It is a known and lamentable fact that India, the world’s second most populous nation, has the worst Olympic record in terms of medals per head. In the past 30 years, India has a solitary gold medal to show for – to Abhinav Bindra in the men’s 10m rifle in 2008.That year at the Beijing Games, India won three medals which, against past editions when it was lucky to return home with one, was a huge achievement. Four years later, at the London Olympics, India achieved its best haul of six medals. Now, a couple of days before the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics at which India has sent its largest contingent ever, there is reason to believe that India’s athletes can do better based on the fact that 120 athletes have qualified for the Games as well as the special initiatives taken by the government and the Sports Authority of India (SAI) since London 2012 with a focus on Rio.Here are ten initiatives taken by the government in the past four years:1. The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports’ ‘Target Olympic Podium (TOP) Scheme’ created under the National Sports Development Fund to provide customized training to athletes participating in the Rio Olympics. A budget of Rs 45 crore was allotted for this purpose, in which over 100 athletes were covered. Financial assistance ranging between Rs 30 to 150 lakh was sanctioned to each athlete.2. Under the Annual Calendar of Training and Competitions, liberal financial assistance has been provided to the athletes for training and competitions abroad with a total budget of Rs 180 crore for the last two years.3. During the period between the 2012 Olympics 2012 and now, SAI centres have been equipped with modern facilities such as anti-gravity treadmills, hypoxic chambers and neurotrackers. In addition, modern sports science equipment have also been procured and provided at various centres, which have been utilised by athletes.4. The number of technical officials such as personal coaches, physio, masseurs and trainers required for athletes for Rio Olympics preparation have been sent along with the athletes; managerial staff has been minimise5. Athletes practising outside or national camps have been allowed to engage personal coaches, instructors, trainers, physios and other support staff.6. Over 40 foreign coaches and other domain experts were engaged for coaching/training of athletes.7. A Mission Olympic Cell (MOC) has been constituted within SAI to develop, implement and monitor plans for achieving excellence in identified sport disciplines with monitorable targets and outcomes. The composition of the MOC includes presidents of the leading federations, IOA, chief national coaches and former Olympians.8. In earlier Olympics, for the purpose of getting acclimatised, athletes were sent only two or three days before the start of the Games. This time, it was left to the convenience of athletes to reach Rio as early as 15-20 days to get used to the climate, environment and so on.9. Diet money for athletes was increased from Rs 450 per day to Rs 650 and food supplement charges raised from Rs 300 to Rs 700 per day.10. Hockey players – both men and women – selected for Rio, who are not covered under the TOP Scheme, are also for the first time getting out of pocket allowances in parity with other athletes under the TOP Scheme.All these put together, however, does not guarantee India a bigger medal haul than 2012. Many of India’s potential medal winners heading into the Olympics – among them, chiefly, shooters Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang, ace shuttler Saina Nehwal and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt – are looking low key owing to a mixture of indifferent form and fitness. For the likes of the women’s archery team, which went to London with plenty of promise but failed resoundingly, there is much hope this time but how they fare depends largely on how the mighty South Koreans progress.The return of the Indian women’s hockey team to the Olympics after 36 years is a moving tale, but in reality the gulf between them and the top teams of the sport is vast. Likewise, sprinter Dutee Chand’s participation in the women’s 100m event, becoming the first Indian since PT Usha in 1980 to do so, may end up being a matter of pride rather than a genuine medal result.All said, the image of over 100 Indian athletes competing at the Rio Games is a matter of pride and indication that Indian sports is heading in the right direction. It appears the government is making a concerted effort to fund its athletes and sports programs, so here’s hoping to more success for the country at Olympics.
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