When our talents get financial backing and scientific training

Updated: Nov 20 2005, 05:33am hrs
These days there is one thing that often strikes me when I take off my jogging shoes and stretch tiredly back with the newspapers every morning. Headlines that invariably say how India is looking up, how its economy has perked up, how the growth graph is promising to go through the roof. Good news Well, it should be, even for sports.After all, we now have more money to nurture our immense talent pool, get them set for the international arena, raise Indias sporting pride up a few notches every year. Not like the time when I started off. I wish all that would happen. I dont want to sound pessimistic, but look at what is happening now: Each year, the Government is quietly cutting down its actual budgetary allocation for sports. It was Rs 237 crore in 2004-2005, it is Rs 301 crore in 2005-2006. The government had spent Rs 1.18 per capita to develop sports last year, but it is actually spending 30 paise less this year. Now, if you say the government spending 88 paise per capita to develop sports sounds good enough, think again. The biggest chunk of the allocation 60 % goes into paying an army of sports officials their salaries and allowances, another 20 % goes for maintaining existing infrastructure, another 10 % is spent on benefits for sportspersons. So what are you left with to actually develop sports Just about 10 % of the piddly allocation.

China is already training kids for the 2016 and 2020 Olympics scientifically, strategically, systematically, giving them backing and financial security. We have a government and a huge bunch of sports mandarins running our sports federations and associations, who apparently think it is their duty to crush any effort by committed individuals to do something for the cause of sports.

Just look up the newspapers over the last couple of years. I find that most sports bodies in the country are run by the same people who were running them when I first came into sports. Theres hardly any infusion of new initiatives, no meaningful talent hunting. I am ashamed that people like me and Milkha Singh are still considered sports icons in our country. Both of us never won anything more than fourth places in the Olympics of our time. Is it not a reflection of where India stands in the global sports arena

Even today, athletics is the best bet for India in sports, whichever way you look at it. Consider this: An average district athletics meet still draws about a 1000 contestants, and their number is still upwards of a lakh and a half each year, countrywide. Athletics is a community sport that brooks no class or other differences. You can run barefoot and win a race, without strapping on unaffordable gear. And do we have exceptional talent coming up The only record of mine that still stands is the one I clocked in hurdles at Los Angeles in 1984, all the rest have been vanquished.

I now run a sports school that I have founded in my home town. I would say that four of my wards are Olympic material. But they need to be provided with what I could never dream of in my time: Advanced scientific training, international facilities, complete state backing, and yes, financial security for the future. If we have these, I am confident that India would begin winning three to four track medals in each Olympics from 2012. We need to see that there are no narrow bias, no class, creed or parochial considerations, when we pick our young sportspersons to be groomed.

There is a dire need for some attitudinal correction among sportspersons. Many talented young ones look at sports as just a vehicle to get them jobs or some money. That has to change. Sports cant be just that if you are to really make your presence internationally. These are crucial things India needs to do for its sports:

Our sports promotion and control systems need overhaul.

Give our young ones all the facilities that their peers have in developed countries.Equally important is strategic planning of their development. The years after they turn 16 should be devoted to planned development in theirspecialisations. Right from honing the basics at Level 1 to preparing them for a specific big event at Level 4.

Give them enough live competition exposure.

Financial security is equally vital. When you get off the starting block giving everything you have for your country, you need to be sure that the country will take care of your future.