India breathes its 75 years of independence this 15th August. We have evolved from a spectator to the lead actor on the world stage in these 75 years. While multiple priority concerns like poverty alleviation, better health and educational facilities, infrastructural development etc remain yet to achieve, the sports industry is another aspect India should start building on. Recently, the Tokyo Olympics concluded with great pomp and show, with India winning a gold medal after 13 years. This time, India set its best record of seven medals at the Tokyo Olympics 2021. Amidst the clouds of celebrations lies a dark enigma. Why does India win comparatively fewer medals? Discerning the population to medal ratio, India performs the worst. From the maiden appearance at the summer games of 1900 to the Tokyo Olympics, India has bagged 35 medals. This time India dreamt of winning more by sending its largest-ever contingent of 120 athletes. There is no one-shot answer to this question, but many. Sports has always been a neglected topic in the country. The only sport that makes the news and has an enormous chunk of popularity is cricket. The Olympians have continuously suggested how arduous it has been to deal with funding, politics and pressure. Aditi Ashok, a golfer, says, “Most of what I did, especially to get into the Olympics in 2016, was on my own.”
Coming to facts and figures, in the 2020-21 annual budget, the Government of India allocated Rs 2826.92 crore for sports, which meant an increase of a mere ₹ 50 crores from the revised estimates of the financial year 2019-20. The Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) is the major funding scheme that provides financial assistance to potential Olympic medal winners. Launched in 2014, TOPS is the flagship programme of the Sports Ministry of India. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, India spent ₹ 36.85 crores under TOPS. Most of the expenditure was on shooting and athletics. Both brought no medal. Out of the ₹ 36.85 crores, ₹30.49 crores had gone to disciplines that fell short of goals. Only 1.66% of the total TOPS fund went to the fields that brought India two medals–P.V. Sindhu in Badminton and Sakshi Malik in wrestling. Thus, sports governance has not been the government’s strong suit. The allocation of resources is an area that needs attention. A proper and fair allocation along with optimised utilization of resources may help India improve its performance. Another important aspect is the diversification in sports. India participates in very few sports categories. Over the years, India has participated in only 22 sports. Lack of awareness and proper training are the obstacles that need attention. The tale of hockey is an interesting one. Hockey, even after being the national sport of India, is not much glorified. There need to be extra efforts to appreciate the Indian hockey team, especially after their performance at the Tokyo Olympics. We should have men’s or women’s national level cups, like the IPL. This will help the players to train and earn an income.
The general state of sports in the country needs a push too. Apart from cricket, most of the sports lack infrastructural support. The school curriculums have tiny space for sports. Indian mentality goes on with the saying, “Kheloge kundoge toh banoge kharab, padhoge likhoge toh banoge nawab.” This means that those who focus on sports are not valued, but those who are only focused on studies excel. With such a mentality, how can India expect to compete with nations like China, the USA, the UK etc in the Olympics? Another facet is the socioeconomic factors like poor health, infrastructure and nutrition. A tiny amount of the population has the luxury of taking part in sport. Athletes are not generated from the richer classes, they come often from the middle and lower economic strata. In the 2020 Global Hunger Index, India ranked 94th out of 107 countries, which is labelled as a serious nutritional deficit situation. An improvement needs to be made in health and nutritional condition of the country.
A state-wise analysis would highlight the states of Punjab, Haryana and Odisha for producing the most number of Olympians in the country. The Orissa government is rightly credited for their support to the Indian hockey team in the past years. States must identify about two to three sports that are locally famous and develop them enough to be qualified for the Olympics. Trainers and coaches must be hired from India and abroad to provide world-class training, particularly in sports that have the potential to win India medals in the future. Sports should be decentralised and make to reach the grassroots level with efficient training. The Tokyo Olympics was a promising event for India, it gives hope for even better performance of the country in future events. India needs to strengthen efforts and produce new talents to participate in international level competitions. The sportspersons are glorified only after winning a medal. This is the only source of motivation for them. But they need support in their initial phases as well, it should not only be an individual effort of the players but the aggregate effort of the entire nation to support those players. We should try to send an even larger contingent to the Paris Olympics and participate in a larger number of sports.