Sports in India is badly administered. This no-nonsense statement from a medal-winning Olympian might raise eyebrows in the Sports Authority of India, or in the many federations that govern sports, for they are busy celebrating the country’s historic Olympic medal haul.
But the questions Vijender Singh asks is going to haunt them. Why has a nation of 1.32 billion people been able to manage just one gold, two silver and four bronze medals after sending a record number of athletes to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? Why did it take 75 years after India got freedom for the country to reach this ‘record’ mark? What needs to be done?
“A lot,” according to the 2008 Beijing Olympics bronze medal-winning pugilist who does not believe in pulling back his punches.
The numbers, he said, will go higher if only “we change our approach”. As he put it in a no-holds-barred conversation with IANS: “Sports has improved no doubt but there is a lot of work to be done. ‘Soch badloge’ to sports ‘badloge’ (if you change your approach, you’ll be able to change the way we perform in sports). There was a time when athletes used to think that participating in Olympics is enough, but that perception is changing. Athletes believe that not only participating, winning a medal is more important.”
Vijender then went on to shower praise on gold medal-winning javelin throw star Neeraj Chopra, adding that his is the approach our athletes should have. “I liked his attitude towards the sport,” Vijender said. “He was so confident and calm. That is exactly the approach which is needed. Our athletes have that potential, but they need to focus.”
The professional boxer slammed the central government for slashing down Khelo India budget.
“Funding is important,” Vijender said.
“The government slashed the Khelo India budget before the Olympics. This was something strange. There is a need for physios, psychologists, medical teams, dieticians, masseurs and others.
“Someone will say that everything is there, but the ground reality is so different. Only the cream gets these benefits, but not at the state or district level. Athletes are still struggling for the basic needs there. Our athletes were, are and will always be good, but how real are the facilities on offer? This must be probed,” he added.
“On the one hand you talk about sports promotions and on the other you cut the Khelo India budget. What is this? Khelo India is a good platform for athletes, but it needs to be run properly,” the Olympian said.
Vijender also came out in support of the struggling wrestler Vinesh Phogat, who got suspended from the Wrestling Federation of India. “WFI says Vinesh wore a Nike jersey. We must understand that Nike was her sponsor and that is the only place where we athletes get a chance to display our sponsors.
“Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and Olympics other than that we do not have any place to display our brands. If we won’t display the brand, then the sponsors will go. If brands don’t come, how will you promote sports?” Vijender added.
He signed off by asking a telling question: “What if Vinesh had won a medal? Would the WFI have suspended her?”