India is struggling with the lack of sufficient equipment

In the kingdom of cricket, the Olympic Games do not allow the population to dream: on an old ring installed in the middle of a dusty field, the elite of Indian boxing nevertheless trains hard in the hope of expanding the country's meager Olympic record despite this basic equipment.

Rohit Tokas and other national-level boxers train in this open-air ring in a Hindu temple complex in the heart of New Delhi. But only early in the morning and late in the evening when the heat subsides a little.

Having failed to qualify for the Olympics in a competition in Rio, Tokas believes India needs to improve its training centers if it wants to win medals one day.

“The most important thing is better facilities,” says the lightweight athlete, who trains in a dingy room with rusty dumbbells.

“What I saw in Rio was a revelation. The way they approach training is completely different from our routine exercises,” he told AFP. “The diet and approach are very different.”

The private Baba Gang Nath Academy brings together boxers, wrestlers, judokas and volleyball players determined to represent India.

But Indian Olympic Association (IOA) general secretary Rajeev Mehta regrets the state's reluctance to upgrade the equipment.

– Starving results at the games –

India, a country that plays almost exclusively cricket, has won just 26 medals in 23 Olympics, a poor record for the world's second most populous country.

“Our sport suffers from a lack of infrastructure. We are nothing compared to the US, China, Britain or the Netherlands,” Mr Mehta lamented to AFP.

The sports ministry has set a target of winning 10 medals in Rio after winning six in London, a record for the country.

The government had called the 2012 Olympics a success, but some regret a very poor result for a country that is developing rapidly and boasts a population of 1.25 billion.

Even the field hockey team is struggling, despite being very popular. The lack of international standard places prevents talented young people from standing out from the crowd and landing a place in the national team.

“Many stadiums do not have artificial turf pitches or indoor stadiums. Hoping for a good result under these conditions is impossible,” says Mehta, emphasizing that the Netherlands has around 1,300 artificial turf pitches for 17 million inhabitants. “Compare with India, where there are 87 artificial turf pitches, of which 13 to 14 are unusable!”

The Indian field hockey team, which has long dominated the sport with eight Olympic gold medals, the last of which came in Moscow in 1980, finished last in London. But his silver medal in the recent Champions Trophy gave him some hope.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Sports assured that the government was making “unprecedented” efforts for its athletes, particularly in terms of infrastructure.

“We have already spent $1.2 billion preparing for Rio. The result of these efforts is that we have an unprecedented number of qualified people,” the spokesperson told AFP, indicating that the Indian delegation will be in Brazil with more than a hundred athletes.

– The example of Vijender Singh –

Concerns over equipment were highlighted during the Indian Athletics Grand Prix in Delhi in April, when a power outage interrupted the competition, which was an Olympics qualifier.

Due to a lack of electronic timers, organizers had to use manual stopwatches and were unable to measure wind speed. Consequence: The times could not be approved for the Olympic minimum times and the athletes had to try to qualify in another race.

And that's without taking into account the stale air in Delhi, the most polluted capital in the world. “We were out of breath and the equipment here is not exceptional,” one of them recalled to AFP on condition of anonymity after failing to qualify for the Games.

Despite these obstacles, the athletes at Baba Gang Nath Academy try to cope.

“I see the big difference between training our athletes and preparing foreign athletes, but I keep myself updated on modern methods via the internet,” Rahul Rathi, another national-level boxer, told AFP.

Coach Naveen Tokas believes motivating his youngsters is just as important as purchasing new equipment.

“We tell them the stories of stars like Vijender Singh, the challenges he overcame coming from the bottom of the social ladder,” he says, referring to this boxer who came from a poor family with a rural background and bronze won Beijing before turning professional.

07/26/2016 12:47:31 – New Delhi (AFP) – © 2016 AFP