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