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Ominous Signs For Indian Sports Ahead Of Olympics

Updated: October 13, 2011 10:48 am

A year after the Commonwealth Games and ten months to go for London Olympics, the Indian sports scene presents a hazy picture. There is confusion as the Sports Ministry and the National Sports Federations (NSF) are at logger-heads. Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has accused the government of attempting to tamper with the autonomy of the NSFs saying: “The intentions of the Sports Ministry are sinister. It wants to take over the Federations and the IOA through manipulations and threats.” While the war of nerve between the federations and the government is going on, it is the sports which is suffering.

Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken, raised the temperature further when he taunted the IOA for its failure to have a proper legacy of the Commonwealth Games. He said: “It is sad that capital has no games legacy, the Sports Federations and IOA have not done anything to create such a legacy, which should have made the people of the capital proud.” The already fuming IOA lost no time in hitting back: “The minister has no right to talk about a legacy. The stadiums are locked and keys are with his ministry. No sports person or federation is allowed to use them and he is talking of a legacy.” IOA acting president Vijay Kumar Malhotra was equally harsh in his reaction, “The expensive stadiums have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, they are slowly turning out to be health hazards and that is the legacy which Sports Ministry has created.”

Prof Malhotra’s anguish is justified. The stadiums have not been used for last one year. There has hardly been any national or international competition held in them. Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (JNS) has been lying idle since October 15, 2010. The much talked-about Public-Private Partnership (PPP) to run these stadiums has failed to take off. And since there is no specific budget for the maintenance, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) is finding it tough to look after these huge structures. It had cost state exchequer Rs 961 crore (all tax-payers’ money) to renovate the Nehru Stadium. This showpiece infrastructure now looks like a junkyard. Weeds and wild plants have grown in and around it. The much talked-about Aerostat, the balloon that hovered over the stadium during the Games, costing Rs 70 crore has been dismantled and packed into containers and is lying in the basement.

“This makes the stadium the world’s costliest junkyard,” commented a veteran sports journalist Norris Pritam. Unsparing in his criticism, the IOA acting chief wanted to know what Ajay Maken has learnt from his recent visit to China. He must have visited Bird Nest (Olympic Stadium in Beijing) and seen how it is being used. He commented: “The Chinese authorities are making maximum use of the infrastructure they created for the Games but here in Delhi the government is not letting sportspersons to use the available facilities.”

The first big causality of this stand-off has been the game of hockey. The International Hockey Federation (FIH), which till the middle of this year was of the view that to spread and finance the game worldwide, it needs that Indian hockey regains its glory, suddenly decided to take away the prestigious Champions Trophy from Delhi and allotted it to Auckland.

This decision of shifting the venue took the sheen off the glorious Indian victory in the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy (ACT) held in China. After this the team would have benefited enormously by playing at home against world’s best sides and that would have given the players enough competition to prepare for the Olympic Qualifier.

Apart from this team event, Indian players in individual events are giving uneven performances which have left the fans tense. After the Beijing Games where India won three medals—One Gold (Abhinav Bindra in shooting) and two bronze (Sushil Kumar in wrestling and Vijender Singh in boxing), it was said that the country could genuinely hope for five to eight medals in the London Games. Good showing in corruption-ridden Commonwealth Games and later in the Asian Games further justified those hopes. But ten months after the Guangzhou Asiad, things started looking ominous. Though Indians shooters and archers have done well, there is no sign of any improvement in athletics, badminton, tennis, wrestling and boxing.

Eight shooters have already qualified with Gagan Narang, Ranjon Sodhi and Abhinav Bindra being in good form. Same is the case with archers. Deepika Kumar last month won a silver in the World Cup and she along with Laishram Bombayala Devi, Chekrovolu Swuro has booked the ticket for London while in the men’s section Jayant Talukdar has earned a Olympic quota place. While six athletes have also qualified (so far) for the quadrangular event their performance in the Asian and World Championships left much to be desired. If they do not improve their performance, they may turn out to be mere visitors.

There are lot of expectations from badminton star Saina Nehwal. This Hyderabadi girl has done country proud by her consistent performance since her great show in Beijing Games. Last year she won as many as five Super Series, a record no Indian has ever achieved but this season her showing has been uneven. She has just won one Super Series and that too at the start of the year. After that though she made it to the final of Indonesia open, she failed to retain the title. She also crashed out in the early stage of the Indian Open and recently she fumbled in the semifinals of the Japan Open.

Saina has managed to remain amongst the top five players in the world and at present she is ranked fourth but her failure to win any big tournament this year has raised concern about her fitness. “She is our best hope for the medal in Olympics,” says her coach P Gopichand and nobody disputes that assertion. But the million-dollar question is: Will she be able to translate the hopes of the millions into reality by winning the medal? The problem is lack of competition at the domestic level. Everytime Saina has to go abroad for competition, which is not the case with the Chinese or Koreans or Malaysians. The players from those countries have world-level competition at home itself.

As far as tennis is concerned, the form and fitness of all the players are a cause of concern. In an individual event much is expected of Somdev Devverman but there has been a dramatic fall in his rankings and he is now at 89th place. He has not done anything spectacular in Grand Slams and has not won any medium size tournament this season. His defeat against much lower-ranked Japanese player in Davis Cup came as a big shock.

Sania Mirza is troubled with injuries and she has not given any worthwhile performance in the singles. Though she did well in doubles but with foreign players. In Olympics she will find it hard to find a suitable Indian partner. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi are well past their prime. Though they have been producing glimpses of their brilliant past, that may not be enough in the Olympics. Both are also having fitness problems.

Sushil Kumar failed to retain his world champion title as he suffered a first-round defeat in the World Championship and other wrestlers also gave disappointing performances. They will have to wait for the qualifiers for the 2012 Games. Another Olympic bronze medalist Vijender Singh failed to cross the first round in the World Boxing Championship at Baku. The 25-year-old poster boy of Indian boxing crashed out of the mega event as he lost his opening round 75 kg bout against Cuba’s Emilio Correa. Vijender, the world number eight and seeded seventh in the Championship, took on Olympic silver-medalist Correa in the opening bout of the middle weight division. The Cuban had beaten the Indian in the semifinals at the 2008 Olympic also. Another shock result was the defeat of “Chhota Tyson” Suranjoy Singh who lost to ninth seed Tugstsogt Nyambayar of Mongolia. Suranjoy had won Gold in Commonwealth and Silver in Asian Games.

These performances do not auger well for Indian sports. Time has come that Sports Federations and Sports Ministry jointly chalk out a comprehensive plan for the 2012 Games. The sportspersons need guidance and encouragement in the hour of crisis and their confidence will further nosedive if they see officials fighting among themselves for gaining some little brownie points at the expense of national interest. And that will not be good for the image of India.

By Harpal Singh Bedi

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