Discus thrower Krishna Poonia rues lack of sporting culture in India, urges AFI to take better care of athletes

That India struggles in sporting events such as the Olympics is a given, especially when one looks at their record in recent editions of the event. However, if veteran discus thrower Krishna Poonia is to be believed, it is because we don't encourage our wards to embrace sport as a profession and a way of life.

Speaking at an event in New Delhi recently, Poonia said that the "participation level" in sports needed to increase if its billion-plus population hoped for rich medal hauls in events such as Olympics, Commonwealth Games (CWG) and Asian Games.

"All those who are questioning (us athletes), have you ever questioned yourselves whether you want to encourage your child towards embracing sport? We want our kids to become IAS, IPS officers, but have you ever embraced the idea of them becoming athletes?," said the discus thrower who hails from Haryana's Agroha.

Krishna Poonia became the first Indian woman to win a track and field gold in the Commonwealth Games. Reuters

Krishna Poonia became the first Indian woman to win a track and field gold in the Commonwealth Games. Reuters

"As long as the participation level doesn’t increase in India, we won’t have the medal tally that we desire. There’s a lot of potential among the juniors, but their numbers are also low. Also, whenever an athlete goes out to compete, (s)he always fears the media backlash as well as the thought of disappointing close ones back home," added Poonia, who added that hosting such mega events in India would help inspire youngsters in the cricket-mad nation to take up athletics and other disciplines.

Poonia spoke at an event organised by broadcaster SPN India as well as the Delhi Sports Journalists Association (DSJA) to wish luck to the CWG-bound Indian contingent.

Strengthening the pool of athletics talent in India aside, Poonia said that there are a few initiatives that the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) must take if they are to ensure the longevity of the current crop.

"Aside from training, the recovery process of an athlete is also something that should be fully taken care of. If an athlete has an injury, then (under the present circumstance), it just keeps aggravating, and we don’t really pay attention towards that. We are also in need of good doctors, ones who specialise in sports medicine and sports injury. We need good physios," said the discus thrower.

There was a lot of heated discussion at the event on the topic of hiring foreign coaches at the expense of equally-talented Indians, or underpaying the latter. Boxer Akhil Kumar and former shooter Moraad Ali Khan, both of whom were present alongside former India hockey captain Zafar Iqbal, spoke on India's obsession with foreign coaches in particular, and with "white skin" in general.

"In India, we have a tendency to run after foreign coaches, without even knowing how qualified or informed they are about India's sporting culture. We instantly get impressed with their style and language," said Akhil, who won gold in the 2006 CWG event, clarifying that he wasn't against hiring foreign coaches, if that didn't happen at the expense of an equally deserving Indian.

While Poonia agreed with Akhil and Khan on Indian coaches being as talented as some of the very best abroad, she felt that Indian masseurs had a lot of catching up to do.

"We do need improvements among Indian masseurs though. We train so hard, our muscles get strained more often than not, which then increases the risk of an injury. In that context, I was quite impressed by foreign masseurs, in that they used to take good care of my recovery," said Poonia.

Poonia created history in the 2010 CWG in Delhi when she completed a clean sweep in the discus throw event to become the first Indian woman to win a track and field gold in the history of the Games. The 35-year-old's face lit up when asked to recollect some of her favourite memories from that night.

"I can never forget that day when I won the gold medal in the 2010 Commonwealth Games. As far as the talk on Indian coaches is concerned, it was my husband who was coaching me back then, and it was under his training that I won the gold medal.

"As far as the most memorable moment for me from that day is concerned, my husband was so confident I would win gold that he decided to pack the tricolour in one of my bags while we were packing.

Also, my kid was watching me from the stands (at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium). Some close acquaintances of mine told me that when I won gold, he stood up and started jumping around, and wore the gold medal that I had won once we were reunited," recounted Poonia.

The AFI had earlier announced a 31-member Indian contingent for the upcoming Gold Coast Games, which incidentally includes two discus throwers — Seema Punia and Navjeet Kaur Dhillon. Poonia sounded confident when she said that the athletics contingent will return with medals.

"I wish the Indian athletes all the very best, and all those who will be participating in track and field events will give their best and will surely return with a medal," she concluded.

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Updated Date: Mar 30, 2018 21:45:02 IST

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