Cover Story

Debacle at Rio

  Recently concluded Rio Olympics laid bare poor sportsmanship of Indians as the country could muster only 2 medals won by Sakshi Malik and P Sindhu respectively in Wrestling and Badminton despite the fact that India had sent its largest contingent of 117 athletes to the international games. India could not even maintain its previous medal tally of six medals won in the London Olympics four years ago. India fared badly in almost all the disciplines. In Gymnastics, Deepa Karmakar finished fourth but her sparkling performance in vault gymnastics saved the embarrassment. But the star sportspersons like Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna and Abhinav Bindra disappointed the nation with their casual performance lacking in commitment.
The debacle has triggered introspection at the national level as to why a nation of 1.25 billion people can't compete with small and poorer nations with worse infrastructure and facilities available to their sportspersons. As a knee jerk reaction Prime Minister Modi has announced a task force to improve the country's performance in the next three Olympics. He has asked the sports ministry to submit a report on the reasons for the debacle in Rio and the report will be submitted by the end of September. An action plan will be chalked out and a strategy for sports facilities, training, selection procedure and other related matters will be prepared. But will it really make the difference and will a complete overhaul of the system that operates the sports affairs in the country be really made? That's a million dollar question.
As the PM rightly said, girls saved the dignity of the country. Sakshi Malik and V Sindhu made India proud by winning bronze and silver at Rio. Deepa Karmakar though did not get to the podium; she came very close with her spectacular performance in Produnova vault and proved that an Indian too can win in gymnastics. But our men disappointed the nation.
Under these circumstances, it is difficult to believe that India will better its performance in Tokyo Olympics in the next four years. In the past three decades, it has won only one gold medal - for the men's 10m rifle in 2008. In London, in 2012, it bagged its best haul, six medals, or one for every 200 million people. In 2008, it got just three medals. Before that, it was lucky to come home with a single medal.
After every Olympics such knee jerk reaction is shown but nothing is done to diagnose the malaise and to stem the rot in the sports administration system of the country.
As of now, there seems to be serious rethinking on part of the sports bodies in the country. The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) has constituted a five member committee with Abhinav Bindra as its chairman to examine the reasons behind the poor show of its sportspersons. The NRAI President Raninder Singh honestly owned up the responsibility of the poor show in the Olympics. He said that the decision to allow the athletes to have their personal coaches was a tactical blunder and it cost the nation dearly. One of the reasons for the debacle, according to an investigation by the Indian Express was the mismanagement and red tape in the sports authorities as most of the financial assistance came only eight months before the Olympics.
Second reason is money. Even Indian Olympics Association admits that India has not always supported its athletes financially and for the country sports has never been a priority.
Legendary athlete Milkha Singh holds IOA (Indian Olympics Association) for India's dismal show in the Games. He lashed out at the IOA saying that the standard of the sports in the country had gone down as compared to the performance of the country in the previous Olympics because of its irresponsible handling of the sports affairs in the country.
"IOA should call a meeting, inviting presidents and secretaries of National Sports Federations with representative of sports ministry and plan out in which sporting disciplines India can win medals in future Olympics," Milkha Singh suggested.
One reason for the poor medal tally of India is that there is no sports culture in the country. One reason is also that cricket has taken its toll on other sports disciplines as apart from cricket, there is not such a great glamour and money in other sports. That's why the youth do not take sports as a career. There is no mechanism to track and promote talent on the grass roots level. The miserable life that some of our sports heroes had to live also works as a deterrent to the youth. There is a need to give incentives and assure lucrative career for sports other than cricket in the country. Indian Olympic Association president Narayana Ramachandran says that sport struggles to find a role in the country. He says that "Families tend to give their children more education. The view is, concentrate on education, rather than sport. The basic feeling is that sport doesn't bring the money that is required to run a family."

