INVESTMENT: Failure by the sporting authorities to attract sponsorship for its athletes have forced them into alternate careers, for example Natasha Palha (left) Talasha Prabhu (right).

By Joshua George

Getting a gold medal at the Olympics requires blood, sweat, toil and tears. Regrettably, Goa has the hardware by way of fancy stadiums but not the software of demanding coaches and medal-obsessed young athletes…

IF we look at the performance of India in the last few decades it is boxers like Vijender Singh, wrestlers like Sushil Kumar and badminton players like Saina Nehwal and P.V Sindhu, who won at least a silver or bronze medal. What has happened to the Goans who won gold medals in hockey for India in pre-Liberation times?
This is a direct reflection of the investment in grass-roots sport. Tokyo 2020 showcased India’s highest medal tally at an Olympic Games. The cherry on the top was Neeraj Chopra’s gold in the javelin throw. The medal winners, as few as they have been, have been coming from poor families from backward states.
The middle class does not seem interested except for shooting when Abhinav Bindra won gold at the Beijing Olympics. Though Bindra is now a minister it has not made any difference to our performance in international games.
While Neeraj’s feat at Tokyo 2020 made him an overnight national sensation the achievement has far-reaching implications for the development of Olympics quality sports in the country. Track & Field disciplines are considered the gold standard of Olympic sports. The statement bears no secret when you realise that big-name countries like Great Britain, Australia, Germany and France are yet to win a gold in any track and field discipline. The ultimate achievement is a medal in athletics.

IN the case of India, the closest we came to a medal in athletics is when Milkha Singh got 4th place, missing the bronze by a whisker. The extra push or thrust has eluded Indians for want of experience of playing at the topmost level. Our Olympic teams need to display the finishing skills of former cricket captain MS Dhoni. China, which has achieved a meteoric rise in the last two decades, has won just two golds in track and field disciplines. This explains the tough competition in the event.
While the country celebrated Neeraj’s momentous achievement, one has to understand the precedent for sporting heritage that the young man from Haryana went on to break. Just like the running events, be it long distance or the 100m, 200m 4/100m events which have been predominantly dominated by the Africans, similarly javelin throw has been dominated by the Czechs, which highlights a sporting heritage. And hence India has pried out a pearl from an oyster in Neeraj Chopra. Beating the odds in a discipline that is alien to the subcontinent let alone India, Neeraj went on to become the crown summer prince of India in 2021.
If Neeraj’s summer of 2021 is an inspiration to the country where else do the raw gems of Indian sports lie? India finished with seven medals at Tokyo 2020. More than double what they won at Rio where it was a paltry two. Riding on the better showing this time around India’s Olympic mission will be set in stone to build on the blueprint of Tokyo 2020’s achievement.
WHILE China’s Olympic program is driven by nationalism and the creation of a sequestered lifestyle for athletes, so the focus is solely on achieving gold, let alone a medal. India’s progress has been hindered by politics and mere support to only its elite athletes.
In the state of Goa, only the top athletes are privy to elite training, which means at grass-roots stage they are left to fend for themselves and forge their skills with little to no guidance and coaching. The meagre investment in talent scouts and non-access to sports which is a privilege in some cases, has contributed to the factors of the underlying reasons why India continues to punch below its weight.
In the case of Goa being a coastal state, there is tremendous scope for targeting swimming and yachting. We have the precedent of Talasha Prabhu who represented the country at the Commonwealth Games. However, coming from a middle-class family, the cost of a personal coach and team proved to be too expensive. It was her mother who had to accompany her to the events.
The BJP in its 2022 election manifesto highlights that it would produce a gold medal-winning athlete from Goa. It’s farfetched to even think this is a possibility. Apart from the Sesa Football Academy, Goa doesn’t have a single professional academy that caters to sports development. The promise by the BJP is an insult to the elite academies around the country that have been toiling for years to produce athletes of world-class standards.

TO put things into perspective, besides state-of- the-art facilities, there is a requirement for elite coaches, dieticians, nutritionists, psychological coaches, boarding facilities — all of the above Goa lacks. The only hope for athletic development in Goa is the House of Dempos and namely Srinivas Dempo, who has sponsored Goan athletes like Natasha Palha and Bhakti Kulkarni.
Speaking to the former SAG president, VM Prabhudessai, he highlighted “that athletics in Goa has failed to draw interest because of the lack of awareness and its incorporation in schools!” India will only excel when schools and colleges invest in athletic programs sponsored by the centre. The only education institution which supports sports in the state is Don Bosco — which has a tradition of producing State-winning football and basketball teams.
Olympic projects should encompass a joint collaboration between the centre, federations, sponsors and the private sector. Physical education in schools right from a tender age should be raised to a pedestal beyond its current position in the list of academic priorities.
To aspire for the gold without making the necessary investments, we can’t expect the unexpected, when input doesn’t warrant the fuel for a better outcome. So, while Goa celebrates its nostalgic glory days of football, there still lies a huge disparity in what the State government expects to achieve than what it actually can, given the current state of affairs. To compete with the rest of the country let alone internationally, the government should invest or call for private investment into a dedicated sporting project covering every aspect from grass-root investment, to talent scouting, to elite coaching at high-performance centres, to nutrition and sports medicine to psychological conditioning etc.
The Olympics should be at the top of the pyramid of sporting priority as it helps develop all-around conditioning for any athlete. It’s not the skills that we lack but the instruments and technical know-how to craft these very skills and rote them to perfection. This certainly requires a concrete structure, considerable financial investment and the right personnel to help our national pearls to rise and stake claim of what is theirs to achieve!

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