TOPS list ignores Komolika Bari and Srihari Nataraj at crucial juncture, needs to have balance while choosing athletes

There must be a sense of fair play and balance when it comes to choosing athletes to be on the list of the country’s premier support system for athletes. The known names, without a shadow of a doubt, deserve government support. But when it entails the withdrawal of support for talented but voiceless young athletes, it does not speak much of the system.

G Rajaraman September 05, 2019 16:23:59 IST
TOPS list ignores Komolika Bari and Srihari Nataraj at crucial juncture, needs to have balance while choosing athletes
  • Komolika Bari and Srihari Nataraj are excluded from the TOP Scheme list.

  • The psychological impact of being left out of the elite list can be quite massive for the young athletes.

  • There must be a sense of fair play and balance when it comes to choosing athletes to be on the list of the country’s premier support system for athletes.

TOPS list ignores Komolika Bari and Srihari Nataraj at crucial juncture needs to have balance while choosing athletes

And they say sport is all about timing.

Barely two weeks after Komolika Bari emerged the recurve cadet champion in the World Archery Youth Championships in Madrid, barely a week after Srihari Nataraj made it to two finals in the World Junior Championships in Budapest and on the very day he completed a haul of 10 medals in the National Championships in Bhopal, they were excluded from the TOP Scheme list.

Bari bounced back from disastrously missing the target once at the World Championships in 's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, in June to winning the World cadet title in Madrid, Spain, last month. The psychological impact of being left out of the elite list can be quite massive for the young athletes.

Has the 18-year-old Nataraj not been showing improvement? Be it at the World Championships where he ranked 36th in 100m backstroke and 32nd in 200m backstroke or the World Junior Championships where he made it to the 50m and 100m backstroke finals, he has produced improved performances. And shown the hunger to keep getting better.

If they have not shown performance or consistency, nobody would lament the Mission Olympic Cell’s decision to exclude them from the TOP Scheme. But two swimmers, Sajan Prakash is the other, have attained the B qualification standard for the Olympic Games and promise to chase the A qualification down in the Asian Age-Group Championships in Bengaluru this month.

It comes across as if the Indian women’s recurve archery team has been penalised for not securing Olympic qualification at the World Championships. Deepika Kumari, Bombayla Devi and a nervy Bari lost 2-6 to Belarus in the second round. But do they deserve to be not supported by India’s flagship scheme to try and secure that one individual spot available to them?

More so when they look at those who have survived the cut.

If a 20-year-old weightlifter whose performance has dipped from 351kg in 2017 to 325kg this year could be retained, there does not appear to be any sound reason to drop Nataraj. If another teenaged lifter who came back with a no lift in clean and jerk division in the Commonwealth Championships in Samoa can be on the list, why does Bari not get a similar vote of confidence?

Come to think of it, a track and field star has not taken part in a single competition in the year that elapsed since the Asian Games in Jakarta. She is not ranked by the International Association of Athletics Federations. And yet, the 36-year-old remains in the list of athletes supported by the TOP Scheme, perhaps because of a belief that she can do well in the Olympic Games next year.

If a badminton doubles pair has lost in the opening round as many as nine times and remains on the TOPS list, the women’s archery team deserved a look in, too. With the two tennis doubles players playing together only a third of the time this year, it would appear as if Mission Olympic Cell has little say in getting them to play more events together.

The reason these athletes have not been named here is straightforward. Each of them is talented and is expectedly training hard with an eye on the Olympic Games. Indeed, this is not an attempt to degrade them, their Federation officials whose ability to convince Mission Olympic Cell is incredibly good, or even the officers who make these decisions.

There could be financial reasons, too, for the choices made. After all, funds at the disposal of those managing TOP Scheme also have a limit. If indeed that is true, then Mission Olympic Cell must find an equitable way of disbursing the money. It should not be seen as jettisoning athletes from disciplines whose National Sports Federations do not have a voice that can be heard.

Perhaps the time has come for India’s policy makers to tell athletes who earn prize money and have commercial endorsements to finance their own journeys so that the money from TOP Scheme and Annual Calendar for Training and Competition are utilised for talented athletes from the less rewarding sport.

It is also significant that no boxer, male or female, figures in the latest TOP Scheme list. But it would appear that this decision has its foundations in the fact that boxers are in national camps almost through the year and they are travelling a fair bit to take part in competitions outside India at government cost.

Perhaps there is an indication there. Mission Olympic Cell must consider the moot question: Should athletes whose training and competition costs are covered under the ACTC – with fully funded national camps through the year – be a part of TOP Scheme? If their training and competition expenses are being met by the government, TOPS funds can be perhaps used for others.

At the moment, the Mission Olympic Cell does not appear to hesitate in including 10 badminton players who are also in national camps and have their travel for all competition funded under the ACTC. What’s more, it has let three players draw funds from TOP Scheme to pay a fee to their coach who is probably already being paid through resources aided by the government.

Truth to tell, there must be a sense of fair play and balance when it comes to choosing athletes to be on the list of the country’s premier support system for athletes. The known names, without a shadow of a doubt, deserve government support. But when it entails the withdrawal of support for talented but voiceless young athletes, it does not speak much of the system.

As managers of the country’s prestigious support scheme, TOPS officials need to be pragmatic, sensitive and get their sense of timing just right. A now-on-now-off policy may not be what the doctor ordered.

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