The new year began with the Sports Ministry telling the Parliament about Rs 3.14 crore spent on Target Olympic Podium Scheme athletes in last four months and unveiling the logo of its ambitious Khelo India project and bringing Star Sports on board as the official broadcast partners for the initiative.
While these developments may give an impression that huge impetus is being given to sports, the fear on the ground is that India may head into the most important year before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics grossly under-prepared.
Not everything is rosy
Having taken almost a year to finalise the TOPs list, the amount released is just out of pocket expenses for the players that may help them take care of their daily expenses but will hardly help their preparations.
Sources in the TOPs committee told The Field that even they were surprised with the delay in releasing funds for training and exposure tours since they had already cleared about 60 per cent proposals after proper scrutiny.
“We had picked many players till the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games and their performance would have been scrutinised after that. But now even if the funds are released, I don’t think the players would just go abroad to ensure they spend the money rather than prepare well as there is very little time left,” the source, who is also an Olympian, said.
The concern is understandable since the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia are just three months away and the selection process for most disciplines has already started.
But the bigger fear is that despite all this, we would be lured into a false belief if India win a bagful of medals at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. That could be detrimental to India’s preparations for Tokyo Olympics.
By even a conservative estimate, India should finish among the top five or six nations in total number of medals won in the Commonwealth Games and top-10 in the continental event. And this would mean that the sports ministry, the national federations and even the fans would start dreaming of a good showing in Tokyo two years later.
A similar trend was followed before 2016 Rio Olympics with the Sports Authority of India predicting anywhere between 16-20 medals in Brazil after a good show in Glasgow and Incheon respectively but returned with just two.
And the problem was looking at wrong pointers and then not preparing right for the Olympics.
Repeat of Rio?
The enthusiasm in 2016 was also built because of the best ever showing in the 2012 London Olympics after a stupendous show in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and the Asian Games.
But what everyone forgot was the success of the 2012 London Olympics was built on a solid preparation stage for the 2010 Commonwealth Games with the government and NSFs putting together the right programs almost four years in advance.
That planning aspect was missing four years later and it would be foolhardy to base expectations from the Tokyo Games based on how well the nation does in the two multi-nation events this year, unless we use the performance parameters over medals.
It’s common knowledge that India’s biggest medal haul in Commonwealth Games normally comes from shooting, wrestling and weightlifting with badminton, boxing, judo, squash and athletics chipping in to round off the tally.
In contrast, at the Asian Games, India normally gets a good medal haul in athletics, boxing and few other sports in which the top continental nations are not really the world leaders.
Need for caution
The best example of why we should be extra cautious in jumping on the bandwagon after the Commonwealth Games is the recently concluded Weightlifting Commonwealth and World Championship. While India returned with 37 medals, including 23 gold, in September only Mirabai Chanu was in the top bracket at the World meet. Without taking away due credit, there is a feeling that she went on to become only the second Indian to be crowned world champion because the top nations were suspended for doping violations.
Even the shooters and wrestlers have completely dominated the Commonwealth Championships last year and are expected to win a plethora of medals in Gold Coast in April. But their real test would come at the Asian Games and the World Championship.
It won’t be surprising if India wins a couple of medals in athletics in Gold Coast as the event is being held in the first half of the year in the Australian summer. This means that the top athletes in track and field and swimming may either skip the event or may not be at their best as they normally focus on peaking in the second half of the year.
These circumstances could lead to India even winning a medal or two in athletics but that may not even guarantee any Indian a spot, in the final in Tokyo.
While medals are important, the focus should be on raising the overall standard of performance with an eye on Tokyo rather than being content with winning medals in these two major multi-discipline events.