In what may surprise many, of the total Rs 36.85 crore spent by the government on its Rio Olympics contingent, only 1.66 per cent went to the preparations of the two eventful medal winners- PV sindhu and Sakshi Malik. As per the latest Sports Ministry data, under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) launched by the Centre last year, 117 payers were sent from India, out of which some of the Olympians for whom a sizeable chunk of the money was spent turned out to be among the prominent under-performers.
TOPS, the flagship top-up funding scheme launched in March 2015, aims to meet the direct requirements of Olympians, which includes fees of personal coaches and other support staff, cost of travel and stay during competition and training stints, as well as purchase of equipment.
As per The Indian Express, nearly half the amount was spent on shooting, which has been so far India’s most successful Olympic sport in the last three Games, failed to make its mark this year. On the whole, athletics, where the country did not have any realistic chance of a medal, got the second highest funding, with the ministry releasing Rs 7.80 crore to 30 out of the 36 athletes.
According to reports, Great Britain spent $350 million on 374 athletes who traveled to Rio, while Australia spent $332 million between the London and Rio Olympics. Compared to this, India’s $5.5 million seems minuscule.
Acknowledging the gap between India and other countries, Sports Minister Vijay Goel in a conversation with The Indian Express said, “If we want to broad-base our sport, we need more budget to provide infrastructure, training and coaches for our athletes. So definitely, we need a bigger budget.”
Of the Rs 36.85 crore under TOPs, Rs 6.39 crore went to disciplines that came close to meeting their targets (badminton: Rs 3.84 crore and wrestling: Rs 2.52 crore). Out of that, Rs 61.13 lakh went to the two medal winners — Rs 45.27 lakh for badminton silver medal-winner Sindhu and Rs 15.86 lakh for Sakshi, who won the bronze in wrestling.
Approximately, Rs 30.49 crore went to discipline that fell far short of goals. Rs 2.94 crore was spent on the women’s relay squad, which ended up finishing seventh in their heats and failing to qualify for the semi-finals. The 12 shooters who travelled to Rio received Rs 15.39 crore, with 10 of them getting more than Rs 1 crore each. Considering the fact that, shooting is also among the most expensive sports, its equipment was also imported. Abhinav Bindra, who missed a podium finish by the narrowest of margins, got Rs 2.37 crore, according to ministry documents.
The women’s relay squad — Tintu Luka, Nirmala Sheoran, Debashree Majumdar, M R Poovamma, Anilda Thomas and Ashwini Akkunji — was the biggest beneficiary. Poovamma received Rs 92.43 lakh, Majumdar got Rs 56.35 lakh, Akkunji was granted Rs 53.59 lakh and Thomas got Rs 39.05 lakh. On race day, Tintu (Rs 23.45 lakh) and Nirmala (Rs 30 lakh) were chosen ahead of Akkunji and Majumdar. However, their performance was much below expectation, with the team finishing 2 seconds slower than what they had recorded a month ago at the qualifiers. Says Akkunji, “Out of that amount, we got just Rs 3 lakh each, which was the pocket money for three months from June to August. The rest was spent directly by the government on our training and competition. That is my understanding.”
In contrast to this, the squad of 16 players sent to the Paralympics, received approximately Rs 3.56 crore separately from the government, as on August 22.
The number of medals won cannot be equated to the money spent on the players as winning a medal is not the only measure of success. However, the data accessed shows the priorities of the government as well as the federation in the build-up to the Olympics.