A strange way to win medals

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

BASKING in borrowed glory? Well, the unprecedented gold rush by host, Andhra Pradesh, which reaped a record haul of 94 gold, 84 silver and 63 bronze, aggregating 241 medals in the 32nd National Games held in Hyderabad and Vizag (December 13 to 22) is certainly not due to either meaningful planning on the coaching front or any overnight, dramatic improvement by the athletes. Sheer statistics reveal a ground reality which the officials cannot simply brush aside — of the 94 gold, only 33 were won by truly Andhra's own athletes while the rest were courtesy `imports'.

Just consider this. Andhra has bagged just 163 medals in all in the last six editions including only 39 gold (mostly from badminton).

Strangely, what is conveniently forgotten is the fact that the budget of Rs. 4 crores was exclusively allocated for the State squad's National Games preparatory camps. This besides about Rs. 30 crores spent on importing equipment for the Games and future utility.

No one will crib if an athlete is duly rewarded for an outstanding performance. But questions will be asked as the host State has clearly crossed the thin dividing line in hiring the services of leading lights in different disciplines which read like a who's who of Indian sport in most of the 31 disciplines for which competitions were held in the Games.

What a sight it was! Gulab Chand (1500, 5000, 10,000), Anand Menezes (200m), Richa Mishra (swimming), Anjali Vedpathak (shooting), Arun D'Souza (3000m steeplechase) and Indian hockey captain Dilip Tirkey — all donning Andhra colours in the Games. Well, the officials were quick to circulate a theory to justify their `brilliant idea' — inducting professionalism for a healthy competition.

To put it simply Andhra had the option of settling for the fourth or fifth place by virtue of its `own' athletes' performances. But it preferred to improve it in its own way. But, can a host bend the rules just because it has influence in the right place?

It is imperative to recall the note circulated by the Games Technical Conduct Committee to the director of hockey competitions, Mr. Krishnamurthy, just before the last league match after Karnataka and Maharashtra protested against the inclusion of four `imports' — Dilip Tirkey, Bimal Lakra, Samir Dad and 1994 World Cupper Rajnish Mishra. It clearly stated: ''A player can represent a State by virtue of birth, or employment or proving that he or she has been a domicile for six months preceding the Games.'' And more importantly, it stressed the plain fact that not even the Secretary or the President of the National Federation has any say on the eligibility norm of a player for the Games. It is a different issue that Hyderabad avoided the ignominy of seeing its four imports debarred from further participation as it failed to qualify for the knock-out phase.

Apparently, there cannot be one rule for hockey and quite another for other disciplines. So, what is pretty obvious is that the officials and the administrators who were in charge of the conduct of the Games bent backwards to be in the good books of the Chief Minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu, who long back had pronounced that he would not be satisfied with anything less than a place among the top three in the medals tally. In fact, they exceeded even his expectations!

For every move, there can always be a justification. What cannot be ignored is the amount of illwill that crept into the competitors at the Games. One athlete even 'roughed' up Vinita Tripathi, for shifting her loyalty, right in the glare of the media at the GMC Balayogi Stadium. Then there is the other side too — the home team wrestlers, again the cream of Indian wrestling representing the State — going on a dharna in protest against the Wrestling Federation of India directive that no one would be allowed to represent any State other than the one for which he took part in the last Nationals.

That the IOA top brass swung into action to ease the tension at the behest of the heavyweights among the host to ensure that the Games did not suffer any irritants was there for all to see.

Ultimately, what counted was winning medals without bothering who actually won. The logic is simple. If the cash incentives of Rs. 3 lakhs for gold, Rs. 2 lakhs for silver and Rs. 1 lakh for bronze to all those who represented Andhra and won medals in the National Games is the sort of professionalism we are actually looking for, then why the panic reaction by the IOA even as the Games were on to form a five-member committee to look into the eligiblity norms for the next edition — the 2005 Assam National Games? For, they know in their heart of hearts that there is something amiss somewhere.

No doubt, the `import policy' of the Andhra Government may spur other States into doing the same. But, how will Andhra react if 2001 All-England champion Pullela Gopi Chand were to represent another State, if it offered more money for a gold in the next National Games?

Thus, the host clearly exploited the flawed rules of eligibility to suit its end.

Well, if someone says that the Andhra Government is cash-rich to continue with this policy — which has already cost it about Rs. 5.20 crores — they better leave it to the `wisdom' of the gentlemen concerned! After all, one gentleman made a whole lot of difference for Andhra for its good. No guesses or incentives for naming him!