Solid public support for Indian sports

Abhinav Bindra benefited immensely from the support of a private sports trust.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

It is the duty of the government to provide unconditional support to sportspersons and it is doing its best to keep the Olympic aspirations of our athletes alive, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

The government is the biggest and the best sponsor of sports in the country. The budget may be inadequate, and a lot of it may be directed towards salaries, construction and maintenance of infrastructure, and there may be carping criticism about official apathy at every turn, but make no mistake, the government keeps the Olympic aspirations of our athletes alive.

Yet, there is no denying the fact that there are a lot of holes in the government machinery that sucks away its energy, spoils all the good work and dents the confidence of the sportspersons who need timely care to stay on a par with the best in the world.

Even though the government keeps talking about good governance, transparency and demands the presence of sportspersons in executive positions in national sports federations, it does not believe in practising such virtues.

In such a scenario, some people, especially accomplished sports persons like Geet Sethi, Prakash Padukone and Mahesh Bhupathi have opted to generate external support to infuse life into Indian sports and confidence in the sportspersons.

While Sethi and Padukone combined to start the Olympic Gold Quest right after the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Bhupathi was able to get the support of billionaire steel baron Lakshmi Mittal, who pledged $10 million for the Olympic cause through the Mittal Champions Trust (MCT), managed by his son-in-law Amit Bhatia and former tennis player Manisha Malhotra.

When World Champion Abhinav Bindra won the country’s first individual Olympic gold medal in Beijing in 2008, it was a shot in the arm for the MCT, which took care of his needs like mental training, physical conditioning and procurement of appropriate equipment and ammunition.

The encouraging result was pretty quick as the original goal of MCT was to see Indian athletes shine in the London Games in 2012. However, only wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, who was supported in a big way with medical support in South Africa to keep his sporting career firmly on the rails, could win a medal for MCT in London. Of course, badminton ace Saina Nehwal and boxer Vijender Singh who went on to win Olympic medals had been supported by MCT before various factors saw them moving away.

The Indian archers had benefited immensely from the presence of Korean coach Lee Wang Woo, organised at considerable cost by MCT. Woo had guided Korea to many of its Olympic medals.

Even before the London Games, Lakshmi Mittal was hinting that public funding was the key to sustaining support for sports. It was not a surprise when MCT closed shop last year. It was then that people realised the importance of having a strong group towards ensuring continued support for sports.

The OGQ which had accounted for four of the six medals in the London Olympics, through Vijay Kumar, Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal and Gagan Narang, has spread its wings nicely to provide an umbrella support for Indian sports, in specific spheres like archery, shooting, boxing, badminton, wrestling and athletics.

Geet Sethi, Prakash Padukone and Viswanathan Anand along with boxer Sarita Devi at an Olympic Gold Quest programme in Bengaluru on July 28, 2015.-G. P. SAMPATH KUMAR

Apart from addressing specific requirements like helping the athletes meet the expenses for competitions at home and abroad, there is provision for buying equipment, sports science, medical and mental training. OGQ also gives stipend to the athletes. It helped two-time World Championship bronze medallist P. V. Sindhu to take her mother along, for some of the tournaments.

Strengthened with the entry of five-time World Champion Viswanathan Anand, Atlanta Olympics bronze medallist and multiple Grand Slam champion Leander Paes, who is aiming to compete in his seventh Olympics in Rio, and ably managed by hockey star Viren Rasquinha as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the OGQ has about 50 athletes, and believes that 70 percent of them have the potential to win medals.

“It takes just six grams of gold to lift the worth of a nation”, is the beautiful slogan of OGQ.

The Jindal Sports Foundation, powered by Sajjan Jindal and Parth Jindal, with former tennis player Mustafa Ghouse as the CEO, has also entered the field in a big way, “to make India one of the top-10 sporting nations of the world by 2024.”

Apart from supporting athletics, boxing, judo, swimming and wresting, Jindal Foundation backs football to such an extent that its Bengaluru team won the I-League trophy in its first season in 2013-14. Sahara was another big supporter of Indian sports and had nearly 100 athletes, apart from various teams in hockey, badminton etc., before it fell into bad times that froze the financial flow.

Less in magnitude but quite purposeful, organisations like Lakshya and the Anglian Medal Hunt have sprung up, to bridge the void, to some extent, in making “Icons of the future.”

Quite annoyed by everyone taking the credit away, the Union Sports Ministry tried to monopolise support for sports, while drafting the contracts for its ‘Target Olympic Podium Scheme’ (TOPS). In fact, it wanted OGQ as its knowledge partner, but met with stout rejection!

However, the considerate Union Sports Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, declared that it was the duty of the government to provide unconditional support and that it cannot function like a corporate, while allowing the sportspersons leverage to support from all quarters, towards the goal of Olympic glory.

All these support systems function, albeit not in such big numbers, like the thousands of Automated Teller Machines (ATM) around the country in dispensing “ready cash” to the athletes to instantly meet various requirements. On the other hand, the government continues to operate in a more conservative fashion, akin to the mechanics of a “Draft” in the bank, cumbersome, but sound and secure!