GAME PLAN: Olympics — India’s four-yearly fun and games

Jaideep Ghosh

FILE | Indian shooter Abhinav Bindra takes aim during a 10m Air Rifle men qualification round in New Delhi. Photo: PTI

FILE | Indian shooter Abhinav Bindra takes aim during a 10m Air Rifle men qualification round in New Delhi.
Photo: PTI

It is that time of the year. Actually, that time which comes every four years – when Indian sports suddenly becomes a fortress of achievements, all aimed at qualifying for the next Olympics.

It may be quite cynical of us, but the slew of athletes finding the qualifying marks in many hastily and injudiciously organised meets isn’t something new – few other nations have as negative a medals-to-athletes ratio as India has.

By the last count, 57 athletes have qualified for the Rio Olympics. What is a little disturbing about the whole thing is that you have the same names on the list.

Yogeshwar Dutt was one of the names that emerged at the London Olympics. Four years on, there isn’t another wrestler who has challenged his supremacy, in a sport that makes amazing demands on the body.

It may well be to his credit that he’s back in the fray. Equally, it could well be that the supply line is poor.

Sudha Singh will be running the 3000m steeplechase. Again.

Abhinav Bindra is back too, as not just an athlete, but also a brand ambassador for the Indian effort. Then there are the usual suspects in shooting – Gagan Narang, whose successes are moderate and Manavjit Sandhu, in his fourth Olympics and no medals.

Saina Nehwal doesn’t brook much competition at home still, which is a pity. But she’s one athlete who has done enough to merit another chance.

File photo of Jwala Gutta Photo-PTI

File photo of Jwala Gutta
Photo-PTI

But then you have Jwala Gutta – an athlete at the age when people consider even ending their coaching stints. It’s amazing that even she hasn’t been challenged.

Take a look at the list for Rio and compare it with London and you will know what we’re talking about. It is a sad reflection of the state of sports in India that athletes can go on for as many as four Olympics without even being asked, let alone dropped.

I venture to suggest that we will do worse in Rio than we did in London, where Indians got two silver from Vijay Kumar in 25m rapid fire pistol and the inimitable Sushil Kumar, in the 66 kg freestyle. Neither, incidentally, is on India’s list of athletes this time around.

That apart, there were four bronze.

It would be fair to assume that India should be doing better than this at Rio. One would presume that the natural progression of things would make things better. Marginally maybe, but better nevertheless.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case. It looks like India may well be back to being there “in spirit”.

Reasons could be many, but one comes up immediately – the scrutiny that Indian sports were under since the Delhi Commonwealth Games has evaporated.

There is not media attention on the associations, athletes or officials, so they are doing what they have often done brilliantly – ensure their presence at all games without any presumption of accountability, let alone success.

India as a nation has so many other things to focus on that sports isn’t quite living up to it.

FILE | Gynmast Dipa Karmakar, who has qualified for Rio Olympic, practicing in Agartala. Photo: PTI

FILE | Gynmast Dipa Karmakar, who has qualified for Rio Olympic, practicing in Agartala.
Photo: PTI

There is an occasional squeak, like when Dipa Karmakar became the first Indian gymnast to qualify for the Olympics. Thereafter, it is back to other stuff – from serious issues like drought and forest fires to trivial rubbish like scandals between movie stars.

There are other bits of news that make people take notice, though fleetingly.

Like when four India wrestlers, including the much-lauded Phogat sisters Babita Kumari and Geeta, deciding to forfeit their bouts in the Olympic qualifying contest in Mongolia.

The result was that these two, along with men’s super heavyweight Sumit and Rahul Aware in the 57 kg class were banned from competing in the qualifiers by the international federation and subsequently by the Indian body.

While the case may still go in for appeal and further consideration, it just goes to show how convenient and easy things have become for the athletes, to take their own calls and step in or out.

There must have been coaches and officials associated with these wrestlers who were privy to these decisions, or may have even made them. But there is no mention of those anywhere.

Oh yes. How can we forget the officials.

The “support staff” is a perfect way for all and sundry to head for the next Olympic picnic. For the 57 or so athletes who have qualified, there will be at least three-fold staff, including Indian and foreign coaches, trainer, doctors, fitness and other advisors and general hangers-on.

Remember when a young lady in a red hoodie walked out with the Indian contingent at the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics? There was a lot of hue and cry about who she was and how she got there.

I can wager my pension that she would be related to one of these many ‘officials’ who accompany the contingent, and clued in enough not only to get an accreditation made, but also actually stride into the arena with a broad smile!

That was India’s only gold medal display in London, out of 81 athletes! Full marks for timing and poise!