The pursuit of sporting excellence has always been more fascinating than anything else. A study of single-minded devotion will always throw up amazing stories of sheer determination. And I can already see that India’s elite athletes preparing for this year’s Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games are engaged in such relentless pursuits – against all odds, despite the Prime Minister having sanctioned Rs 678 crore for their training.
India’s elite wrestlers have been pleading for an air-conditioned training hall at the Ch Devi Lal Northern Centre of the Sports Authority of India in Sonepat. All international competition is held in air-conditioned venues and it is not an unfair demand that has to be met. Similarly, the Rugby Sevens squad, which made it to the semifinals of the invitation event in Delhi last month, has been seeking a hike in diet allowance.
Rowing Federation of India President CP Singhdeo told me on Tuesday that Indian probables – and these include Asian champions – for the Asian Games to be held in Guangzhou in November are waiting for boats to arrive from overseas and are continuing to train in Hyderabad in boats that were imported seven years ago for the National Games. The case of the cyclists is worse: they are training with machines that were imported nine years ago.
Two factors bind each of these little big tales. First, all these athletes are hungry to do well and be among the medals at the Commonwealth Games and/or Asian Games this year. It is this spirit that we recognise and salute. The other thing that is common to these athletes – besides table tennis players, gymnasts and full bore shooters – is the inadequate support by the Sports Authority of India to India’s best sportspersons.
It is precisely this reason that forces our shooters to buy their ammunition from the National Rifle Association of India at a higher price than it imports. It led to the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence slapping a fine of Rs 8 crore on NRAI for selling arms, ammunition and targets, imported without customs duty, to its state units and shooters for profits. The moot question is: Why is the Sports Authority of India not giving the shooters all this?
For a long time now, I have been wondering why our shooters have to buy ammunition and targets from NRAI? The simple reason is: Because the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (and its baby, Sports Authority of India) has failed to provide the shooters the required ammunition or even make them available at a subsidised price. It claims that it has liberalised import procedures, giving shooters import duty exemption on a maximum of 25,000 cartridges (costing Rs 17 each) but should it not be providing the cartridges to the shooters in the first place?
If it can ensure that the hockey team has got adequate hockey balls to train with, the track and field athletes have the right amount of equipment to train with, I can never understand why the shooters have to buy their own ammunition. I can understand then having to buy their own weapons but not the reusables. It is like telling national swimming campers to arrange for their own water to fill the swimming pool.
I believe it is imperative that the Sports Authority of India – and its parent, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports — has to get its act right if India is to make an impression in the two most events in the calendar this year: the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and the Asian Games in Guangzhou. Its focus on training the elite athletes must be razor sharp and it must not allow any slippages to ensure that India’s best can be ready for the big competition without a hassle.
Of course, we could turn around and ask why the respective National Sports Federations are not providing their elite athletes the facilities and the equipment to prepare for the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. The answer is not far to seek: the federations do not have the wherewithal since the monies provided for the training of the elite athletes by the Union Budget are routed from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports through the Sports Authority of India.
Until the Federations start raising their own funds to support the cream of their own sport, we will keep hearing such soul-stirring tales of our champions running from pillar to post to ensure that they have the right training conditions as they prepare to take on the best in the Commonwealth and in the continent. And that is what makes the Indian sportsperson’s pursuit of excellence such a daunting but beautiful task.