Time to go for: TOPS
India has the worst population to medals ratio at the O;ympics. Since India’s maiden appearance at the Summer Olympics in 1900, the country has managed to score just 28 medals till last Olympic. The cricket-crazed nation has paid little attention to any other sport. Currently, 59 National Sports Federations are recognised in the country, up from 48 in 2016.This is crucial because not recognizing sports had in the past became reasons for fights between the federations and Indian Olympics Association and dried up funding.
The biggest irony lies in the fact that India has more of sports-coaches than sports-players. Depending on a few players who compete in a relatively few sports does not guarantee the fact that they shall win laurels for our country. It’s shocking to see that India barely possesses less than 1 per cent of the net tally of Olympic medals. Many athletes who’ve made it to the Olympics in the past have done so by paying for their training out of their own pockets or bagging generous corporate sponsorships. This means those who lack these privileges remain devoid of opportunity.
It cannot be gainsaid that right from the beginning India is lagging behind in sports is due to the lack of encouragement from people and the lack of vision from our past leaders. There is more stress on studies rather than games and sports in India even today. People believe only in engineering and medicine and other premier education. Parents don’t encourage their children for sports; they always prefer study and a secured job over any sport. It is due to the fear about the future of their children.
The governments in general reflect the people so there is not much encouragement from there either for the sports. There was always a lack of vision found among our earlier leaders as visible through the status of sports infrastructure in the country. It is reflected in the number of sports facilities that were created in each state and in each district. Other than the major cities and towns, there is not much infrastructure and encouragement for the sports and games. The only sports that kept us going are cricket and hockey due to the passion of the early players.
With regard to sports, a game of negligence is played right from the childhood in our country. One can see while traversing throughout India that most of the schools are in apartments and busy localities without any playground facility. If the playground is missing where the child will learn about the basics of any sports? In the case of sports-super powers like China and America, school is the foremost breeding ground for the athletes. Various school level tournaments are held nationally that sets the right path for the future stars, something that India is missing. In the case of our country, the sports events for school level are less and even they are less informed, published and the spirit is not cultivated by the schools.
In an age when media rights of the Indian Premier League are bought by private broadcasters for more than Rs 16,000 crore, Prasar Bharati’s total budget of less than Rs 3,000 crore seems tiny.
Broadcasters are more likely of showcasing cricket matches, whether they are of lowest tier. Too much cricket love is hazardous for the nation. Other major sports want more viewership but fail to attain any broadcaster. As a result, people often ignore other sports personalities and fail to get any idea of the basics of any other game and a major reason behind our country lagging behind in sports. This lack of broadcasters for other sports is also a major reason behind Indian people hearing about any new game during Olympics only.
Going to Tops
Debutant javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra shattered several glass ceilings to become the country’s first gold-medallist in 13 years in the Olympics. With the addition of Chopra’s gold on the last day of their competitive schedule, India signed off with seven medals in all, including two silver and four bronze. This good fortune for the largest ever Indian contingent sent at Tokyo Olympics has been brought upon by the change of mindset at the government level. In order to improve India’s performance at Olympics and Paralympics, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) started the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) in September 2014. Started in the year 2014, the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) has diligently strived towards India’s Olympic dream. With India sending its largest-ever contingent and 121 athletes assisted under TOPS, this flagship program under the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS), the Government of India is setting new standards. the scheme which looks like any other monetary assistance program by the government has several depths which has increased its popularity and demand.
How Does TOPS Function
The main objective behind the formulation of TOPS was to prepare India for the future i.e 2020 and 2024 Olympics. In order to fulfil this objective, a committee (TOPS Elite Athletes’ Identification Committee) was constituted to identify the elite athletes who could bring accolades for India in future Olympics. The Sports ministry appoints TOPS members and an emphasis is on ensuring representation from ‘High-Priority’ sports such as Archery, Badminton, Boxing Hockey, Shooting, and Wrestling. The first TOPS committee was constituted under the chairmanship of now Sports Minister Anurag Thakur and comprised of eminent athletes like Pulella Gopichand, Rahul Dravid, Abhinav Bindra, and Manisha Malhotra and sports administrators from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the MYAS.
Secondly, The Mission Olympic Cell (MOC) was created under the scheme to assist the athletes who are selected by the identification committee. The MOC is under the Chairmanship of the Director-General, Sports Authority of India and consequent meetings are attended by representatives of respective National Sports Federations (NSFs) and other SAI members. It is the MOC that formulates assistance programs for athletes both developmental and financial. They also conduct routine reviews and communicate regularly with athletes about their progress. Any grievance or problem is communicated to the MOC as well.
To an unexperienced eye, this scheme may look loke any other monetary scheme provided by the government to the sports fraternity but the exceptionality of TOPS lies in its aim for holistic development of the sportsperson. In doing so it goes beyond what is prescribed under the Annual Calendar of Training and Competition (ACTC). The scheme has prided itself on providing customized training to athletes under reputed coaches at institutes having world-class facilities and helping them purchase adequate equipment. It paves the path and encourages athletes to participate in international competitions. Apart from individual sport-related matters, the well-being of the athletes is also a priority under the scheme. It provides support staff like Physical trainers, Sports psychologists, Mental trainers, and Physiotherapists, etc. Athletes are also provided with monthly incentives.
The successes At the Tokyo Olympics are not gained in one day, it has been the result of the change of mindset at the government level. The Modi government, right after coming to power, has shown its grit towards the improvement of the sports sector in the country and it is now bearing the fruits. Apart from Tokyo, the effectiveness and efficiency of the scheme can also be gauged by the successes in the 2016 Rio Olympics, two years after the establishment of the scheme. P V Sindhu and Sakshi Malik captured silver and bronze in Badminton and Wrestling respectively at the 2016 Rio Olympics. In the 2016 Paralympic Games, the TOPS Athletes won 2 Gold, 1 Silver, and 1 Bronze. In the 2018 Commonwealth Games, 47 of the 70 athletes who won medals were supported under TOPS.
The successes have also led the TOPS committee to launch the scheme for Junior athletes. Around 258 athletes are under it in the development group list. The ministry and SAI are working closely to launch many of them as medal prospects for the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles Games in 2028.
It does not take much to see where the aura of assurance is emerging from. Each of the 125-odd athletes who made it to Tokyo2020, postponed by a year and being held in unique circumstances, has left no stone unturned in being in the best physical, emotional and competitive shape ahead of the Games. In a great change the Indian government is placing sports personalities other than cricket at the centre stage. The government along with Sports Authority of India, is ensuring that the needs of the sports fraternity are met. The turnaround times were brought down sharply as everyone bought into the urgency and the single- minded purpose of assisting the athletes to prepare well for the mega event. There is a change coming, but it would take another generation to make the impact if not a decade.
By Nilabh Krishna