The last decade for India in the sport has brought a lot of success – we won our second cricket world cup, became the no.1 ranked cricket side in the world, won five kabaddi world cups, ended 2016 with two top 10 shuttlers and so on. However, there is something which confounds us at the grandest sporting stage of all – the Olympic Games. The stage where global superpowers reassert their clout in the sporting arena; one where the second most populous nation finds a way to slink into the shadows at every opportunity. It is unfair for only the athletes to shoulder the blame for this, as they have managed to scale the ranks in a system which sets them up for failure at every turn. It runs deeper than that, it is a societal and cultural issue which has seeped up to the higher levels of organization and the government.

A return of 28 medals from 31 Olympic games is indeed a sad reality for a nation with such a rich sporting history. It is imperative that we try to understand the effort it takes to build a successful Olympic programme. In addition to the financial responsibility, we need to look at revamping the system which identifies and breeds talent in Olympic sports. The grass root level is the most important aspect of an Olympic programme and this is the reason the programme needs a lengthy roadmap to succeed. In an era of quick results, the support required to build such a long-term development programme is no easy task.

It is not just this absence of a plan, as a few private organizations have come along in the last decade namely, Olympic gold Quest(OGQ), JSW Sports Excellence Program(JSWSEP) and Anglian Medal Hunt Company(AMHC) who have managed to drum up sufficient funds and support to help the cause. This is all but the launch pad in our quest to become a competitive force at the Olympics with the Chinas, USAs and UKs of the world.

Now that we have identified the problem, lets take a closer look at developing a method to address this problem. This is nothing revolutionary, but putting together a mishmash of ideas from what other Olympic superpowers have implemented with great success over the years.

Funding for such a dedicated programme will be the primary obstacle. Let’s look at a simple comparison of the current state of the Indian and US Olympic programmes.

USA Medals won (2004-2014) Funding per medal(in USD)
Skiing/Snowboarding 48  1.4 Million
Track & Field 77  790 K
Swimming 90  590 K
India Medals won (2004-2014) Funding per medal(in USD)
Shooting 4  160 K
Wrestling 4  196 K
Boxing 2  72 K
Badminton 2  376 K

This is a staggering figure as US has won 215 medals in the categories identified as prime focus for their national team in the last decade alone. In contrast, India has won only 12 medals for the events identified as prime focus in the same time frame. There is definitely a direct correlation between the funding per medal as dedicated investment alone will reap rewards –  Greater the funding, higher the medal count and vice versa. It is important to note that there is no govt. funding provided to the US Olympic team. All Olympic investments are funded solely through private donors and crowd funding.

This could be an interesting solution to solving the Indian Olympic riddle as all the successful athletes are currently being supported in their efforts by private groups – OGQ, JSWSEP and AMHC in any case. An increased funding drive sponsored by the government and these private organizations starting off at the grassroots level is required in order to get this programme started.

China established an Olympic programme – ‘Project 119’ in 2001 with a roadmap to attain results at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. ‘119’ refers to the count of gold medals in the medal heavy sports (track & field, swimming, rowing, canoe/kayak and sailing) that the programme would focus on over the next eight years. We can learn something from this initiative to set up a template for the programme itself, along with a strong funding focus supported by the government.

Now that we have identified the problem and looked at some of the effective methods of successful Olympic nations, we should be looking at a three-part solution to implement an Olympic programme.

First – The Indian Olympic Association needs to identify 8-10 Olympic events where India is already competitive on the world stage. Currently, these would be Shooting, Wrestling, Badminton, Men’s and Women’s Hockey, Archery and Boxing – resulting in a total of 38 medal events. We need to aim to set a goal for the 2024 Olympics as being the acid test for this programme where all the efforts and training need to be focus towards.

Second – The private groups which are working on talent development should work hand in hand with the IOA and start off from the schools. They should aim at awareness and training programs to build talent at the grassroots level, and increase enrollment for this programme specifically focussing on the events identified as prime focus above.

Last – Its not sufficient to just set up a training programme but efficient safeguards need to be in place that will ensure that talent entering the system doesn’t seep out prior to achieving the objective. A separate steering committee needs to monitor and govern this programme as an independent organization. This committee needs to comprise of successful Indian sportsmen who will tirelessly work towards realizing the objectives of this programme; and eliminate the vicious powers of corruption and red tape which plagues the sporting fraternity in our country today.

There was a brilliant quote from the recent hindi movie ‘Dangal’ which echoes the sentiment of every sportsman in our country today – “Medallists don’t grow on trees, they need to raised and nurtured with care and attention from the ground up”. Hope this thought process changes in the near future – Project 2024!

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