The list of top athletes vying to become flag bearers for India seems to grow longer with each passing event. This time, too, the Indian Olympic Federation had several names after the first choice, Neeraj Chopra, retired injured.
Finally, while the IOA shuffled from the list of three, it focused on PV Sindhu – who marched with the Indian tricolor last night in Birmingham, where the Commonwealth Games will be held.
India, with a contingent of 215 athletes in 16 disciplines, will try to improve on their performance from the last edition of CWG. Over the past decade, India has steadily improved its medal record.
In a nation where cricket has overshadowed all other games and is considered a religion, attracting attention to other sports has been very difficult. But not impossible.
A wind of change – which began to blow at the turn of the 21st century – swept across most sports. Most of the categories, such as boxing, wrestling, archery, hockey etc. have given us international stars.
India has continued to improve on its all-time best performances in the last three out of four Olympic events, with the highest medal tally of seven at the Tokyo Games. If we consider the CommonWealth Games as the host country in 2010, India broke its previous record with 101 medals, ranking only behind sports giants Australia. The performance was no slouch and continued with 66 medals, the second-best performance, at the Gold Coast 2018 CWG Games. India has always been, and will continue to be, a powerhouse at the Asian Games.
And why did it happen? Due to a little push from the government. India’s improved sporting success can be partially attributed to the programs of the Sports Authority of India. In it, promising athletes receive specialized training, state-of-the-art infrastructure and gaming facilities, and individual nutrition prescribed by trained nutritionists. 6,586 boys and 2,639 girls are currently training in 189 different centers across the country.
The government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme or TOPS has also been very useful, along with the Mission Olympic Cell, where selected athletes receive specialized training tailored to individual goals and financial support. TOPS athletes PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik won medals at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Both government and the private sector have made conscious efforts to attract world-class coaches, sports doctors and coaches from abroad. Over the years this has made a huge difference in performances. Neeraj Chopra, PV Sindhu, Lovlina Borgohain and Mirabai Chanu, all Olympic medal winners, were assisted by several experienced foreign coaches and coaches.
Some experts say that the outstanding performance of the Indian contingent at the 2010 CommonWealth Games was the turning point for Indian sport, after which players were recognized and private sector funds and investment poured in. This was immediately reflected in India’s performance at the London Olympics with two silver and four bronze medals.
Major companies and brands such as Reliance and 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 took gold in track and field.
In the recent past there has also been greater international competitive exposure for Indian athletes with several world class tournaments being hosted at home such as the India Open Boxing Tournament and the Indian Open Badminton Tournament.
Experts say the rise of role models like Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Neeraj Chopra and Geeta Phogat has inspired thousands of young Indians to take up sports other than cricket.
Conclusion: Despite massive progress, India’s placings in elite events reflect that we still have a long way to go. China bagged 26 gold medals at the Rio Olympics. If both government and the private sector can build on the foundations laid over the past few years, the country will see many more top performers in global sporting events.
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