What ails Indian sport? Why does a country of billion people struggle to produce top international athletes across disciplines? It’s a question that’s been asked over and over (well, mostly every years) by people who are passionate about sports. Some blame the system, some the athletes, some the administrators and some the Indian genes.

But the well-informed will tell you it’s not about just every four years. It’s a process, that needs to take roots much longer before the Olympics so that efforts bear fruit in time for the mega event.

And at the end of the day, everyone wonders if there is a way to move forward.

The Field conducted a series of interviews with coaches, administrators, NGOs, foreign consultants, and athletes in a bid to get a clear picture of the way ahead for Indian sports.

Here’s a collection of them, with links to the full version provided alongside. On National Sports Day – a day we celebrate in the name of one of the greatest athletes to have come from India, Dhyan Chand – it’s worth mulling over what are the problems that plague sports in our country and how do we move forward?

Part I: Interview with Abhinav Bindra

We started with Abhinav Bindra, India’s sole individual Olympic gold medallist. In a free-wheeling interview, the now-retired shooter speaks the systems that need to be put in place and how India could probably one day become a sporting superpower – if we want to, that is. And maybe it’s time to stop setting up one committee after another.

“It’s not a question of support at the junior level. I think we need to get more people to play first. Pick any sport and you realise that we need a lot more athletes; a lot more depth. And the people taking part at that basic level need to be taught right. I think that is what is important. It is not about picking a few athletes and supporting them. The whole system has to be in such a way that in ensures the right things reach a huge number of people.”

— - Abhinav Bindra

Read the full interview here.

Part II: Interview with Pullela Gopichand

Badminton is perhaps the one sport that can hold it’s own against cricket, when it comes to success at the international level in the past decade. We spoke to coach Pullela Gopichand in the second part of the series of interview series. Gopichand, one of India’s most successful coaches with two, spoke about his vision for building a culture for sports and what India needs to do to produce more champions.

“We need not be as obsessed with medals. We can have excellence as an obsession. So a top-down and a bottom-up approach are both needed. So you have to nurture players without being unreasonable about it. If there is some talent that is exceptional then we should get the best facilities that are available in the world.

But always clearly focusing on bottom-up approach where we broaden the base. We look at cheaper alternatives, more local, innate opportunities and look at our native sports. Yes, internationally sports has a huge role at building international pride. But we need to take a conscious view on the amount of money we will earmark for this and the amount for that.

I would really look to create a system that bring benefits beyond medals into the social system and that has to be a measured system.”

— Pullela Gopichand

Read the full interview here.

Part III: Interview with Viren Rasquinha

It was to help the athletes make the most of the existing system that former India hockey skipper Viren Rasquinha joined Olympic Gold Quest. His goal was to free athletes from having to think about anything other than their sport itself. Since 2009, Rasquinha has been CEO of OGQ and he has had a fair degree of success too. In the past two Olympics (London 2012 and Rio 2016), India won eight individual medals. Five of those were won by athletes supported by OGQ: Gagan Narang and Vijay Kumar (shooting), Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu (badminton), and Mary Kom (boxing). In the third part of our series, Rasquinha spoke about the challenges of supporting athletes and why we are still five steps behind the rest of the world.

“Now, we have to be patient – we are not going to get results today or even tomorrow. But if you ask me how important results are for OGQ, I think they are very important because my a**e is on the line. If I have one more Olympics like Rio, funding will be extremely tough. It is very easy to say eight years and all that but if we don’t produce results in 2020, will we be able to get funds? I can’t say that for sure. Ideally I’d like 30% of my time with donors and 70% with athletes but frankly, it is the other way round.”  

— Viren Rasquinha, on whether it all boils down to results

Read the full interview here.

Part IV: Interview with SAI chief Injeti Srinivas

The Sports Authority of India is responsible for promoting and supporting sport across India. They hire foreign coaches, decide the salary of Indian coaches, pay the athletes, build the infrastructure, and plan schemes that will hopefully make India a sporting nation one day. And as Director General of Sports Authority of India, Injeti Srinivas is a key man in many respects.

In part IV of the series, we spoke to Srinivas on the existing system, the problems within, professionalism and above all, the plan for Indian sport.

“In top countries like Australia and US, professionalism is developed because there are good well paying jobs in that sector. If you have those good paying jobs in a particular sector then there is no dearth of professionals. Precisely what the government is trying to do. Suppose we are spending 300-400 crore on sport we feel 30-40 crore can be spent on employing professionals. We are very confident that this can happen without much problem. For example, UK Sport has a system – I don’t know when we will reach that level – majority of chairs of national sports bodies are selected and not elected. So when will we get that maturity, or whether or not we get that maturity I do not know. That is the call of the federations. We need the best people and you may have to have paid professionals. There is no alternative to this.”

— Director General of Sports Authority of India, Injeti Srinivas

Read the full interview here.

Part V: Interview with former US Olympic Committee Chief

This is a view from the outside, looking in. Sports consultant Steven Roush, former chief of sport performance for the United States Olympic Committee, is the man people call when they want to set their systems in order. When Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, Brazil (ahead of Rio) and other countries wanted to get better, they called Roush. They called him because they wanted someone to give them a low-down of where they really stand. And that is something Roush is good at doing.

In part V of our series we had caught up with him to understand how the world views India and how he sees the future shaping up.

 “I think my sense of India is that it is a diamond in the rough. There is so much untapped potential that if they can find a way to polish it, they will go far. They have a massive population and if they can improve their systems, they will get the results. If they can’t, they will keep depending on outliers and that isn’t the way to get consistent success. But if they can, India is ripe to be the next country to make a huge impact in the Olympics.”

— Steve Roush, with his views from the outside.

Read the full interview here.