Sportsmen who lived miserably
Makhan Singh
Makhan Singh from Punjab was the sprinter even Milkha Singh would be afraid of. Makhan Singh was an Indian athlete during the 1960s. He won his first medal in the National Games in Cuttack in 1959. He continued his success in the ensuing years, winning silver and gold in Madras in 1960 and a silver at Trivandrum in 1963. However his biggest triumph was his victory over Milkha Singh in a 400m race in the 1962 National Games in Kolkata, just two years after Milkha Singh's stupendous feat in the 400m race at the Rome Olympics. It was here that destiny took a bad turn in the life of Makhan Singh. Needing financial support for his family, Makhan Singh started driving a truck in Nagpur. Unfortunately, he met with an accident and lost a leg there, which ended his athletics career. He did not receive any financial aid from the government, and his family suffered in penury.Two of his sons, Inderpal Singh (14) and Gurwinder Singh (22), passed away due to illness and lack of proper medical support. His third son works as a sewadar in Hoshiarpur BDPO's office and earns a meagre salary to make ends meet. To beat poverty, in 1995 Makhan Singh even opened a stationery shop in Chabewal, 3 kilometres away from his village, but could not sustain it as cycling on one leg, which he did for four years, proved too taxing in the end. To help Makhan get over the financial and emotional crisis, Milkha supported him in getting a kerosene oil depot. But he couldn't earn enough to lead a respectable life and died in 2002 of a cardiac arrest at Chabbewal. The government did not help this sports hero who did India proud leaving a lesson for the youth that sports does not ensure a lucrative career and dignified life.
Sita Sahu
Sita Sahu is a 15-year-old wonder girl of Odisha who did India proud and won two bronze medals in a 200 and 1600 meter race at the 2011 Athens Special Olympic.
And the country has not honoured this sporting talent. She now sells paani puri along with her family back in her village in Madhya Pradesh.
After her father fell sick, Sita discontinued going to school and started working full time to sustain her family. The Madhya Pradesh government had announced a cash prize of Rs I lakh for gold and Rs 75, 000 for silver. Sita won two bronze medals and was entitled to get Rs One lakh but she did not get a single penny. After the media highlighted her plight, the state government gave her Rs one lakh in 2013. But the money did not prove sufficient for her needs. She lives in a one room house with her family and still sells pani puri and papdi chat with her brother.
Nisha Rani Dutta
Nisha Rani Dutta from Odisha was an Archer and represented India abroad winning many accolades. She won silver at the 2008 South Asian Federation Championship in Jharkhand, a bronze medal at the 2006 Bangkok Grand Prix and the Best Player Award in the 2007 Asian Grand Prix in Taiwan. But due to financial crisis she had to sell her bow for Rs 50,000 as her house collapsed due to the rains. She tried to get loan from the bank to pursue her sports career but the bank did not give her loan. She gave up her sports career for want of money. She had been gifted the bow by her trainer that had cost Rs 4 lakh. Here too, after her plight came to light, the government gave her Rs five lakh but it was too late.
Rashmi Patra
Rashmi Patra was an acclaimed Odia footballer and had a short but illustrious career. She represented India in the Asian Football Confederation for under-16 women'qualifier at Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia in 2008. In 2010, she played for India in senior AFC qualifying round in Dhaka and helped India win an invitational series in Bahrain. But due to lack of government support and poverty, she left her football career. She has married and now runs a betel shop to sustain her family. So much for the government's much hyped task forces.
Sarwan Singh
Sarwan Singh was a great hurdler. He won the gold medal for 110m hurdles at the 1954 Asian Games. He crossed all 13 hurdles over the 110m track in a historic 14.7 seconds. Due to poverty and government apathy, he had to take to the job of cab driver and agricultural farmer. His coveted gold medal is of no use for him.
Shankar Laxman
Shanker Laxman was an important member and the goal keeper of the Indian Hockey team that won the gold medals in the Olympics in 1956, 1960 and 1964.He also captained the Indian hockey team that trounced Pakistan in the Asian Games in Bangkok in 1966 to win the gold medals. But he did not receive any financial rewards from the government and in his final years he suffered from gangrene and succumbed to the ailment without any proper treatment.
They are some of the sportspersons of the country who did not get financial support to pursue their career or to lead a dignified life. When the government talks of setting up task force to improve the country's sports prospects, it should improve sports culture at the grass root level.