Big contingent, but meagre returns

A. VINOD

IT is a little over two months now since Asia's biggest ever sports festival concluded in Busan with an improved performance by the Indian contingent, the campaign fetching the country a tally of 10 golds, 12 silvers and 13 bronzes as against its haul of seven golds, 11 silvers and 17 bronzes in Bangkok, four years ago.

Three of the gold medallists at the Busan Asian Games - Anju George, K. M. Beenamol and Neelam Jaswant Singh - on arrival in New Delhi.

The situation should normally have led the Indian sports enthusiasts to boundless joy coming as it did after the country had done so well and beyond all expectations in the Manchester Commonwealth Games only a couple of months earlier.

However, the celebrations remained somewhat muted, what with the positive tests for doping returned by athlete Sunita Rani proving to be quite a damper. This was much in the same manner that the two weightlifters Satheesha Rai and Krishnan Madaswamy had thrown cold water into the celebratory mood of their countrymen even as the Indian contingent returned with its best-ever medal haul from a Commonwealth Games.

However, new facts have emerged in the Sunita Rani case which seem to absolve the athlete of all guilt.

But in the immediate post-Asian Games scenario, with the Sunita Rani case weighing heavily on everyone's mind, the impressive performances of K. M. Beenamol, Anju Bobby George, Neelam Jaswant Singh, Saraswati Saha, Bahadur Singh Sagoo and the women's 4 x 400 relay team came as a veritable silver lining.

Saraswathi Saha, who triumphed in the 200m.

But for these athletes, it is hard to figure how the IOA could have defended its decision to send such a mammoth contingent to Busan. For all that the country gained from the rest of its contingent (numbering more than 280, if one were to count out the athletics team) was a paltry four gold medals.

Yet for all that, there are reasons for us to look ahead with a sense of optimism. For besides the gold medallists, there is a crop of young athletes (K. M. Binu, the 800m silver medallist for instance) in our ranks which looks capable of winning medals for the country consistently in international competitions even beyond the Asian ambit. But for that to happen, the need of the hour is not to let complacency set in and allow the gains made in Busan to wither away. Besides a supreme systematisation of the training programme, what is also required for our young athletes to fine tune their skills is constant exposure to stiffer competition all the time.

The four golds that India garnered from outside the athletics events came from kabaddi, tennis, snooker and golf. While the triumph of the kadaddi team and that by the pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi was only expected, the successes registered by the team of Yasin Merchant and Rafath Habib in the snooker doubles and young Shiv Kapur in golf were indeed a bonus.

It is not that we lack in talent or resources. At least, that is what the success story sketched out by Yasin Merchant and Rafath Habib in snooker and by Shiv Kapur in golf teaches us. The supreme confidence that the trio displayed enroute to their triumph was undoubtedly because they were motivated to tap the essence of the talent in themselves. But barring such a small group, the sad story behind the Indian campaign in Busan was that the rest of the contingent simply seemed ill-equipped to take the wind out of their rivals' sails.

Let us take the shooters for instance. Having done the bulk of the Indian medal shopping in Manchester, much indeed was expected from the likes of Jaspal Rana, Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat, Abhinav Bindra and others. But though they had a sound excuse that they were never given the required ammunition to practice and that the standard of competition in Busan was much higher than what they had faced in Manchester, it was still a pity to be a witness to the disappointing show put up by our leading shooters. But for Anjali, who lost out a possible bronze by the narrowest of margins, none of the others could make even a dent before India finished with a tally of just two silvers — one each from its women's 10m air rifle team and the men's trap team.

Bahadur Singh, the shot put gold winner.

And then, hockey, a sport in which we were defending the title. Here again, it was lack of consistency and a nervous approach which put paid to the Indian hopes which had soared sky high after the team had brought off such a superb all-round show against Pakistan in the semi-finals. In the final against the host South Korea, the Indians could draw level only after being in arrears for most of the time. But having found their way back into the encounter and well within sight of a second successive gold, the team frittered away its chances with an unimaginative display. Especially, when the South Koreans, cheered by a huge throng, tended to push down on the accelerator.

Among the others, Nitin Mongia has every reason to hold a genuine grouse against the South Korean officials. The Mumbai-born sailor was very much in the race for the OK Dinghy Open gold until he was done in by the cunningness of the host officials who seemed to care little about the rules which govern the sport and were only hell-bent in ensuring a win for Mongia's South Korean rival.

