German legend Uwe Hohn has blown the whistle on India’s shambolic preparations for the Tokyo Olympics. The coach, whose ward, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, is the nation’s brightest Olympic prospect, has exposed how with less than two years to go, the three most important stakeholders of Olympic sports in India — the sports ministry, Sports Authority of India and the federation — aren’t working in sync. Hohn has raised issues that are as immediate as they are fundamental to India’s chances of winning its first-ever athletics medal.
Chopra competes in an event that is a stronghold of the Europeans. So when a foreign coach, brought in for top dollars, repeatedly pleads for better equipment and urgency in clearing foreign trips for Indian athletes, his concerns can’t be ignored. He isn’t rocking the boat, merely warning about the choppy waters ahead. Contrary to what the sceptics say, foreign coaches aren’t roped in because Indians are more deferential to them. They are repositories of expertise, with years of technical know-how that India’s pay-masters tend to wrongly dismiss when grudging them their high salaries. Chopra is up against odds that are unprecedented for Indian athletes — for, besides Anju Bobby George and Vikas Gowda in the last two decades, no one has really shown the potential to hit the highest notes in track and field. The 21-year-old and nine other javelin throwers from India need that backup that is commonplace in Germany and Finland.
The SAI and the sports ministry, cranking up focus on Khelo India in the name of grassroots development, routinely overlook the star athletes whose performance at the Olympics can amplify the reach of a sport at the bottom of the pyramid. It has needed non-profit organisations to step in and fill this gap because the government systems refuse to hurry up in comprehending the problems and then acting on them. Given the limited numbers of genuine Olympic contenders in India — even the most optimistic estimate wouldn’t take the count beyond 25 — it wouldn’t need an army of officials to be at their beck and call. If the prevalent system cannot even cater to the needs of one genuine bright spark in athletics for Tokyo 2020, there is an urgent need for the decision-makers to go into a huddle. The coach who once threw the spear 100 metres knows what it takes to break the barrier. The least the SAI could do is to listen to him.
Union Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has assured all support to India’s brightest Olympics prospect, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, after his German coach Uwe Hohn complained of “very bad support” from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) that has allegedly led to delays in delivery of equipment, clearance for foreign trips and recruitment of support staff.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Rathore said he had been in touch with various agencies involved in the training of India’s elite athletes. “I was asking everyone and finding out what happened. They have their version but I want to put that aside. We are cutting the bureaucratic procedures. I will be taking certain issues to the Cabinet to empower the Sports Authority of India to hire the best people. We want to expedite processes and get the best expertise to support these sportspersons,” he said.
Rathore, the Olympic silver medallist shooter-turned-politician, said he would “leave no stone unturned for our Olympics hopes”. The Minister hinted though that he would need the support of sports federations in reaching out to athletes with Olympics dreams. “This requires a collaborated effort in terms of planning with the athletics federation. The funding of coaches comes from us, the funding of travel comes from us, but for utilisation of coaches, how many athletes they will train, the various travel coordination, how many days and where they will train… those micro nitty-gritty aspects have to be left to the federations. So we are in the pursuance of a perfect model, we are on to it and we are hopeful,” he said.
”The AFI is happy with the support of the Sports Ministry and the Sports Authority of India over the years. However, when it comes to procurement and processes, we wish that it happened faster,” AFI president Adille Sumariwala said.Last week, Chopra’s coach Hohn, in an email to The Indian Express, had expressed frustration over the lack of support from SAI, and sought help from “people or companies”. He also said that time was running out since “every week, bit by bit, we lose chance to reach our high goals!”
A day after Hohn’s complaint, Chopra spoke about the delays, too. “Our plan to go abroad for training has been getting delayed. That’s one of the reasons why the coach made those comments. We hope that will be done quickly,” he told news agency ANI. Rathore said Hohn’s complaints were being dealt with. “The Sports Authority of India has already issued instructions for immediate procurement and cutting down on the procedure of procuring competition javelins and training javelins. They already have some but wanted more, which will be immediately procured. We will support whatever the federation decides,” he said.
The Minister said the issue of support staff was being addressed, too. “Even in terms of sports science support — be it masseurs, physiotherapist and everything else — we have been getting them from India and abroad, the best ones,” he said.