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Tokyo Olympics: The spark calls for a big thrust

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The Tokyo Olympics have sparked a new level of excitement amongst countrymen which has never been witnessed before. It is natural that only performance, be it sports, music, art or any other cultural activity, can grab people’s attention. So the credit goes to our players Neeraj, Ravi Kumar, Mirabai, Lovlina, Bajrang and the men’s hockey team. They provided us with a record medal haul at the Olympics, surpassing the previous record of six medals in London 2012. Not only that, there were many close finishes as well.

It was Mirabai Chanu who set the tone by winning a silver medal in weight lifting on the first day itself, compelled the people to watch and follow the games closely till the end. And the athletes did not let us down; Lovelina, Sindhu, Ravi Kumar, and the Men’s Hockey team delivered India the much-needed medals. On the penultimate day, Bajrang and Neeraj took us to ecstasy by winning two more, while Neeraj’s was the much elusive gold. We lost a few medals by whiskers. Aditi Ashok missed the bronze in golf virtually by only one stroke. She was ranked 200th at the beginning of the games but finished 4th at the end. A sport not followed widely in our country, Aditi drew the countrymen to attention in a grand manner.

The Women’s Hockey Team, although they missed the bronze, narrowly earned huge love for their tenacity and passion for performing on the biggest stage. They were nobody at the beginning of the tournament but eventually became contenders for medals by beating three-time champions Australia and giving a big scare to seasoned teams like Argentina and Great Britain. That was their fighting spirit. The Union Minister, Kiren Rijiju, rightly said while felicitating the players after they arrived in Delhi, that the whole country was crying that evening when they lost the play off for the bronze medal. It was really heartbreaking to see the players lying on the field shattered and crying inconsolably for a long time after losing the match. The Great Britain players halted their victory celebrations after a few minutes while noticing the conditions of the Indian players and came to console them and comfort them. That was a great example of humanity.

A similar gesture was seen from the Indian wrestler Bajrang Punia. His opponent, Daulet Niyazbekov from Kazakhstan, in the contest for the bronze medal, was lying on the floor after the final hooter, lost and broken, while Bajrang went to him and helped him get up and recompose himself by holding his hand. These gestures by opponent players confirm what the Olympics are all about; strengthening brotherhood and humanity.

Although this edition of the games was the best for us by getting the 48th rank, we are far away from world standards if we compare with the USA’s 113 medals (39 gold), China’s 88 (38), and Japan’s 58 (27). We must critically examine our system to take steps toward a big thrust for exponential growth. It’s not that there isn’t a system in place or that there isn’t any effort. However, these efforts are insufficient to compete with the top-performing countries. If we examine the background of our successful athletes, we find that most of them came to sport because they did not have any other options or by accident.

Once they got to the state level or national level, then they started getting the right training and exposure. There is no structured system for hunting talents right at the tender age. Children from well-to-do families do not choose sports as a first preference. Studies have to be first because their parents do not see any assured return in sports. So it is important to create an ecosystem of sports and make it appealing to parents so that they will think beyond Kota for their children.

As a developing nation, we cannot expect the government to spend much on sports. It has got other priorities. Sports have to be commercialized to generate funds for taking care of the entire ecosystem. The corporate sector has to come out fully to get involved in it. Although they are allowed to use the CSR fund for the development of sports, they must go far beyond that. Companies like JSW and Tata Steel are examples. JSW, besides owning teams, provides financial support to players who are not from much-patronized sports. Neeraj Chopra is an example coming out of this system. Tata Steel is creating infrastructure like building a world-class hockey stadium in Rourkela with the help of the Odisha government and operating academies, among others.

We may also learn from the Odisha government as well, which quietly assumed responsibility for Indian Hockey in 2018 to bring it back to the spotlight. Naveen Patnaik has shown others how responsibilities can be shared.

World-class infrastructure must be built, the best equipment must be provided, and a large number of world-class academies must be established. Professional and world-class coaches must be ensured. A remuneration system to be implemented until a sportsperson reaches a self-sustaining level, as well as lifetime support for those who do not make it to the big stage to earn a decent living. The private sector should be made to appoint players at a certain percentage. Moreover, players can be given substantial incentives to start businesses after they retire from active sports.

Graduateship and master’s degree courses in sports to be introduced through sports academies, which should be equivalent to any other graduateship and master’s degree courses. These degrees need to be honoured by both the public and private sectors.

We need to see how cricket is managed in our country. The BCCI has created an environment where one can think of making cricket a career option. Without even representing the country, one can earn a decent living. The sports federations may learn from them to make other sports more commercial and appealing as a career option.

Our athletes this time made us believe that we could beat the best in the world. Let the spark shown by Neeraj & Co become a watershed moment for us to give the much needed exponential push in the field of sports.

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