There were some glaring omissions in the 45-member squad that was shortlisted for the Target Olympic Podium Scheme. Coming down heavily on underperforming players, only track and field athletes featured on the list. Tennis players, rowers and swimmers were also left out.
Under the TOPS scheme, a select group of players across disciplines will be assured of financial assistance, travel and stay expenses, and the access to top-class facilities as the clock ticks towards the 2018 Asian and Commonwealth Games as well as the Olympics in 2020.
A 10-member panel was appointed by the Sports Ministry to select the players. The panel, headed by Abhinav Bindra, also includes track and field great PT Usha and yesteryear badminton star Prakash Padukone.
The contingent is far lesser than the 150-plus strong group who were offered financial aid during the lead-up to the Rio Olympics last year. Javelin thrower Davinder Singh Kang, who reached the finals at the World Championships last month also failed to make the cut. The list, though, was drafted before Kang flew to London.
Boxers Amit Phangal and freshly crowned bronze-medallist Gaurav Bidhuri’s names were also absent. The committee, this time, expected the frontrunners on the shortlist to show more accountability. “There is no specific number of athletes who will be given assistance under TOPS. But as the name says, this is for athletes who can win an Olympic medal,” a committee member was quoted as saying by Indian Express.
The member also revealed that more names will be included. He added: “In the first list, we have selected the known names. But now we will include the unknown ones, the players who have the potential and need support.”
Sports minister Vijay Goel, last year, announced that 152 athletes received assistance under TOPS programme for Rio Olympics with Rs 36.85 crore invested in the athletes.
The government was heavily criticised for its implementation at the time, and the scheme went through a fair bit of restructuring in January this year.
The committee has also included three squash players – veterans Dipika Pallikal, Joshna Chinappa and Saurav Ghosal – even though it doesn’t come under the purview of an Olympic sport.
The report stated that the trio will be handed financial assistance till next year’s Asian Games. 15 shooters have been included, with a list comprising of veterans Gagan Narang and Heena Sidhu as well as 15-year-old double trap shooter Shapath Bhardwaj.
Javelin star Neeraj Chopra and race-walker KT Irfan are the only two athletes who have been picked. Racewalking is supported as a team under the scheme. “The performance of track and field athletes at major tournaments has been poor throughout. So we will include them very judiciously this time,” a committee member said. The complete list of the 45-member is as follows:
Zoravar Singh, Heena Sidhu, Mairaj Ahmed Khan, Sheeraz Sheikh, Angad Veer Singh Bajwa, Pooja Ghatkar, Apurvi Chandela, Meghana Sajjanar, Deepark Kumar, Ravi Kumar, Gagan Narang, Kynan Chenai, Ankur Mittal, Shapath Bhardwaj, Sangram Dahya
Mirabai Chanu, Jeremy Lalrinnunga, S Satish Kumar
Kidambi Srikanth, B Sai Praneeth, HS Prannoy, Ajay Jayaram, PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, doubles pairs Sikki Reddy & Pranav Chopra and Ashwini Ponnappa & Sikki reddy
Atanu Das, Deepika Kumari
Vikas Krishan, Shiva Thapa, Manoj Kumar, Amit Kumar, Shyam Kumar Kakara, Sachin Siwach
Dipika Pallikal, Joshna Chinappa, Saurav Ghosal
Neeraj Chopra (Javelin throw), KT Irfan (Racewalking - supported as a team)
Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Sandeep Tomar, Bajrang Punia.