SAI DG: ‘Our objective is to improve upon the medals tally from 2014’

“SAI is providing complete support to the athletes and the emphasis is on ensuring a hassle-free preparation in the run-up to the Games. The objective is to support the medal probables and provide them with the opportunity to give their best at the Asian Games,” says Neelam Kapur, Director General of the Sports Authority of India.

On track: A file photo of Neelam Kapur, Director General of the Sports Authority of India. “SAI is providing complete support to the athletes and the emphasis is on ensuring a hassle-free preparation in the run-up to the Games,” she says.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

Neelam Kapur, as Director General of the Sports Authority of India, has introduced welcome measures to look after the athletes, treat them with respect, and ensure no sport suffers for lack of recognition and financial assistance. Ahead of the Asian Games, she spoke to Sportstar on her role at the SAI and the steps taken to prepare the teams for the big event.

How different have the preparations for the Asian Games been?

The Annual Calendar for Training and Competition 2018 (ACTC) has been sanctioned by SAI specifically keeping the preparations for Asian Games 2018 in mind. The Asian Games will be an important milestone for our athletes in pursuit of excellence at Tokyo 2020. Support from the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) is being provided specifically for the Asian Games where presently there are 194 athletes. This is a departure from the previous norm where athletes were only supported through ACTC. Support is also being provided across sports like wushu, swimming, fencing, wrestling (Greco-Roman) that can have a positive impact on the overall medals tally. The exceptional performance from the athletes at the Commonwealth Games 2018 will also have a positive impact in the lead up to the Games.

 

What have your priorities in SAI been in terms of the Asian Games?

SAI is providing complete support to the athletes and the emphasis is on ensuring a hassle-free preparation in the run-up to the Games. The TOPS committee has been convening on a weekly basis to ensure that there is no delay in providing support to the athletes in their preparation for the Asian Games. The objective is to support the medal probables and provide them with the opportunity to give their best at the Asian Games. Various SAI centres have been conducting National Camps for the National Sports Federation and providing the best of the facilities in terms of Field of Play, Sport Science. Some of these include IG Stadium — boxing and gymnastics, Karni Singh shooting range — shooting, NIS Patiala — athletics, boxing and weightlifting, SAI Sonepat — wrestling (men), SAI Lucknow — wrestling (women), SAI Gopichand Academy — badminton.

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What are your realistic expectations from the athletes?

Our first objective is to improve upon the medals tally from 2014 and carry the form into the Olympics. More than the medals, we would expect the athletes to improve upon their personal best and perform to the best of their ability at the big event. The competition at the Asian Games is much tougher than CWG in certain sports; hence the competition will act as an opportunity for the athletes to test their skills against the best in the world. The Games would highlight the key areas of improvement and efforts would be made to bridge this gap in the lead up to the Olympics. The medals standing position for the Asian Games cannot be ascertained as many new sport disciplines have been included like pencak silat, sambo, sports climbing, kurash, jijutsu and others. In addition, a few events in shooting have been excluded, where traditionally India has been doing well. I believe that the focus should be on enhancing the performance of our athletes vis-a-vis the previous Games.

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Do athletes in India receive adequate financial support from the Government?

Rs. 25.12 crores have been provided under TOP Scheme since October 2017. The Scheme has provided individual centric support to the athletes and assisted them in foreign exposure, trainings, high-performance support staff and equipment support. This is over and above the Rs. 50,000 per month out-of-pocket allowance provided to the athletes. However, we also believe that more corporate houses need to come forward and join hands with the Government to support these athletes.

What are the areas which can do well under the various SAI schemes?

The Government with the objective of winning medals at the Olympics has introduced ‘Talent Identification and Development’ (TID) under Khelo India scheme. TID is focussing on systematic identification of talent and nurturing them with the support of coaches and sport science with the aim of podium finishes at the Olympic Games. Special Training Centres are aimed at grooming junior level sportspersons in the age group of 12-18. Under the scheme, SAI is providing boarding and lodging to the selected trainees, scientific training / equipment support and repairs of the infrastructure, created by the State Government. Centres of Excellence are aimed at developing the high performance of athletes and operate as regular coaching camps for the best available talent in India and provide concurrent layers of skilled sportspersons.

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What are the features of the Come and Play Scheme?

The Come and Play Scheme has been initiated for optimum utilisation of SAI sports facilities across the country, and is primarily focused on encouraging local sportspersons in areas where SAI sports facilities/centres are operational. The scheme provides an opportunity to the athletes to train under SAI coaches where athletes can be scouted and inducted into regular residential sports promotional schemes. TOPS is aimed at providing individualised support to the athletes and is focused on podium finishes at the Olympics. National playing field association is a vertical under Khelo India that will develop playfields across the country.

