Rishabh Jaiswal, High Performance Director
The 2016 Olympics received greater coverage than ever before and as a nation, we have started expecting more and more from non-cricketing athletes, at least every 4 years. And while I was prepared for the “a country of 125 crores and no gold medal” question right after the event concluded, the fact that we had not bagged any medals till the fag end of Day 12, really seemed to have upset the Indian sport fan a lot more than expected before the Games started.
Of course, there is a lot to complain about, and lot of people as well as organisations to blame for this fiasco. Quite a few suggestions have been made so that we can start winning more Gold medals.
I completely respect the emotions as well as the opinions of most people (those who can show respect to the hard-working athletes) and a lot of suggestions are absolutely valid.
But I would request you to take a pause and think for a moment.
Is it about a medal or multiple medals? Is it about the Gold medal? Should we target number of medals, say by 2024 or 2028? What is the cost we attach to each medal?
In many ways, I think we are very lucky to be in such a position. As a nation, we are minnows when it comes to Olympic Sports. There are countries which are way ahead of us in terms of number of medals as well as the amount of investment made in their sporting ethos.
This means that we have an opportunity not only to learn the best practices but also to better them as we go along. When we look at a sport like Badminton or Table Tennis and the dominance of the Chinese in these Sports, it overwhelms us. We wish we could have a system like theirs which could year after year, produce the best of athletes in these sports.
The Americans are also fully committed to proving their dominance and are going full-tilt to ensure that they are way ahead of everyone else in the medal tally.
At the same time, we can perceive a change beginning to take place. It is a slow but a very certain change visible in the medal tally so closely followed by everyone. Great Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan and other countries are slowly making their move up the table. They do not seem threatening to USA and China yet but they are slowly getting there. Whether they will be able to surpass USA in the next 7-8 Olympics, is difficult to say.
They may, they may not. But this is where India needs to make a choice. The nation wants medals. The federations expect medals (actually miracles to be very honest). Central, State Governments and PSUs want to market themselves by awarding prize money worth its weight in the colour of the medal.
Who wins a medal for you? Is it 1 athlete?
Have we ever wondered how many athletes it takes to push this 1 athlete who somehow lasts and survives daily nightmares?
Of course, it’s a game of ratios, right? Not every athlete can win a medal.
So, how many gymnasts do we sacrifice before Dipa Karmakar daringly qualifies for the Olympics?
How many Sainas, Sindhus, Kashyaps and Kidambis do we sacrifice at U-9, U-11, U-13, U-15, U-17 and U-19 levels before we get a silver and a bronze medal in Badminton?
In my humble opinion, the ratio we accept is a measure of how advanced a sporting nation we are and not the number of medals we achieve in the Olympics.
In my 7 years of experience working at the grassroots level in Indian Sport, I have come across at least 5 potential world champions in every age group of almost every Sport. And while some of them may never receive the best facilities, scientific support and infrastructure or support from the family, there are ones at the other end of the spectrum who are being burnt-out at ages as young as 8 or 9.
Post Olympics, the enrolments of youngsters in Badminton and Gymnastics will see a huge surge. Yes, that is how a medal can inspire. But have you ever wondered what would have happened if Dipa had badly injured herself while practicing the vault of death and no one would have even heard of her? How many Dipas did actually hurt themselves forcing them to retire from Sport before this one made it to the Olympics!
The ratio we accept is how much we respect the individual athlete. By all means, participation in sport must be encouraged. At the same time, to develop a professional and high-performing athlete, lot of patience and perseverance in required. A young athlete should go to school, should learn vocational skills and should interact with others outside his or her sport.
We can not blindly make a 13 year-old athlete practice for 9 hours a day every day with everyone hoping he or she will become a world champion. If the athlete quits sport due to mental or physical burnout, let us not think that the parents and coaches worked very hard. The truth is that they were highly impractical and foolhardy. Everyone would want their son/daughter to be that one in a million who survives all the extreme pressure and excessive training regime and still comes out all guns blazing. Unfortunately, that is not true and therefore an individualised and scientific approach is required.
And if you are scared as an athlete or as a parent with the people who govern your daily life in sport, please understand that things are already going downhill! A culture of fear and daily despair is not the way to groom young athletes in the long-term.
And this is where the new movers in the medal tally are doing it differently.
Can’t make it to the Olympics after playing college level sport or even professionally? Never mind, you have been groomed to take up employment in or outside of Sport. And you have the choices to decide what you want to do. Only then would you encourage your child to take up sport in a healthy and scientific manner.
And only then out of 5,000 athletes, 20 may bag medals and the rest 4,880 would be proud of the way they played their sport and would have a happy experience of their sporting journey. Only then the sporting ethos of our country would be boosted and we would be a sporting powerhouse.
My humble request and advice to any Indian, be it a parent, coach, a sports fan or any federation in the quest for Gold: Respect the Individual Athlete and you will get your Gold!