We need to assist athletes at grassroots level: Padukone
Former All England badminton champions Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand believe the focus ahead of the next Olympics should be on winning gold, and not just medals."It's great that we have had a best-ever medal haul in a single Olympics, but it would have been greater if a couple of them were gold," opined Prakash Padukone.
The badminton legend was in no way demeaning the achievements of the medalists; he was just being pragmatic.
"The focus ahead of the next Olympics should be on winning gold, and not just medals," added the former All-England winner.
Padukone's was an honest opinion. Satisfaction is a virtue, no doubt, but when it comes to the biggest stage, it is usually the unsatisfied lot that tends to achieve the most.
It's been a couple of weeks since the closing of the London Olympics, but as far as India is concerned the celebrations are still on. For a country starved of sporting success, the London Games provided a reason to celebrate.
A haul of six medals happened to be India's best ever -- the world's second most populated nation had won 20 medals in 112 years hitherto. It didn't matter if none of them happened to be gold -- reason seldom registers in a country of billion-plus emotions.
The medal winners -- Vijay Kumar, Sushil Kumar, Gagan Narang, Saina Nehwal, MC Mary Kom and Yogeshwar Dutt -- have had to attend one celebration after the other since their return. Moreover, the media spotlight on them has palpably been over the top, the fact that most of them aren't exactly media savvy notwithstanding.
However, if one goes beyond this euphoria the picture looks rather grim.
While the medal winners have been showered with gifts and assurances, there are many athletes who don't even enjoy the basic facilities. For that matter, some of those mentioned above also struggled in their formative years.
It is a fact that there was a lot of support from the government to the London-bound contingent -- the corporate support has a profit motive and is, therefore, out of context here. It is also a fact that many athletes in our country struggle owing to the lack of infrastructure.
And therein is the problem. It is not about the euphoria following the success. It is about the preparation en route.
"As many have rightly pointed out before, there is enough support, both from the government as well as the corporate," admitted Padukone.
"But that is restricted to the top level, to athletes who have already etched a name for themselves and are to an extent capable of looking after their own needs," he continued, adding, "It is at the grassroots level that support is needed the most.
"It is an upcoming athlete who requires the most assistance. Unfortunately for us, that is not the case."
Image: Prakash Padukone
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra/Rediff.com
'Having the right infrastructure in place can be the first step to maintaining a high standard'
Another former All-England winner, Pullela Gopichand -- who has played a crucial role in Saina's career and her journey to the medal -- concurred. The ace coach opined that the country should not be content with limited success achieved on an international level.
"If you have a look at the last decade or so Indian sports has progressed quite a bit. However, the other countries too have made progressed, in leaps and bounds at that," he said.
"In order to maintain that level, to be able to compete with them, we need to put in the required effort. Having the right infrastructure in place can be the first step to that end," he added.
If India needs to better its tally at the Games in Rio de Janeiro in four years time, the strategy seems simple, at least on paper. It involves using the success achieved as a platform to attract more sponsors towards Olympic sports and start training the athletes early.
"I hope the success that we have had in London translates into more facilities at the grassroot level," said Padukone.
"The need is to identify a certain number of sports, where we can excel, and focus on them. For that will increase the possibility of winning more medals," he added.
The problem with Indian sports is something most of us are aware of. The solution isn't that difficult to identify either. What is lacking is the intent. Maybe that's the reason why we celebrate our limited success, and seldom look at the bigger picture. It's time to get our act right. Just setting a target won't help. Starting the preparation early might just help.
Image: P Gopichand