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Miles To Go Before We Leap

It is time to bring in accountability and professionalism in the functioning of national sports federations

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Alot of things have changed for the better over the past few years for Indian sports. But a lot more has to happen before we can even dream of getting into the Top 20 nations at the Olympics. In the 2012 London Olympics India stood 55th on the medal tally whereas four years later in 2016 at Rio de Janeiro, we could secure only two medals (P.V. Sindhu, Silver in Badminton Women’s Singles and Sakshi Malik, Bronze in wrestling, women’s freestyle/ 58 kg) to finish 67th from among 206 nations that took part in the Olympics.

One of the first things we need to do is to bring in accountability, transparency and professionalism in the functioning of the national sports federations. Without this major change, it is very unlikely that we will become a super power in world sports.

There is a lot of talent in different parts of the country especially in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. But most of them do not get enough opportunities to showcase their talent because the associations have not put systems in place to identify the talent. If talented youngsters do not get the right breaks at the right time and age, it could not mean the end of their sporting career. We need to ensure that this does not continue in the long run.

On a positive note, it is heartening to see more corporates getting involved in different sporting activities other than cricket. The advent of leagues in different sports has also helped in making Olympic sports become more popular. We are now witnessing more television coverage, print coverage and also online media dedicated to sports news, which is also adding to the popularity of sports.

With particular reference to badminton, there is a manifold increase in the number of youngsters taking to the game. Similarly there is a sudden increase in the number of new courts coming up in different parts of the country especially in smaller towns and districts.

Moreover a lot more players have started playing badminton for fitness – be it corporates, software engineers, lawyers, bureaucrats, housewives, etc. All these are positive signs for Indian badminton and augurs well for the sport in the long run.

Saina Nehwal and Sindhu have become household names and their continued success at the international level has taken badminton to being the second most popular sport in India – be it in terms of performance, television /print coverage, viewership, number of players playing the sport, new infrastructure being developed, etc., Support from the government is also coming forth in a big way especially in the excellence programme, which has helped in accelerating the growth of this sport.

Another interesting development in the context of Indian sports is the emergence of private foundations such as Olympic Gold Quest, GoSports Foundation, JSW Sports Foundation, etc., who are spending considerable amount of money in pursuit of excellence. These foundations have different programmes to support already established athletes as well as scholarships for upcoming youngsters. For instance, these private foundations raise funds from corporate and individuals and support athletes who have a chance of getting a medal in multi sports events such as Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Olympics. The USP of this kind of assistance is that the athletes themselves decide how the funds allocated to them are to be utilised depending on the requirement of each athlete. This is almost like providing last mile connectivity to an already existing system.

I firmly believe that Indian sport can only go forward from here. How far and how fast we can grow depends on how quickly we can bring in reforms in the administration of the national and state federations. Whether it actually happens or not will always remain a mystery.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Prakash Padukone

The author is a former all-England badminton champion

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