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Tokenism, cash rewards won't fetch India more Olympic medals; investments will

The start of India’s Olympic campaign in Rio was dogged by controversies – first over Narsingh Yadav’s participation amid dope cloud, followed by reports of fissure between players in the tennis camp and hockey players
Abhinav Gupta New Delhi August 22, 2016 19:52 IST
Abhinav Gupta

The start of India’s Olympic campaign in Rio was dogged by controversies – first over Narsingh Yadav’s participation amid dope cloud, followed by reports of fissure between players in the tennis camp and hockey players struggling for tables, chairs and TV sets at the Rio Games Village, where the contingent was to stay during the Games.

What followed was a dismal show by players across events, early exits for so-called star campaigners and some tweets back home that sort of rubbed it in. 

Cut to the present and the gloom and doom that appeared to hog the proceedings as far as India is concerned appears to have been replaced by a sense of glory. Sakshi Malik and P.V. Sindhu, the two female athletes who managed to win the only two medals for India at the Rio Olympics, have been given nothing short of a hero’s welcome.

Furthermore, as a mark of recognition to the extraordinary achievements of the players, the duo is being showered with enormous rewards -- particularly cash -- soon after their outstanding performance in the Olympics. 

Rewards galore

Take Sindhu for instance. Apart from the Rs 13 crore cash reward announced by the Centre and state governments, Sports ministry and other organisations, she will also be given a BMW car and a house. The Telangana government has announced a cash reward of Rs 5 crore, Andhra Pradesh government Rs 3 crore and Delhi government a cash reward of Rs 2 crore to the silver-medallist. She will also be given 1000 sq yd land and an A-grade government job by the Andhra Pradesh government.  

Similarly, Sakshi will also receive a cash reward of about Rs 5 crore. Sakshi will be awarded a cash prize of Rs 2.5 crore by Haryana government, and Rs 1 crore reward from Delhi and Telagana governments each. Moreover, she will be given Rs 50 lakh along with promotion by the Railways.   

The kitty is only expected to grow as days go by.

Misplaced agenda

While the gesture to acknowledge athletes who kept the Indian flag high at the world’s most prestigious sporting extravaganza is welcome, one wonders of the consequences if the amount would have been spent on the preparation of athletes who represented India. Could the results have differed in terms of India’s medal tally?

Yes, if we go by the example of leading sporting nations, particularly those that led the Olympics medal tally in the just-concluded edition. USA, the country which managed a staggering 121 medals and topped the tally, spends an average amount of Rs 74 crore in preparations for each athlete. The cash reward doled out for medal-winners, on the other hand, is a meagre Rs 16 lakh.    

China, second on the list in terms of medals tally, also follows similar practice. The nation, whose athletes bagged 70 Olympic medals in Rio, spent an average of Rs 47 crore per athlete on their preparation. Cash rewards, on the other hand, stand at Rs 24 lakh. 

Britain, which won 67 medals, spends Rs 48 crore on one player on an average. There are no cash rewards for medallists.     

Compare this to the Indian story. Against an average amount of Rs 1.34 crore spent on preparing each athlete, rewards for medal winners include Rs 75 lakh for a gold, Rs 50 lakh for silver and Rs 30 lakh for bronze. These are only the figures proposed by the Sports ministry and do not include the heaps of rewards doled out by different bodies and governments. 

The trend followed by winning nations do point to the fact that investing on players, in their preparations yield better results. The reason why Britain, United States of America and China remain on top of the medal tally is that they spend more money on the training and facilities for their athletes instead of rewarding a select few for their performance. 

They spend, or rather invest, in bringing out the talent of the athletes and provide them with all the provisions that help in enhancing their performance. 

Sports preparedness

The statistics of the Ministry of Human Resource Development are even more alarming. As per official figures, India spends only 3 paise per day per person on sports in the country. Though improving, India’s condition in terms of sports and its preparedness – infrastructure, training facilities etc – are no hidden secret. 

Dipa Karmakar, the artistic gymnast who missed the bronze medal by a whisker, had requested the Sports Authority of India (SAI) to allow her long time physiotherapist Sajad Ahmad to travel with her to Rio but her request was deemed ‘wasteful’. However, he was rushed to the South American when she reached the final. 

Similarly, Indian rower Dattu Bhokanal was sailing the boat for nation’s pride while his mother was fighting for her life in a hospital. The 25-year-old athlete had no money to shift her mother to a private hospital for better treatment and was planning to sell his home on his return to India in order to gather some money for her treatment. 

Such is the condition of our Olympians. Needless to say, the situation is much worse for millions of India’s aspiring Olympians.  

In Jharkhand, Rekha Kumari, the 16-year-old state level swimmer, is preparing for the 2020 Olympics at a local dam near the village, which is overflowing and dangerous. What is more shocking is that these swimmers are trained by the Swimming Federation of India to compete at national and international events but they don’t have access to a swimming pool. 

A report by Mail Today shed light on the decaying infrastructure at the country’s top sporting arena – Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium sports complex. Termed as an “engineering marvel” during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the athletics track inside the complex was worn out and unlevelled. Chairs in the seating zone were dismantled, electrical fittings broken and fire-fighting equipment was lying unattended. 

The athletics track was caved it at several places and was filled with fetid rainwater, indicating that no cleaning was done after the seasonal showers. There were several potholes which were several feet deep and were death traps for athletes

Where India lacks

A major reason why India lags behind at the global sporting event is the lack of incentives and infrastructure, and the acceptance of mediocrity. Athletes, who have the potential of bagging a medal in Olympics, are not provided with latest equipment to practice.

Moreover, there is a mandatory need of trainers and physios who can help out athletes practice like players in top-performing nations, such as USA, Great Britain, Russia and China. 

Being one of the fastest growing economies, getting top-notch infrastructure, coaching, sports medicine, etc doesn’t seem to be difficult for India.   

From 2012 to 2016, only Rs 750 crore was spent by India on sport-specific federations, training centres, coaches and other infrastructure.       

Silver lining

Despite the deficient facilities and inadequate management, athletes like Sakshi Malik, P.V. Sindhu managed to win a medal while competing with world-class athletes from nations like America, Britain and Russia. Dipa Karmakar, Abhinav Bindra and Dattu Bhokanal’s performance cannot be overseen as they led Indians hold their head high with their heart-winning performances. 

These are individuals who braved the odds to stand out and be counted. However, cash rewards for a few, and absence of even the basic infrastructure and facilities for the others does not sound fair. If India needs to up its game at the 2020 Olympics, the governments, administration and sports bodies need to do a lot more than just announce rewards. Sportspersons play for glory, not for the lure of money. Setting its sight on the correct focus areas will not only serve the players well, it could also go a long way for India’s sporting culture.

The sooner we realise this, the better it is.