Abhinav Bindra: It was a collective failure in Rio

We will move forward a lot quicker the day we realise that when our athletes fail, it is we, as a nation, who fail. Sport is a mere reflection of the society. The first rule is, there is no short cut to success. Half the battle is won when we are all prepared to work hard with the right attitude.

Abhinav Bindra celebrates with coach Gaby Buehlmann after winning the men's 10m air rifle gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.   -  REUTERS

Pullela Gopi Chand has done a fantastic job in taking Indian badminton to world standards, says the author, Abhinav Bindra.   -  V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

It is a shock to most people that a contingent of 118 could only win two medals in the Rio Olympics. For me, it is not so. We still have not put a proper system in place.

It is creditable that the number of Indian athletes qualifying for the Olympics has increased. It has improved across sports. It is a positive factor. We definitely need the numbers, if we want to excel. We have often heard that quality comes from quantity. It is a little bit disappointing that we could not win a few more medals when we were right there at the threshold of success.

 

The only guarantee in sports is that there is no guarantee. You can do everything right for four years, and still there is no assurance that you will get that Olympic medal.

The question is, are we doing the right things? Do we have a system that can help us back on our feet, after having suffered such a blow, and march towards the future, actually riding on the disappointment, for greater success?

I missed the final in the London Olympics on the last five shots in qualification. This time, I had possibly the best finish in qualification. I overcame the challenges in the final, but could not close my shooting career with a medal.

Despite that Olympic gold, and the World Championship gold in 2006, I did not have a magic touch to cruise and flow. It was a struggle all the same, every shot. So, post London, there was a lull, when our system went into hibernation and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was trapped in its own problems. When the focus on the plan for athletes was lost, it was a bad sign. When the attention was eventually trained on the preparation of the athletes, it was a bit late.

Every time we perform badly, it is a popular theme that we should go back to the grassroots and focus our attention there. Yes, junior programme is important and we need to look at the 2024 and 2028 Olympics and prepare in a holistic manner. But we need to be extra sharp with our athletes, who are 60, 70 to 80 per cent ready to deliver medals in the Olympics. They need all the attention and guidance for Tokyo. Otherwise, we will end up singing the same melancholic song.

We realise that we are a nation of billion plus people only when the results are not encouraging. But when an athlete wakes up for training at 4 a.m., he has very little company! No wonder we are known as a sleeping giant. We wake up to question; we don’t wake up to perform our role.

We tend to misplace our priorities. We need to keep different chains going. The short-term and long-term plans have their own place. We cannot afford to put all the eggs in one basket. It is basic common sense, not rocket science.

The two medals may not be a true reflection of the strength of our sport, particularly after we had done very well to strike six medals in London with fewer athletes. But this dip, particularly in shooting where we did not win a single medal despite having 12 shooters and 18 starts, can be channelled in a positive way.

 

We had got used to success in shooting, and took it for granted that the talent would somehow deliver the medals. It has been proven that the guidance has not been competent enough to meet world standards. We empowered the athletes with a flood of funds at the last minute, and it has just backfired in many cases.

When I was part of the Union Government’s TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme), I tried to spread the benefits to three or four in each event.

It does not pay to focus purely on the Olympic quota and the athletes who are bound for Olympics. We regularly need to have a group of four to five shooters, sharp and ready to fire at their best. That will automatically lead to an overall improvement of standard in terms of reaching world-class scores. You constantly need to monitor them. It is not about monitoring the scores, but performance.

You face the ups and downs. The nature of sports is very unpredictable, be it shooting, boxing, wresting or gymnastics. We need to be better prepared for the tough journey to reach our destination. If it hurts, you will bounce back strongly. If you are sincere and honest, the results will follow.

Far too often, we tend to ride piggyback on the success of our athletes and disown them when they are not successful. In sports, you lose far more than you win. The trick is to win at the right time, when it matters the most.

Definitely, your best cannot be competing in the SAF Games. A third string will do the job. You cannot drain them with meaningless matches. You have to be fresh and strong for the toughest challenge. Olympics is not just another competition. You have to understand its magnitude and at the same time, not be intimidated by it. It is not easy.

 

There is a positive side to the limited success we had in Rio. Both Sindhu and Sakshi are being showered with all the love and rewards, which include luxury cars and tons of money, by the sports loving people. I do not grudge them anything.

Most of the sportspersons come from rural background. They are all trying to make a career out of sports so that they have a better life. When they see the rewards, they will be a lot more determined to achieve their goals. It augurs well for the future of sports in the country.

Does it hurt the men that the women have left them behind? It is hard for me to answer this. But a lot of people with strong egos are definitely going to sweat buckets in preparation for Tokyo, to put the men on par, if not ahead!

Until then, salute the women power. They saved us a bruised nose.

There is also a suggestion that we focus on the disciplines that give us the best chance to strike medals. But our aspirations are high. If we want to win more medals, we have to look at disciplines that offer maximum medals.

I hope Dipa Karmakar, with her fourth place in gymnastics, has opened our eyes. Anju Bobby George showed us the power of Indian athletics in the Athens Olympics. Unlike Dipa, who placed fifth in the World Championship, Anju won a World Championship medal in athletics. Somehow, we don’t take the cue. The numbers have increased in athletics dramatically, but have not led to good results. After competing in five Olympics, one thing that I am very clear is that you need world-class guidance on a regular basis. When I won the gold in Beijing, Gaby Buehlmann was my coach. This time in Rio, Gaby guided Niccolo Campriani of Italy to two gold medals. Campriani had won gold and silver in London as well! Gaby is both the national coach of Italy and personal coach of Campriani.

Of course, I have no complaints against Gaby’s husband, Heinz Reinkemeier, who was my coach this time. We did everything we possibly could.

Look at P. Gopichand. He has done a fantastic job in taking Indian badminton to world standards. Indian badminton has proved that if you keep sports administration and sports performance in two different chains, possibly with mutual respect and strong coordination, the results can be rewarding. It is a point that many national federations need to replicate.

We need to invest in our people and make them competent, drilling knowledge into them, so that it would benefit a large number of our athletes.

In shooting, the technical knowledge is paramount. Some of our best shooters can become world-class coaches, provided you welcome them with open arms, educate and empower them.

We keep getting bogged down by a lack of sports culture. What is it? If a family opts to watch sports instead of going to a movie on a Sunday, I think we would have achieved the sports culture.

To this end, the media can play a huge role. I hate pointing fingers, but the fact remains that we are sold to foreign sports, in the name of catering to world-class taste! We need to project our own sportspersons at the national and international level in a sustained manner, so that the attention fetches them the desired support, opens avenues and solves problems. It has to be a sustained effort so that the interest in Indian sport is kept alive in the public mind.

It helps in nurturing talent. All of us demand a finished product of world standards, without giving a fair chance for the talent to blossom. Talent is a mere starting point. We all have a role to play in taking it forward and hopefully towards an Olympic medal.

We will move forward a lot quicker the day we realise that when our athletes fail, it is we, as a nation, that fail. Sport is a mere reflection of the society. The first rule is, there is no short cut to success. Half the battle is won when we are all prepared to work hard with the right attitude.

We need the same degree of passion towards sports, to match the passion we show in demanding results!