How to make it really tops!

Given the surfeit of allegations regarding financial irregularity, lack of planning and non-transparency in the run-up to the Rio Games, there are concerns on the efficacy of the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), going forward. Sportstar spoke to a cross-section of stakeholders on the same.

Anjali Bhagwat has been one of India’s top shooters. Now a member of the panel to oversee the Union Government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), she promises greater accountability.   -  SANDEEP SAXENA

The Target Olympic Podium (TOP) Scheme was perhaps one of the most ambitious projects in Indian sports in recent years. Put in place in 2015 to groom players for the 2016 Rio Olympics, the scheme saw the Indian government spending approximately Rs. 33 crore (Rs. 32.81 crore as per the Sports Ministry) since inception till July this year.

While the panel entrusted with overseeing the selection and formulating guidelines was revamped in January this year, no immediate targets have been set for those included in the list so far. The earlier list was pruned and new names added last month with the current number of beneficiaries being 152. But given the surfeit of allegations regarding financial irregularity, lack of planning and non-transparency in the run-up to the Rio Games, there are concerns over the efficacy of the scheme, going forward. Sportstar spoke to a cross-section of stakeholders on the same:

Anjali Bhagwat (Former World No.1 shooter and member of TOP Scheme panel)

Last time I agree it was a mess. The idea was very good, but till the Rio Olympics, it was not properly designed and the mandate was completely different. But now things have been streamlined a bit. In the very first meeting we have changed the criteria and mandate of the panel.

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The focus now is not only on the Olympics. We told them that to reach Olympics level we have to cross the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games first. They are equally important competitions and we cannot focus only on the Olympics, which comes after four years, and forget the rest of the stepping stones in between. So the first target now is to provide support and motivation for the Asian Games and then we will know the real picture — who are our top athletes, who are performing well, who are in form etc. — on the basis of which we can filter and support the genuine probables for two more years.

Earlier, there was no criterion for selection to the TOP Scheme, it was a random selection process on the basis of whoever applied. Now there is an eligibility process for inclusion — the person has to be in the top-40 in World Rankings or top-5 in National Rankings, plus a few more clauses — and only those fulfilling the criteria would be considered. Also, there would be quarterly or half-yearly reviews of the performances to make sure the athletes are on the right track and the money is being used properly.

I know there were issues with spending money last time, but there will be greater accountability this time around from everyone including the players. Addition or deletion of names would continue after every review.

Viren Rasquinha (Olympian and CEO, Olympic Gold Quest)

OGQ is not involved in the functioning of the TOP Scheme, but we support a lot of talented sportspersons. I am a member of the Olympic Task Force (OTF) that was formed to formulate a roadmap or blueprint for Indian sports up to the next three Olympics (till 2028) and we have submitted the report which is different from the working of TOP Scheme.

Viren Rasquinha is the CEO of Olympic Gold Quest, a private agency sponsoring promising athletes, and a member of the Government’s Olympic Task Force (OTF), a body entrusted with the job of drawing up a blueprint for India’s participation in the next three Olympics. Regarding TOPS he says that some of its ideas are good, but the implementation aspect has to be improved.   -  PRASHANT NAKWE

 

As for TOP Scheme, see, there is no such thing as a good or a bad scheme, it’s only good or bad implementation. There are a lot of good points in TOP Scheme, but, as with everything, it’s all about implementation. TOP Scheme was put in place with the right intent, but then, several policies over the last 3-4 decades have all been very good on paper.

What we, as OTF, have asked for is an empowered steering committee with a view on the first step being the 2020 Games. Obviously, such a committee would not continue for 12 years, there would be reviews of everything and guidelines laid down.

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What really needs to be done (with respect to selection and funding under TOP Scheme) is to make sure everything is merit-based and transparent. Things like trials etc. have to be announced much in advance. Issues like what would be the selection criteria for major tournaments including the Olympics need to be clarified — would it be internal trials or performances in global competitions — and put in place. We want to avoid a repeat of things like the Narsingh Yadav-Sushil Kumar issue.

