The Olympics Hurdle and Indian Realities: Where we are heading to? – Dr. Razeena Kuzhimandapathil, Kerala

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Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, the ace shuttler from Hyderabad, created national history by becoming the first-ever Indian to claim a gold medal in the BWF World Championships held at Basel, Switzerland. As belongs to a professional sports family in Hyderabad, from the very childhood days, she was brought up to become a fit athlete. She received professional training from coaches like Mehboob Ali and later from none other than Pullella Gopichand from primary classes onwards. Her access to the well maintained and competent Gopichand Badminton Academy (in Hyderabad) helped to sharpen the playing strategies. Exposure to the presence of international giants in the Academy made her mind fit to top-level performances. The wide encouragement from family and society boosted her morale to fight without giving up. The corporate sponsorship, which followed earlier trophies, supported her training at the best in the planet like Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Baltimore; and it also made Sindhu as one of the top earners in Indian sports. She is 13th in Forbes’ 2019 list of highest-paid female athletes in the world. She is already qualified for 2020 Tokyo Olympics where she expected to win gold as she was the silver medalist in the Rio Olympics.

Sindhu was created by diverse collective efforts like academies, trainers, expert monitoring agencies etc. She used and benefitted from public facilities started up in India for more than a decade. The diverse efforts taken in the form of single event academies, highly competitive trainers and in-depth monitoring for years has created her world championship. Her victory made huge encouraging responses in India like PU Chithra (after her triumph in Asian Athletic championship held at Kalinga in 2017). It fires India’s Olympics medals again; to be frank, she is the only gold dream of Tokyo at present and it is shameful that a single person is carrying the entire burden of Olympics’ gold hope in 100 crore plus country. Her victory also created a critical evaluation of various domestic initiatives like Khelo India, Target Olympic Podium, FIT India Movement etc which are aiming at winning performances in the international arena.

It is true that a revolution is happening in Indian sports at least for a decade. Until then it was cricket and the complaints about the poor performance of players in major international leagues or the unprofessional government treatment on sports sector. But the emergence of commercialization brought a new package of professionalism in management of sports with inequalities in financial hierarchies and accessibility. Even though it will be more difficult for those gems in marginalized sections to reach the threshold of mainstream sports, the availability of international standards in facilities of practice and training assist players to develop most competing sports skills in order to challenge anywhere in the earth. The corporate funding and supporting state policies is making a paradigm shift in the sports facilities in India. Several players received training abroad along with financial sponsorship. Infrastructural facilities were improved at least in main centres and there are hundreds of internationally maintained sports facilities in the nation at present. The sports manufacturing firms reduced the average cost of such facilities and specilised media ensured large scale public exposure of emerging players. Event viewership also increased for many events like for cricket. Several athletes were receiving international laurels and several teams were starting to get recognized as major competitors.

But funding and foreign coaches alone will not make any magic here. All the emerging attention in sports sector is happening in urban areas particularly in metro cities but the real talent is mostly available at villages. Providing something in the name of community sports infrastructure like ordinary playing grounds will not translate into medals. Recruitment at the grass root level plus efficient monitoring through schools and community health centres is necessary to develop new players. A player requires comprehensive scientific approach in order to harness his or her maximum potential. The absence of such mechanism is creating breaks in emergence of new competent players. This lacunae is reflected in the absence of women badminton players after Sindhu and Saina.

It is shameful to point out that individual worshipping will not make any society as sports giants. Marginalizing talents will only destroy competitive spirit. The extend of hierarchical caste system and gender stereotypes in scaling down sports talents of India is well debated these days. Media discrimination is another way of making down a player. Sai Praneeth was completely sidelined even after winning bronze in the same world championship. It was only the second medal in the male singles category after Prakash Padukone’s innings in 1983. It was well observed that media hardly covers regional tournaments or items other than cricket, football and similar. We hardly read about those who did not cross hurdles like national selection. Even the social media seldom recognizes these unknown sport-stars of our land. Sai deserves an apology from Indian media. Even then, Indian sports is passing through a brighter period. India’s presence in Tokyo 2020 is expected to be remarkable particularly in the individual events due to several initiatives we had for at least three years. Individually Chithra, Devinder Singh Kang, Hima Das, Jinson, Manu Bhaker, Mohamad Yanas Ahiya, Neeraj Chopra, Sai Praneeth, Saina, Sindhu, Sreeshankar and Tejaswin Shanker are capable of winning finals. Teams of shooting, kabadi, hockey, tennis, badminton, boxing and wrestling are showing consistent performance till yet. All of them are receiving the best training possible too. Hence it is the best of times for Indian sports, but it is the worst of times too. The 2020 will have the best Indian team trained in Olympics.

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