Providing the best of facilities: Various SAI centres have been conducting national camps for the athletes. Picture shows the weightlifting hall at NIS Patiala, which also holds camps for athletics and boxing.   -  PTI

 

Why do you think SAI is athlete friendly?

Athletes and sports are at the core of our existence, and we at SAI believe that in the last couple of years we have transitioned to an “athlete centric” approach. We believe that social media is a powerful medium for a real time connect with the athletes. Any issues highlighted before the authorities concerned are resolved quickly and effectively. We are also in the process of establishing a helpline for all the athletes who are training at the various SAI facilities. We would also institute a proper escalation protocol so that difficulties faced by the athletes are addressed with alacrity.

Action against errant coaches has been quick under your tenure..

Recently we have taken strong action against coaches and officials who have been found negligent, indulging in corrupt practices or sexually harassing athletes. The aim is to have a system that is responsive and sensitive to the well being and development of athletes.

Any other steps in this direction..

For our elite athletes, a dedicated, professionally managed unit for athlete relationship is being established under TOPS Secretariat to ensure a better connect with them. The major role of this unit will be regular interaction and ensuring the athlete focuses only on training and competing, and all on and off-field issues would be handled by the athlete’s manager.

What is your opinion on the quality of coaches in India?

SAI is in the process of upgrading the national coaching framework that will address the long-prevailing issues which have been prevalent in the system. The comprehensive framework would be aimed at all levels of coaches from grassroots to high-performance. A more robust system is being devised where the policy would be coach-friendly. The best of the trainers from NIS would be inducted at SAI and would be attached to the national camps thereafter, under the seasoned coaches, to gain valuable exposure in handling the elite athletes.

What about coach development?

P. Gopi Chand, among India's best coaches   -  V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

  For coach development, the focus is on capacity building with emphasis on quality through programmes like ‘Train the Trainer’ where our Indian coaches are provided with an understanding of the modern sporting practices. The Government is looking at collaboration with top institutes for the coaches programme. The focus has been on improving the quality of coaches in India and also getting the best talent of coaches like P. Gopi Chand, Prakash Padukone, Harendra Singh, Bishweshwar Nandi, Jaspal Rana etc., who are producing world-class athletes.

The skill of our coaches would be enhanced by the use of latest technology in coaching like Global Positioning System and Neurotracker to bring them on a par with the latest development in the sports industry.

What has been your experience with the athletes. Do they share their problems with you?

Since the time I have taken over as the Director General here at SAI, we have focused on having an athlete-centric approach. The Minister has also stated this many times. My office is always open for the athletes and, in fact, I have made several field visits to understand the issues faced by the athletes. The athletes are always welcome at SAI, our staff is in constant touch with the athletes and any issue that requires immediate attention is brought to my notice. Efforts are made to resolve the issues quickly.

Meeting the players: Neelam Kapur with the Asian Games bound badminton contingent.

 

Don’t you think India should have a world class Centre of Excellence?

The Government is looking at establishing ‘Centres of Excellence’ across various sports. These centres will have state of art facilities and will aim to invite teams from other countries for training. Such initiatives will help our athletes obtain world class exposure in our own country. SAI has been pro-active in supporting the NSFs in the establishment of academies for their respective sport.

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Are you looking at establishing more academies?

We are looking at establishing more academies on the lines of SAI-Gopichand Academy. SAI has also supported establishment of other high-profile sport science centres like SAI-Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance Centre in Bengaluru which provides support to our national campers, free of charge. Through this medium, we request all the elite athletes who are part of National camps to utilise this facility which would help them improve their performance.

What more is needed to boost sports in India?

We need to upgrade the sport science support in our sporting system. The Government’s emphasis has been on sport science. In this regard, an expression of interest has already been floated for collaboration with number of sport science institutions in India that will support our young and elite athletes. This would also encourage other players to enter the fray and help in creating a robust sports-science eco system.

Your plans in this area..

SAI is exploring partnerships with the leading sport science institutions across the world to build an effective sports-science system including state-of-art facilities within the country. These sport science partners would also be required to train our in-house human resources who could then take the lead in running our sports science facilities across various centres in the country. Create a robust grassroots structure to enhance the participation and to ensure the athletes do not wither away from the feeder system due to lack of financial security. Khelo India initiative of the Government is aimed at creating the sporting culture in the country and create the ecosystem which supports athletes to pursue their Olympic dreams.