De­spite the Sys­tem

What­ever In­dian ath­letes have achieved so far, it has been a re­sult of in­di­vid­ual bril­liance

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Bo­ria Ma­jum­dar

He was tipped to be In­dia’s first in­di­vid­ual Olympic medal­list in 1948. And he did have the po­ten­tial to re­write the record­books.Bu­ti­tal­lende­d­i­nagonyas Henry Re­bello had to bow out of the triple jump fi­nal in Lon­don with a ca­reer threat­en­ing in­jury.

Re­bello was the first in a list of many. K D Jad­hav, who we con­tinue to cel­e­brate as the first-ever In­dian in­di­vid­ual medal­list in 1952, could have bet­tered the colour of his medal if he did not end up los­ing steam. And then it was Milkha Singh in 1960, Sri­ram Singh in 1976 and PT Usha in 1984 not to for­get Leander Paes and Ma­hesh Bhu­pathi in 2004 and fi­nally Ab­hi­nav Bin­dra in 2016. While each of them missed out on their date with his­tory, the other more per­ti­nent com­mon­al­ity is that each of them reached where they did brav­ing the ab­sence of a sys­tem. They are all prod­ucts of in­di­vid­ual bril­liance and achieved the near ul­ti­mate sport­ing glory against all odds by evolv­ing their own sys­tem and struc­ture.

While Re­bello got at­tracted to sport be­cause it was a com­pul­sion in his school in­Ban­ga­lore,Bin­dra,achub­bykid,took toshoot­ing­be­cause it­was the onlysport he could play. Each of them worked out their own train­ing meth­ods and did not de­pend on the gov­ern­ment or the Sports Author­ity of In­dia (SAI). Had some­one been there in Lon­don in 1948 to tell 19-year-old Re­bello that he ought to have warmed up be­fore his jump on a cold day, things may have been dif­fer­ent? Had Usha known she had to thrust her­self ahead of Ro­ma­nian Christina Co­je­caru in 1984, it wouldn’t have been a na­tional heart­break and had some­one ad­vised Sri­ram not to go full tilt at 500 me­ters in a 800 me­ters race in 1976, Al­berto Juan­torena may not have over­taken him at the 600-me­ter mark.

Such in­di­vid­ual tales of bril­liance, how­ever, can only get us a hand­ful of medals and no more. We can never win Olympic medals by the dozen in the ab­sence of a sport­ing struc­ture and vi­sion. While the Prime Min­is­ter had an­nounced the set­ting up of a task force in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of Rio, it wasn’t un­til three months there­after that the task force was formed. And now that they have given an in­terim re­port, it needs to be seen when it will be im­ple­mented, if ever. One year has passed since Rio and it’s still in the realm of talk and plan­ning. There has been no ac­tion on ground and plans are yet to be put in place.

Foun­da­tions like Olympic Gold Quest ( OGQ), Go Sports and JSW are all do­ing qual­ity work but they are con­strained to a de­gree by means and the cor­po­rate phi­los­o­phy of im­me­di­ate re­turns. What they do is iden­tify an ath­lete who is al­ready up there and give him the best train­ing and coach­ing and hope he wins an Olympic medal. The grass­root, key to a sport­ing revo­lu­tion, con­tin­ues to re­main un­touched. Un­less we have a 10-year plan in place and start look­ing at Los An­ge­les 2028 from now, we will con­tinue to be the peren­nial un­der­achiev­ers at Olympic level lament­ing what could have been and how 1.4 bil­lion peo­ple end up win­ning two medals. With un­der three years left for Tokyo 2020, can any­thing be done to re­deem the sit­u­a­tion? Or is it al­ready be­yond us to an ex­tent?

In all hon­esty, Tokyo is an up­hill task from here on, a chal­lenge that will get steeper by the day if struc­tures aren’t put in place with im­me­di­ate ef­fect. The clock is al­ready tick­ing for Vi­jay Goel and his team as in­de­pen­dent In­dia turns 70.

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