After Neeraj Chopra's gold medal, time for athletics to take a big leap

The Athletics Federation of India was a bold and busy body this year conducting many national championships which brought rich rewards, but now is the time to make giant leaps.

Neeraj Chopra's brand endorsement fees have gone up 10 times after winning the gold medal at the Olympics. - PTI

Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra's stunning Olympic gold in Tokyo and the way it was won have made many corporate houses run to him to promote their brands. The 23-year-old's annual brand endorsement fees have now shot up impressively.

“Neeraj's brand endorsement fees have gone up by 10 times. He is now among the top three in the country among active sportspersons,” Divyanshu Singh, Head-Commercial Strategy at JSW Sports which manages the Olympic champion, told Sportstar on Thursday. “He has surpassed many cricketers too.”

That should inspire Indian athletics to think big. The Athletics Federation of India was a bold and busy body this year conducting many national championships which brought rich rewards at the Tokyo Olympics and the Nairobi Under-20 Worlds (three medals) but now is the time to make giant leaps.

Here are a few things that could lift the sport in a big way.

Most-watched sport

During the Tokyo Olympics, athletics was the most-watched sport in the country, with hockey at No. 2 but far behind. So, it is time the AFI pushed the many sports channels for live television coverage of its national championships. The AFI has been live-streaming its championships the last few years but more needs to be done to keep its new followers hooked to the sport.

ALSO READ - How Neeraj made Tokyo gold happen before it happened

The SAI and Sports Ministry have done much good work this year, still, life can be made a lot better for athletes. Hard, cracked, and poorly-maintained tracks, torn pole-vault and high jump beds, and lack of safety nets for throws are some of the dangerous conditions athletes have to go through even in some State meets.

Now is the time for all, especially Government agencies and corporate houses, to join hands to ensure better days that could see more Neerajs, Sreeshankars, and Shaili Singhs pop up.

Even national camp conditions – athletes have often spoken about hard tracks at Patiala and many leading quartermilers are injured – need to be improved.

Space for competitions and camps

There is also a need to take national championships around the country, and synthetic track-relaying work, which are progressing slowly in many cities, need to be completed soon. With 2022 crowded with Worlds, Under-20 Worlds, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, that could give the AFI more options for conducting competitions and camps.

Statistics enrich sport and athletics could offer more on its websites, including progression charts of events, athletes' background info, top rivalries to watch out for at championships, frequently updated lists of national campers, coaches accompanying athletes at majors, and list of athletes who have failed dope tests or caught fudging age.

Neeraj's Olympic gold moment is to athletics what India's 1983 World Cup triumph was to cricket. Athletics deserves a brighter new life too.

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