India’s Olympic performances down the years have been dismal by any yardstick, be it in team games or individual sports. Every once in a while we’ve had sparks provided by the likes of PT Usha, Milkha Singh, Anju Bobby George, Vijender Singh, MC Mary Kom, Abhinav Bindra, Rajyavardhan Rathore, Sushil Kumar, Leander Paes, Karnam Malleshwari, and a few others. But apart from them, nobody even came close to the exacting standards expected of Olympic athletes.
Over the last 50 years, Olympic performances of Indian athletes will show a lack of planning, substandard training, and a sluggish approach towards the quadrennial event. Countries like Ethiopia, Jamaica, Indonesia, Nigeria or Morocco, aren’t robust economies, but they have Olympic medals in their kitty. India, with 1.25 billion people and a sound economy, is still struggling to find a place alongside them.
At the Rio Olympics 2016, India sent its largest ever contingent. Sports administrators predicted 10-12 medals. But did anybody delve into the reality?
We need to concentrate on training with a long-term policy. The existing Long Term Development Plan (LTDP) has not yielded any significant results and should be re-examined. What’s required is to identify disciplines in which India should participate in, at the next Olympics. Once these disciplines are selected, selection committees should focus on selecting athletes with the potential to win medals. The selected sportpersons will form an “Olympic club” in their respective disciplines.
There will also be a process to eliminate members who don’t live up to the Olympic club standards; a recommended scale could be one-third of the club’s total strength. Since the Asian Games are coming up in two years, it could be a good ground to test potential. Once the Asian Games are over, a more concerted training programme will be worked out for the Olympics.
Moreover, branding of these selected athletes would also act as a motivating factor. They could wear sports gear that prominently displays the words “Member, Olympic Club, India”. While the goal for each individual should be an Olympic medal, they should also be given periodic objectives until they reach Olympic standards.
There exists a tendency to send athletes to the Olympics as long as they secure qualification, and to then expect medals from them. Sportspersons can’t win Olympic medals simply on the basis of a strong desire; there needs to be more exacting standards we set. For measurable events, only those athletes who secured the bronze medal winning standards at the previous Olympic games should be allowed to participate; while for non-measurable events, only silver winning athletes at the previous Asian Games or gold medal winners at two previous international events will be sent to the Olympics.