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Moment of reckoning for Indian sports
March 14, 2006 14:02 IST
It is a moment of reckoning for India as it has a lot at stake in the 18th edition of the Commonwealth Games, which begins in Melbourne from Wednesday.
The reason is simple, India will host the next edition of the Games in New Delhi and good showing here will be a positive endorsement and good advertisement for those Games. A poor showing will have a cascading negative effect on the buildup for the 2010 event.
India has sent a huge delegation of 255 sportspersons and officials and it is the fourth biggest after Australia, New Zealand and England and no excuses will be accepted for poor performances.
India is taking part in ten disciplines in these Games -- athletics, badminton, boxing, basketball, gymnastics, hockey, shooting, swimming, table tennis and weightlifting.
The Games face an uncertain future. Though 71 countries are taking part, they lack the vigour and excitement of an international sporting competition. Despite huge efforts by the organisers and the Australian Government, the Games have not caught the imagination of the people of this city which is considered to be the sports crazy capital of the world.
Indians will have to put up extraordinary performances to match the 70 medals including 30 golds they won in the 2002 Manchester Games.
The number of gold medals is bound to come down as in weightlifting, in which India claimed 11 golds last time, there is only one gold for one event and not three for an event as in Manchester.
Also India had won three golds, two silvers and a bronze in wrestling in 2002, but this discipline is not included here.
India hopes to fill this gap with some good showing in shooting, last time Indians bagged 24 medals in this event, 14 gold, seven silver and three bronze and they are hopeful that with bit of luck the shooters will manage to improve on the tally.
Shouldering the major burden will be the 27-strong shooting squad, the best among the participating countries as they proved with their showing in Manchester and at the last Commonwealth championships here.
The golden vignettes of the last Commonwealth Games in Manchester are inspirational but it remains to be seen how much better they will do in these games.
Indian women surprised everybody, including themselves, by winning a gold in hockey competition but this time they will need a herculean effort to retain it. The Aussies are in tremendous form and England are looking for revenge, Kiwis are also in the running for a podium finish.
It will indeed need luck, grit and determination for Indian women hockey team to hope for a podium finish.
The big draw for the Indians is men's hockey and the Asia Cup winners are hoping to make it to the podium for the first time in these Games.
India had finished fourth in the Kuala Lumpur Games in 1998 and did not figure in the 2002 edition, both times Australia won the gold.
On paper India can at least hope for a bronze, but coach Rajinder Singh asserted that if his boys played with determination. "We can do much better," he said.
But with dependable defender Harpal Singh ruled out for the Games and the absence of Dilip Tirkey and William Xalxo, the task ahead is formidable.
In weightlifting, India's image was dented at Manchester by two failed dope tests. Given the fact that India had enjoyed their biggest medal haul in the event -- 11 gold, nine silver and nine bronze -- the damage was visible and high as it affected country's overall standing and it slipped a rung on the medals table.
Satheesha Rai and Krishnan Madasamy failed dope tests. Shockingly four years since then, four lifters who between them accounted for eight gold, one silver and three bronze have been caught for doping at one time or the other. Winner of the remaining three gold medals, Kunjarani Devi, was herself on a comeback trail in Manchester, having served a ban for a positive test.
"I think we can win four gold and equal number of silver and more bronze this time," said Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWF) secretary General Balbir Singh Bhatia.
Bhatia is pinning hopes for gold on Kunjarani Devi, Simple Kaur and Vicky Bhatta and is hoping for a good showing by the other lifters.
The drugs scare has not left India and it looms large over them here also. After Manchester, it was evident in Athens and it was the sole reason for India featuring on the front pages in Helsinki during the World Athletics Championship last year.
The athletes are also a scared lot because along with weightlifters they are under the scanner of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The sudden arrival of WADA officials surprised Indian athletes at their training base in South Africa and many fled the camp and it was the first sign of the brewing trouble.
The athletes came scurrying home, they were followed to the National camp in Patiala, forcing many to stay away. In the process the focus shifted to the weightlifters preparing for Melbourne and Shailaja Pujari, a medal contender, became the first victim of the season.
India thus have a big task of salvaging their prestige here and the fact that New Delhi is to host the next edition of the Games, the responsibility is that much higher this time. On one hand is the need to reveal their sporting strength, on the other, the necessity to show that the strength is earned through fair means.
It will be long jumper Anju George who will spearhead India's challenge in athletics and will seek to turn her Manchester bronze into a medal of a brighter hue.
India had one silver and a bronze in this discipline last time.
Basketball is making its debut in the games and India has sent teams in the men's and women's section.
But in this event it may be the case of just adding to the numbers. There is not much to write about country's basketball teams. India had finished 12th out of 16 in the Asian Championship and they are ranked 47th in the men's and 41st in the women's section.
Talking about the swimmers -- they are themselves surprised to find themselves here given the dismal standard of the sport back home.
Adding to the numbers are ten gymnasts -- five men and five women -- but they have made their position clear. "Don't expect medal from us. We are expecting the women to finish sixth and same is the case with the men's team, we are here for exposure," said an official accompanying the squad.
However, the table tennis, badminton and boxing teams are confident of returning home with medals.
India did very well in boxing last time as they won their first ever Commonwealth gold but this time it will be tough to repeat that performance, but the 11-member squad is confident of performing well.
Som Bahadur Pun, the silver medallist in Manchester is spearheading the Indian challenge.
In badminton, India's hopes rest on Olympian Aparna Popat, Chetan Anand and promising Saina Nehwal. The country had won a bronze in Manchester in this event.
Thus the stakes are indeed high this time for India and it is not entirely a gloomy scenario for them. They have the talent to produce some glittering performances and one hopes they do.