India's Olympic performances down the years have been dismal by any yardstick, be it in team games or individual sports. Every once in a while we've had sparks provided by the likes of PT Usha, Milkha Singh, Anju Bobby George, Vijender Singh, MC Mary Kom, Abhinav Bindra, Rajyavardhan Rathore, Sushil Kumar, Leander Paes, Karnam Malleshwari, and a few others. But apart from them, nobody even came close to the exacting standards expected of Olympic athletes.
Over the last 50 years, Olympic performances of Indian athletes will show a lack of planning, substandard training, and a sluggish approach towards the quadrennial event. Countries like Ethiopia, Jamaica, Indonesia, Nigeria or Morocco, aren't robust economies, but they have Olympic medals in their kitty. India, with 1.25 billion people and a sound economy, is still struggling to find a place alongside them.
At the Rio Olympics 2016, India sent its largest ever contingent. Sports administrators predicted 10-12 medals. But did anybody delve into the reality?
We need to concentrate on training with a long-term policy. The existing Long Term Development Plan (LTDP) has not yielded any significant results and should be re-examined. What's required is to identify disciplines in which India should participate in, at the next Olympics. Once these disciplines are selected, selection committees should focus on selecting athletes with the potential to win medals. The selected sportpersons will form an "Olympic club" in their respective disciplines.
There will also be a process to eliminate members who don't live up to the Olympic club standards; a recommended scale could be one-third of the club's total strength. Since the Asian Games are coming up in two years, it could be a good ground to test potential. Once the Asian Games are over, a more concerted training programme will be worked out for the Olympics.
Moreover, branding of these selected athletes would also act as a motivating factor. They could wear sports gear that prominently displays the words "Member, Olympic Club, India". While the goal for each individual should be an Olympic medal, they should also be given periodic objectives until they reach Olympic standards.
There exists a tendency to send athletes to the Olympics as long as they secure qualification, and to then expect medals from them. Sportspersons can't win Olympic medals simply on the basis of a strong desire; there needs to be more exacting standards we set. For measurable events, only those athletes who secured the bronze medal winning standards at the previous Olympic games should be allowed to participate; while for non-measurable events, only silver winning athletes at the previous Asian Games or gold medal winners at two previous international events will be sent to the Olympics.
Foreign coaches will be selected and employed immediately wherever required, and would also be involved in the selection process, alongside the selected Indian coaches and members of the selection committee. The performance of the coaches should also be evaluated using the same process as used for sportpersons. If possible, periodic lectures on man-management and psychology be should be organised at the training camps, and reputed experts should be invited to give the talks. This would help coaches learn various aspects of training athletes.
Most of our coaches come from a poor academic background. It is imperative that they are updated on modern training methods and taught about improving sports science and technology. Also, it's critical that drug-related knowledge is included as part of the curriculum. A doctor qualified in sports medicine should be given the responsibility of updating the coaches.
Training sessions should be worked out by Indian coaches in consultation with the foreign coaches and should be approved by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the sports federations. Emphasis should be given to physical and technical development of each sportsperson, and should be documented with a medical report on a monthly basis.
The training cycle should be divided into two parts: Part one will culminate with the selection trials, while part two will take athletes into the Olympics. Training regimes should not be monotonous and should preferably conclude with an international competition or cultural exchange programme after three months. The Asian Games and Commonwealth Championships should be considered testing grounds for the Olympic probables.
A lot of talent goes waste in our country due to a lack of a monitoring system. An effective monitoring system is one which keeps track of every potential sportsperson, right from the time the talent is spotted. In the "Olympic club", the performance of the members should be closely monitored to ascertain improvement. People entrusted with this responsibility should not simply paint a glossy picture to the authorities, but give out an independent opinion. Nepotism or favoritism should have no place in the minds of coaches. Software may be developed with the help of India's renowned IT companies to eliminate human errors or sentiments.
While all this is underway, an eight-year-long programme should also be worked out for juniors and sub-juniors, so that we continue to have a solid bench strength at any given time. While seniors will prepare for the Olympics, juniors and sub-juniors will train to graduate to a higher level. Coaches employed to train the special programme group should be sent out for special training. Selected teams from the junior and sub-junior camps should be given international exposure at a scale to be specified in their training programme.
These training camps should be worked out by the sports federations in consultation with SAI and chief coaches nominated for the junior and sub-junior camps. Each training camp should end culminate in a domestic or international level competition, so we are able to instantly gauge the camp's performance. A camper who excels at the junior or sub-junior level should be given a promotion to the upper camp, ie go from sub-junior to junior, and junior to senior. There should be a minimum time gap for such elevation.
An effective result-oriented programme for the junior and sub-junior categories will ensure a regular flow of fresh blood to the senior team. There is a move from some quarters to place certain disciplines under army control. But this will not be successful and will yield no tangible result. On the other hand, services may train their talents and send them to national camps. Indian Army coaches should instead be deputed to the national camps to look after the interest of Services' sportspersons.
It is essential to organise games and sports at school level. School-level sports are declining in number and standard both. In several metropolitan areas, schools don't have even playgrounds, which results in low interest level among students. Emphasis must be given to games and sports in schools. All schools at district and block levels must be brought under a special sports programme. The annual sports day programme organised by the School Games Federation of India must be revamped in order to make it productive. If we allow the present state of affairs to continue, this will also have an adverse effect on national health, as sports build up physical and mental health.
A programme of this magnitude requires high-level administration. Be it procurement of sports equipment, living accommodation, diet or travel plans within and outside the country, it needs able administrators and a stellar support staff to pull it off. There is a feeling among our administrators that they are doing a favour to the people. There are various agencies involved, which come together before an event like the Olympics; they should all work seamlessly together like with an orchestra. We have, in the past, indulged in blame games and gotten sidelined from the primary objective. A dedicated team should be formed from the agencies involved, who would give their hearts out to achieve the goal.
Successful implementation of the programme will require sufficient funds. Government grants alone may not be sufficient, and we need corporates to get involved. To encourage the private sector to invest, they can be granted tax benefits. Even individual donors can be incentivised through tax exemption. Budgetary provisions should be worked out, citing details separately for the Olympics, and to be sanctioned well in advance. It's wrong to say that the US had an Olympic budget equivalent to our defence budget and so they did well. Smaller countries with budgets smaller than India have also done well. While there is no denying that monetary support is a must, that should also commensurate with actual requirements and should be spent judiciously.
Let's take a positive look at Indian sports. We are today a recognised strength in the world, politically and militarily speaking. We also have the requisite talent in sports. It just requires some reorganisation with regards to training, administration and infrastructure. An Indian team selected purely on merit and truly motivated can deliver the goods at the future Olympics. Let's gather ourselves and put in concerted efforts to emerge as a sporting nation in the years ahead.