beijing in 2008.

After we won the gold at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, the performance of the men’s hockey team started deteriorating and we have failed to win a single medal for it since then. The team’s worst performance was when it failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, followed by finishing 12th at the 2012 London Olympics.

At Rio, the Indian men’s hockey team finished 8th while the women’s team finished 13th, even as their world rankings are number 6 and 12 respectively. What is the reason for the downfall of our national sport, at least of the men’s team that used to rule the roost in the world? Today, while our hockey players work hard to give their best performances, they lack consistency. Their performance tends to be good in one tournament, disappointing in the next.

According to former Indian men’s team captain Dhanraj Pillay, the downfall in the team’s performance has been due to vast changes in international hockey brought about too quickly. “Since the time we won eight Olympic golds, the world of hockey has changed a lot,” he tells Tehelka. “Earlier, we used to rule. Now it’s European players who dominate. Indian players haven’t been able to adjust to the changes (in hockey) brought about internationally. For instance, when astroturf was introduced, there were too few in our country. As the Europeans honed their skills on astroturf, Indian players took a lot of time to adjust to it,” he says.

Pillay believes that our focus should not be on winning a few medals at the Olympics but on
becoming a powerhouse, just as countries like Holland and Germany have become, for which we need to take care of the smallest details. We need the right infrastructure, scientific training, strategy and gameplan — areas where we currently lag.

Pillay also pointed out that even as the government spends huge amounts of money on hiring foreign coaches, it doesn’t give the desired results. “Today, we are paying foreign coaches more salary than the Prime Minister. But why is it not yielding proportionate results? The simple reason is that most of our players are not able to understand what the coach is talking about. There is immense language problem, made worse by incomprehensible accents. Then, you cannot suddenly get a foreign coach who will change the way these players have been holding the hockey stick since childhood. Most of our hockey players come from simple non-English speaking backgrounds. When they are confronted with a foreign coach, their self-esteem goes down,” he says.

Pritam Siwach, former captain of the Indian women’s hockey team, echoes the same point. “There is simply nothing at the grassroots level. Good facilities and support from SAI are there for national level players. But our players’ basics remain weak because no attention is paid to them when they are beginners or junior players,” she tells Tehelka, comparing sportspersons with plants that need to be nurtured from the time the seed is planted. “When their basics are not right, how can you expect them to adapt to drastic changes introduced by a foreign coach?,” she asks.

Asked what ails the women’s hockey team that qualified for the Olympics after 36 years, Siwach, an Arjuna awardee, says there is a big difference in the kind of support provided to women’s and men’s teams. “Our boys definitely get more exposure. Firstly, there are many more academies, at least in hockey, for boys than for girls. Then, for women there are just two or three hockey tournaments in the country every year while for men the number of tournaments held annually is double-digit,” Siwach points out.

Siwach, who runs her own hockey academy in Haryana, says that there are very few jobs for women hockey players in comparison to men. “Female hockey players are eligible to get jobs only in Railways, whereas male players can get jobs in 15-20 PSUs. With this kind of discrimination, very few women see a future in hockey,” she claims. Siwach also points out that less women take up sports professionally because society does not easily accept sportswomen. She has experienced women players being mostly pressurised by their families to give up sports and get married in their early twenties. “If we have more awareness about women athletes, more training facilities for them and especially incentives such as good jobs, I’m sure more women will get serious about sports,” she says.

The prolonged power struggle between the two hockey federations — Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and Hockey India (HI) — is yet another example of how politics played for personal interests can result in the sport and players suffering huge setbacks.

In 2008, a news channel levelled allegations of corruption against IHF secretary K Jyothi Kumaran by telecasting an alleged sting operation. Then Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Suresh Kalmadi, whose involvement in many cases of corruption made it to international news, called a meeting to suspend IHF soon after. IHF members, however, have claimed that Kalmadi, whose desire to become president of the national hockey body remained unfulfilled, sought no clarification from Kumaran nor ordered any inquiry into the issue. The political opponents of IHF with the backing of Kalmadi then created Hockey India (HI), a body parallel to IHF till it remained suspended. However, even though HI was a temporary body, it was given membership of the Federation of International Hockey (FIH) on November 28, 2008. Interestingly, HI was recognised by the IOA a year later on 20 May 2009. This means that HI gained membership of the international body even before it became a recognised body in India itself.

The Delhi High Court had on 21 May 2010 overruled the dis-affiliating of IHF by the IOA, re-establishing the IHF as the only recognised body for hockey in India. Even though there has been no Supreme Court stay on this order, IHF has not been returned its designation by IOA of being the sole recognised body for hockey and HI is still a member of the FIH. The Delhi HC has also made it clear that HI is a private body and that the government shouldn’t associate itself with its elections. It is much more than a coincidence that the Indian hockey team hit rock-bottom in 2010-11 during the peak of this ugly row.

What points to further political involvement in this conflict is the fact that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Congress MP Rajeev Shukla were directors of the advisory board of Hockey India League (HIL), the professional field hockey league organised by HI. Jaitley’s daughter Sonali was also on the legal committee of HI. Though the HIL is a private body, it is hugely funded by many PSUs, with Coal India being its chief sponsor.