The list of star athletes competing to be India’s flag bearer seems to be getting longer with each passing event. This time too, the Indian Olympic Association had several names after the injury to the first choice, Neeraj Chopra.
Finally, shuffling from the list of three, the IOA zeroed out PV Sindhu – who marched with the Indian tricolor in Commonwealth Games venue Birmingham last night.
With a contingent of 215 athletes across 16 disciplines, India will look to improve on their performance from the last edition of the CWG. Over the past decade, India has steadily improved its medal tally.
In a country where cricket has eclipsed all other games and is considered a religion, it has been very difficult for any other stream of sports to attract attention. But not impossible.
The wind of change that began to blow at the turn of the 21st century swept through most sports disciplines. Most of the categories like boxing, wrestling, archery, hockey etc. have given us international stars.
India have consistently improved on their best performances in the last three of the four Olympic events, achieving their highest medal tally of seven so far at the Tokyo Games. If we take the Commonwealth Games, as the host nation in 2010, India broke its previous records with 101 medals, second only to sports giant Australia. The performance was no fluke and was sustained with 66 medals, the second best performance at the Gold Coast 2018 CWG Games. At the Asian Games, India has always been a powerhouse and continues to be so.
And why did it happen? Due to a little pressure from the government. India’s improved sporting success can be partly attributed to the plans of the Sports Authority of India. As part of it, promising athletes are provided with specialized training, state-of-the-art infrastructure and playing equipment, and an individual diet prescribed by trained nutritionists. It currently trains 6,586 boys and 2,639 girls in 189 different centers of the country.
The government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme or TOPS together with the Mission Olympic Cell, where selected athletes receive specialized training according to individual goals and financial assistance, was also of great importance. TOPS athletes PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik won medals at Rio Olympics 2016.
Both the government and the private sector have made a conscious effort to bring in world-class trainers, sports doctors and trainers from abroad. It has made a big difference in performance over the years. Olympic medalists Neeraj Chopra, PV Sindhu, Lovlina Borgohain and Mirabai Chanu were assisted by several expert foreign coaches and support staff.
Some experts say that the outstanding show of the Indian contingent at the 2010 Commonwealth Games was a turning point for Indian sports, after which players began to be recognized and funds and investments from the private sector started pouring in. This was immediately reflected in India’s performance at the London Olympics with two Silver and four Bronze medals.
Big corporations and brands like Reliance, JSW Group have come up with unique programs to support Indian athletes. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, athletes supported by the JSW Group brought home 12 medals. The group is also credited with India’s success at the Tokyo Olympics, where Neeraj Chopra won gold in the athletics segment.
In the recent past, there has also been greater international competitive exposure for Indian athletes with several world-class tournaments held at home, such as the India Open boxing tournament and the Indian Open badminton tournament.
Experts say that the rise of role models like Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Neeraj Chopra, Geeta Phogat has also inspired thousands of young Indians to take up sports other than cricket.
Conclusion: Despite tremendous progress, India’s ranking in elite events shows that we still have a long way to go. China won 26 gold medals at the Rio Olympics. If both the government and the private sector can build on the foundations laid in recent years, the country will see much more success at world sporting events.
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