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India’s Best-Ever Medal Heist in Asian Games – Blood, Sweat and Reform

Asian Games

As the Asian Games-2018 wrapped up in Indonesia, India, with a total of 69 medals has shown the promise of emerging as a sporting power. This is India’s best ever overall medal tally and 24 silver medals is also the highest ever in India’s Asiad history since the Games’ inception in 1951. Certainly, the credit of making India proud should go to the sportspersons who came under the tricolour from every nook and corner of the country and gave their blood, sweat and tears to achieve this feat. However, what is also heartening is the response from society and the administration. Athletes have become household names and young children are following most sports including table tennis, badminton, shooting-archery, and track events. With this, the seeds are being sown for a future generation of athletes who will aim even higher.

Under the present government, the focus and significance sports field has been getting is unprecedented. Improving infrastructure, bringing professionalism to the sports administration and overall, changing perceptions around sports by making it attractive and promising is a trait that is visible in India. At a time when India is celebrating its Asian Games accomplishments, we look at the transformation in intent and action of the government as far as sports is concerned.

PM Modi’s Special interest

When India fared badly in Rio Olympic tally in 2016, PM Modi immediately set up a task force. It was not meant for a customary ‘soul searching’ purpose that every system does after a beating but the mandate was specific. The task force was asked to prepare the roadmap for the next three Olympics-  2020 (Tokyo), 2024 and 2028. The seriousness of the exercise was thus amply evident as the government acknowledged that preparing sportspersons for international sports is a job that can’t be done overnight. It was not a bureaucratic exercise either as the Task Force that gave the report later in August 2017 comprised of experts in the domain such as Abhinav Bindra, Pullela Gopichand etc.

Apart from this, Prime Minister Modi is himself seen at the forefront of encouraging sportspersons personally. For instance, every medallist in the Asian Games has been mentioned and individually congratulated by him on social media. This is not a one-off. He did something similar with the women’s cricket team earlier too. So also with Commonwealth Games. The list goes on. He’s perhaps the first PM to take a personal interest in the success of sportspersons. This boosts the confidence of a sportsperson, knowing that the whole nation, led by the PM himself is standing with them.

Khelo India- Making Sports a Buzzword

PM Modi’s encouragement for sports not remained in words. It translated into specific policy. The concept of making India embrace sporting culture is well reflected in ‘Khelo India’ campaign. It was launched during the financial year 2016-17. The initiative has been structured in a way that it really gives an opportunity for local talent to rise up to global platforms. In 2018, 734 players have been selected for scholarship programme under Khelo India Talent Identification Development scheme.

In 2017, the Cabinet approved revamped Khelo India programme at a cost of Rs.1,756 crore for the period 2017-18 to 2019-20. It is not just about medals but mainstreaming sport as a tool for individual development, community development, and as a way of life. See how it aims to create a sports talent base with Indian Youth.

  • Pan India scholarship scheme would cover 1,000 most talented young athletes each year across select sports disciplines.
  • Each athlete selected under the scheme shall receive an annual scholarship worth Rs. 5.00 lakh for 8 consecutive years.
Infrastructure for Sports

Recognising talent and providing it institutional and financial assistance is an important step. But this only can’t take them forward if the infrastructure and eco-system for sports are absent. ‘Khelo India’ addresses this as well. The Programme aims to promote 20 universities across the country as hubs of sporting excellence, which would enable talented sportspersons to pursue the dual pathway of education and competitive sports.

Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports is working to create a Bank of Coaches in different sports. As Minister Col. Rajyavardhan Rathore had explained, a provision is being made to recognise all the coaches  who played a role in the career of an athlete who wins a medal at the international level. A provision has been made so that the amount given to the coaches of national athletes is shared by 20% by the grass root coach and 30% of it would go to the developmental coaches at academies.

It has been decided that a Sports University will be set up in Manipur, which is first of its kind in India and the bill for the same has been tabled in the Parliament. It will promote various aspects of sports such as management, technology, and coaching.

Catching them Young

Khelo India School Games is already providing a platform for children to pitch themselves for national level sports. Further, the Sports Minister recently indicated that the plan has been underway to position sports as an important part of the education system. For this, there is an indication of reducing the school syllabus. The Minister quoted in the media report saying, “We have come to a stage where sports is not a part of education, it is education. The ministry of education is ensuring that the syllabus in schools by 2019 is reduced by 50 percent and there will be a sports period on a regular basis,”

Freeing Sports from ‘Authority’

After the meeting of governing council of national sports body Sports Authority (SAI) of India this year July, the Sports Minister who is himself an Olympic medallist had announced that the SAI will be renamed as Sports India as the word ‘authority’ is no longer relevant in the sporting world. These are important messages. Though the official announcement to this effect is due, the intention of freeing sports from bureaucratic hegemony is clearly visible. Further, he said, in the coming days, sports bodies will be leaner and they will no longer retain some of the posts in the organization. The cost will be diverted to the athlete’s food and nutrition.

India’s performance in the Asian Games evoked hopes of brighter days on the global stage. While athletes fly high on their ability, they are not alone; the administrative reforms on the ground are also backing them.