How well did India perform?
The Indian contingent returned from the recent Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast in Australia, with its third best haul (66 medals). The earlier highs were in New Delhi, 2010 (101) and Manchester, 2002 (69). The excellent performance was based on the efforts of shooters, wrestlers, weightlifters and boxers, who together accounted for 46 medals. India finished third, bettering its kitty from the previous edition in Glasgow in 2010 by two medals.
The euphoria is not misplaced as Indian achievements have been rare in the international arena. It is a significant step for a country that spends daily a mere three paise per person for sport, a fact admitted by Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore.
What made this possible?
The Indian surge at Gold Coast was made possible by consistent performances in many events. India bagged its maiden mixed team gold in badminton, won both the gold medals at stake in table tennis, and shimmered more with paddler Manika Batra’s victories in the women’s singles, which will inspire future generations. Besides Batra in the individual list, the overall display showcased the vast potential in the two teenage sensations of Indian shooting: Manu Bhaker and Anish Bhanwala, the youngest in the fray.
There were other peaks too on view, thanks to the never-say-die spirit of boxer M.C. Mary Kom, the three-in-a-row by wrestler Sushil Kumar, the facile wins by weight-lifters Mirabai Chanu and Sanjita Chanu, the exemplary javelin-throwing skills of Neeraj Chopra and the double delight of badminton stars Saina Nehwal and P. V. Sindhu jousting in a final which the former won.
How will it help for bigger games?
The fine outing at the Commonwealth Games has bolstered the expectations of an improved show in the Asian Games at Jakarta and Palembang in Indonesia during August and September later this year. There is attention too on the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. The confidence in the Indian contingent will be a good base to build a path towards the future.
However, it is clear that the challenges in the Asian Games are vastly different from those encountered at the Commonwealth Games.
India will have to compete against the all-conquering Chinese, Japanese, the South and North Koreans, Thais, Iranians and those from the breakaway republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. At Incheon (South Korea) in 2014, India was placed eighth and it can only get tougher.
The benchmarks at the Olympics will be higher too but India can take heart from the way it fought and dominated in the Commonwealth Games.
What do we need to do?
There is no dearth of talent in India and its emerging athletes believe that they can compete with the best in the world. There is potential and self-belief and these pillars need to be strengthened with a robust sports policy which plans long-term and also finds corporate funding. Often athletes struggle for finances and enjoy a windfall only after they win medals.
It is time to build on the results from the Gold Coast. Realistically, there is hardly any time to plan for the imminent Asian Games but there is some leeway for the Tokyo Olympics.
What is imperative is effective brainstorming and a precise plan backed with adequate resources to ensure that India, the second populous nation, excels through its athletes over the next two years. The onus is on sports administrators, coaches, athletes, government officials and corporate sponsors to ensure that the gains from Gold Coast are not frittered away.
(Adapted from the Hindu)