But the same could not be said about the others who made up the jumbo-sized Indian contingent though the country was helped to minor pickings in events like equestrian, rowing, taekwondo and wrestling.

Rafath Habib and Yasin Merchant pocketed the snooker doubles gold.

In fact, the less said about the many failures that India encountered in Busan the better. In simple terms, they were most disappointing and appalling. However, the exaggerated claims that many of the Federations including the IOA had made before the contingent left the Indian shores cannot be simply overlooked. Especially, as the participation of these teams in Busan has cost a huge amount to the public exchequer.

Shiv Kapur, India's gold medallist in golf, with the silver medal winner, Sri Lankan Rohana Anura.

It is here that we find our Sports Ministry lacking in several aspects. But while it would be a futile exercise to worry about the wrongs it has already committed, the Ministry could at least safeguard the nation's interests and save the country from total embarrassment in the future if it were to swing into action now. In fact, reams of paper have already been wasted through the years providing recommendations about the need for a sound policy which is very much based on our known strengths rather than the projected gains. It is therefore high time that the Government got into the act, culled the reasons for our deficiency in Busan and looked ahead to Doha in 2006. Mere rhetoric has never won for any country a gold in either the Olympic Games or the Asian Games. It could never get one for India as well. And if we are not committed in our actions and unable to codify, in a logical manner, our immediate ambitions in those disciplines in which we stand a chance to excel in the international arena, it is very likely that India would continue to be jostled by others who in terms of population and GDP may be lagging behind us. This, in short, are the lessons which Busan has taught us. And the sooner we get our act together, the better it would be for the image of our country abroad.

The question is that whether the Government and our Federations, the IOA included, would rise to the occasion. Especially as they have failed us on countless occasions previously. And have coolly got away with it.

V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM & A. VINOD

The doping controversy dogging Indian athlete Sunita Rani, who was stripped of her Busan Asian Games 1500m gold and 5000m bronze medals following a positive dope test, took an interesting turn with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) secretary, Randhir Singh, claiming that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has decided to ask both the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and the International Association Athletics Federations (IAAF) not to pursue the case any further.

Addressing a press conference in Hyderabad, the IOA secretary, who also holds the office of the OCA secretary-general , said the IOC decision was based on a recommendation from its Medical Commission that it had found certain procedural lapses in tests conducted at the Korean Institute of Medical Sciences, Seoul. Incidentally, the Seoul Lab is one among the only five IOC-accredited dope-testing laboratories in Asia.

Randhir Singh said the IOC recommendation would be discussed at the OCA executive committee which is scheduled to meet on January 3, 2003. ``We shall take a final decision on the issue after the meeting discusses the whole issue threadbare.'' He also revealed that the opinion of the OCA Medical Commission would also be sought before the OCA executive committee meeting. "If Sunita is finally cleared, we shall then return the medals back to her, '' he said.

The IOC Medical Commission, Randhir Singh further stated, had come to its conclusion on the procedural lapses about the tests in Seoul at a three-day meeting held in Lausanne, Switzerland, from December 7.

Sunita, hailing from Punjab, was tested positive for the banned substance, Nandrolone, in both the dope tests that she had undergone after winning the 1500m gold in a new meet record and the 5000m bronze. Later, the mandatory B tests had also revealed the presence of the banned substance, beyond the permissible levels, in both her urine samples.

Subsequently, the Sushil Salwan Commission appointed by the Amateur Athletics Federation of India (AAFI) had pointed out several procedural lapses having occurred in the tests conducted in the Seoul Lab, which had handled all the 800-odd dope tests carried on the urine samples collected from the participants of the 14th Asian Games in Busan. This finding had also prompted the AAFI to clear the athlete of all charges and even to allow her to participate in the National Games in Hyderabad.

Though she was reported to be in Hyderabad, Sunita's name, however, did not figure in the start lists of either the 1500m or the 5000m.The IOC decision is indeed a reprieve to the athlete who had constantly been denying about indulging in such a malpractice. India, in the event of the restoration of the medals to Sunita, could also see its position in the final medals tally of the Busan Games being restructured. Currently, it is placed 10th overall with 10 golds, 12 silvers and 13 bronzes.