There has to be very clear selection guidelines from the federations and over a year in advance so that there is no ambiguity. Last time there was a lot of last-minute inclusions and confusion before Rio. We want to avoid all of that controversy. The federations are free to have their different qualification criteria, but they need to make it transparent.

Ashwini Nachappa (Asian Games medallist and sports activist)

The TOP Scheme came just before the 2016 Games and considering the results and what happened, I categorically think this was a total failure. The scheme itself was a brilliant idea, no doubt — but I think we now need to revisit the drawing board and say what exactly we have in our vision. For the scheme to work well, merely doling out money will not bring the desired results. I don’t know whether the people concerned have revisited the system. I believe they now have 152 athletes already in the scheme and each would be given Rs. 50,000 monthly allowance.

Ashwini Nachappa is of the view that TOPS should have clarity of thought and provide funds and facilities to benefit all.   -  H. S. MANJUNATH

 

But is there a clarity on what this money is exactly for? Is this besides whatever they are getting, from the government or the federations, for training and need-based preparations at home and abroad? Do the topmost athletes need this amount or would it be better spent on the B Team, as it were, the bench strength that we have to develop if we are looking at 2024 or 2028? There are questions I do not have answers to so I don’t know if this is the way forward and I am a little sceptical.

See, there is no problem in giving out the money, but you need to be clear what you are giving it out for. Is it mere pocket money? We need to have a proper vision, not a populist scheme just to please people. And yes, the athletes are accountable as well. If I have given X amount to an athlete to deliver, he should bloody well deliver. The responsibility cannot just be everyone else’s except the athlete.

Also, where do the federations come in, what is their role? With this kind of monthly money, tomorrow that list may go up to 300-400. How do the federations come into all of it? TOP Scheme needs to address these questions to be successful.

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We need to approach this more professionally so that the funds and facilities are provided in a manner that benefits all. Now that (Rajyavardhan Singh) Rathore has taken over and since he is an Olympian, has been there and seen it all, maybe he should have a brainstorming session with people from different walks of life to take it to the next level.

U. Vimal Kumar (Olympian shuttler, former National champion and national coach)

Firstly, the government agencies never get any credit, but I must say badminton in particular has got very good support in the last 10 years. It’s true that we have also been getting decent results, but since 2006, in terms of getting foreign coaches and good trainers, supporting a large pool of players, the government is spending approximately Rs. 5 lakh per day.

As for TOP Scheme, I think it is a very good scheme and it gives that additional support to the top players, apart from the routine stuff, which helps them to improve and train even better. I would give a lot of credit to it, the only thing is that it should be monitored and scrutinised a lot better. Otherwise, it is quite a good scheme.

The implementation part needs to get better. Not just in terms of selection of players for disbursement but even after that. The subsequent review of progress every year is not being done properly right now. That I think needs to be tightened up, especially at the highest level from the government’s side. The problem in our country is that, in anything to do with the government, there is a good beginning, but no proper follow-up.

Former national badminton player and coach Vimal Kumar, who also trained Saina Nehwal for some time, has good words for TOPS, but feels that the scheme should be monitored better.   -  G. P. SAMPATH KUMAR

 

I feel an independent monitoring group should be made to review and report regularly. It should have sports-minded people, not bureaucrats, so that genuine assessment can be done. I am not talking about the kind of report a coach gives. I am talking about a comprehensive report on the progress of a player in terms of his game, how the money is spent etc. The government needs to be more pro-active rather than just give money and then keep quiet.

At the same time, there needs to be more tightening of the selection process as well. Like the lottery system in Britain, where there are stringent benchmarks to get funding. Not everyone can get it there, it is completely based on the results and fund utilisation records.

Once the monitoring and scrutiny gets tighter, even the corporates would be a lot more interested in coming in with funds.

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