I don’t really follow the Olympics, but it is difficult to miss stories when they are so shocking. The overwhelming perception of the Indian contingent all through the Olympics Games saga has been one of complete disinterest in sports performance. Here are some of the highlights off the top of my head.
Three out of four brand ambassadors for India had nothing to do with Olympic sports
Other than Abhinav Bindra (who, as India’s only Olympics gold medalist till then couldn’t really be avoided) India’s brand ambassadors for the Olympics had absolutely nothing to do with Olympics sport. They are Salman Khan, Sachin Tendulkar and A R Rahman – for the record. They were apparently chosen to popularize Olympics among Indians. Though it is anyone’s guess why any of the three would generate an interest in sports that they themselves didn’t have any achievements in. If anything, it seemed like India was saying we don’t have anyone notable in all these sports and if we are to sell enough ad spots for our pet media to make good profits, we’d better get selling faces on the screen.
Training funds diverted to election bound Assam
More than 100 crores from funds for training Olympics athletes were diverted toward hosting the SAF games in Assam as per the wish of BJP’s CM candidate for Assam. The election was won, indeed, but the Olympics seems lost. The only medals so far appear to be from Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu – both established players and have long term dedicated coaches and whose training wouldn’t be impacted as badly by whims in government spending. Contestants from less privileged backgrounds who had to struggle to reach the Olympics on the basis of sheer talent, notably didn’t make it through. Dipa Karmakar lost by a fraction of a second. Could Lalita Babar (Indian Railways) or Dattu Bhokanal (Army), for example have a stronger showing if there had been more attention and spending toward getting them to peak performance?
Skewed priorities on who got sent to Rio
While we had all kinds of VIPs from Nita Ambani (how is she at all relevant to sport?) to random politicians and relatives parading as doctors gone to Rio in style and comfort, while the athletes who were supposed to deliver the results flew economy, had their supporting staff refused, etc. For example, it is only when Dipa Karmakar showed promise of winning a medal that her previously rejected physiotherapist was flown in to Rio in a hurry. It isn’t like other athletes got their physiotherapists there either. Saina Nehwal, for example, sustained an injury to her knee in the run up to the Olympics. She had been injured 10 days before her match and as per her coach, had been given a dexamethasone injection after consulting IOC doctors at the clinic in the Olympic village on the day of the match, to bring down swelling and pain. It is unclear what other specialized treatment was available to her. Her injury worsened during her game and she had to bow out and be hospitalized on return to India. Would our contingent having adequate support staff have improved her prospects? It is anyone’s guess.
Lack of sincerity among those inexplicable ones who went to Rio
Anil Vij, Haryana minister had gone to Rio for some obscure reason like observing sports with players from his state or some such. Once there, he didn’t actually attend the events where players from Haryana competed. Sports Minister Vijay Goel brought embarrassment to India with his behavior. Whether it was endless selfies with exhausted contestants or angering Olympics officials with disregard for protocol when those accompanying him entered accredited areas without authority and got aggressive when confronted. If he had showed half the attention to his tweets wishing Indian players before their events, a lot of embarrassment would have been avoided as he merrily misspelled names, tweeted out images wishing sports people with his own photo featured prominently on them, used wrong photos or simply wished contestants the best heaping insult on injury after they had already contested (and not won). The radiologist son of the Vice President of the Indian Olympic Association is serving as the medical officer to our contingent. That is right. Our delegation to the freaking OLYMPICS doesn’t merit a sports medicine expert, though there is no shortage of Page 3 paisawalas and bureaucrats and assorted opportunists.
Our boxing participants almost got disqualified because their vests did not have their country – India printed on them. The kits were replaced and there were no disqualifications and the coach dismissed it as a minor issue, but it seems rather stunning that our boxers arrived at the Olympics without our country’s name on their vests and apparently no one realized that this would be a problem.
The Narsingh Yadav gamble
Narsingh Yadav had tested positive for methandienone on the 25th of June and 5th of July (this is a gap of 10 days). He claimed that there was a conspiracy against him and that his food/drink had been spiked. NADA (National Anti-Doping Agency of India) exonerated him, presumably believing his claims. As a result, he was representing India at the Olympics – and it isn’t like we didn’t have a choice. Our champion Sushil Kumar with two Olympic medals in the immediately preceding two Olympics (silver – 2012, London Olympics + bronze – 2008, Beijing Olympics), for example was a possibility. Perhaps it could be someone else. But the point was, whatever “evidence” NADA used to exonerate Narsingh Yadav in India, it didn’t stand up to scrutiny when challenged by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). The CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) at the Olympic Games ruled against him.
The CAS Panel did not accept the argument of the athlete that he was the victim of sabotage and noted that there was no evidence that he bore no fault, nor that the anti-doping rule violation was not intentional.
As a result, Narsingh Yadav now has a 4 year ban from performing, and India doesn’t have an entry where it could very likely have won a medal. A hard question that needs to be asked is how the NADA exonerated him, if there was no evidence and with a 10 day gap between his tests being positive; and whether the national interest is served in this manner.
And of course, there are many long term problems plaguing Indian sports (other than cricket). Lack of identification and training in any methodical manner being the top of the list. And it isn’t like Modi sarkar didn’t know what needed to be done. This is an excerpt from Modi’s speech after the last Olympics explaining how India could easily pick up 5-10 Olympic medals, now sarcastically doing the rounds as his suggestion for 2016 Olympics.