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July 13, 2000


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The Rediff Interview /Randhir Singh

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No junkets. No way.

The hypemeisters are right, for once. Sydney 2000 is going to be the biggest Olympics yet. More disciplines (28), more participants, more medals (1000, up from 842) at stake.

But that is for the world. For India, the stakes have reduced. Where we participated in 12 disciplines in 1992 and 13 in 1996, this year the Indian participation will be restricted to six events, eight tops.

Not for want of will, mind you. The Indian rationale has always been the more the merrier. Thus, previous years have seen a low of 70, a high of 90+, athletes marching behind the Indian flag into the Olympics arena. This year, the country will be lucky if it sees a 50-strong contingent line up behind its flag. Equally, previous years have seen the strange spectacle of one official per athlete, as the sports federations, the Indian Olympic Association and the government indulged in an orgy of junketing. This year, that figure will be drastically cut down, to the proportion of one official per three athletes, if that.

Before you ask, no, it has nothing to do with the nation's sports ministry and sports associations waking up, albeit belatedly, to the fac that its athletes are way below world class, and that such sub-standard performances hardly justify the expense of sending large numbers of 'officials'. What has caused the drastic cutback is the new rule, introduced by the International Olympic Committee, that the host country would pay air fares, and other expenses, of participating athletes.

As long as the money for the quadrennial junkets were coming out of the government's -- read, public's -- pockets, Indian sports officials were only too happy to pad the numbers. But this time, it is Australia that is footing the bill -- and they aren't prepared to pay for freebies.

Thus, courtesy the IOC, a new rule is in place whereby all participants have to go through qualifying rounds before reaching Sydney. This is aimed at reducing the number of non-serious competitors (a phrase that would describe pretty much all the members of previous Indian contingents to the various Olympics).

There are two categories -- A, and B -- for qualification. Those who qualify in the A category are deemed to have a fair chance of making the last eight, while those who qualify in the B category are deemed to be just good enough to participate in the preliminary rounds.

Shakti Singh
Shakti Singh
Thus far, only three Indian athletes -- Shakti Singh in shotput, Beenamol in the 400 metres and Sunita Rani in the 800 and 1500 metre events -- have gained Category A status. A few others are inching into the B grouping -- but with more qualifying rounds scheduled for August, the expectation is that India will be very lucky if it sees 50 athletes finally get their visas for Sydney. And the lesser the number of athletes, ditto the number of officials -- which is bad news for the junket seekers.

It is in this context that Onkar Singh spoke to Randhir Singh, one time ace shooter and now secretary general of the Indian Olympic Association. Excerpts from the interview:

Sydney is round the corner. Is this year going to be a repeat of previous Olympics, with non-performers holidaying in the Olympic village at government expense?

You will be surprised to know that this time, things are drastically different. Thus far, the IOA has selected only 34 athletes to participate in Sydney. Earlier, the IOA and the government of India would decide the composition of the Olympic contingent. From now on, the International Olympic Committee prescribes the minimum qualifying standards, and we have to adhere to those.

And even out of the 34 we have selected, 16 belong to the Indian hockey team. Of the other 18, three are weightlifters, a few others are shooters and boxers. Athletes have qualified in three disciplines. Now we are awaiting the final selections from the Indian Athletics Federation. Overall, I don't think the final number will exceed 50, 55, maximum.

And as usual, there will be one or more officials for each athlete?

Again, we have to adhere to norms laid down by the International Olympic Committee, and the rule is that the ratio should not be more than one official per three athletes. If there is one shooter, then only his coach will be allowed to accompany him. Similarly, a maximum of four officials can accompany the hockey contingent. These norms are not only for us, this is applicable for all international teams.

Is the austerity because the Sydney Olympic Organizing Committee is bearing the costs of the Indian contingent?

Yes, Sydney will bear all costs of participating athletes and accompanying officials. This is a new trend, and in future, the organizing committees of various games will have to take care of the travel and boarding expenses of all participating nations.

Who do you see as the stars of the Indian contingent?

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi
Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi
Well, we hope that Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi qualify for the doubles, and set aside their differences in the interest of the nation. They have been the world's best doubles combination, and if they play together they have a good chance to win top honours. Our women weightlifters have also been world champions. Though their names have not been officially cleared yet, we expect that Karnam Malleswari and Kunjurani will represent the country, and do well.
Karnam Malleswari
Karnam Malleswari
In boxing, Dingko Singh has been performing very well lately, and is a name to watch for. The Indian hockey team recently won the Asian Championships, before that it had won the four nation tournament held in Australia, so we have great hopes from the squad. So we have a fairly good chance of winning medals in all these events.

How about athletics? What are our chances there?

It is unfortunate that our top athlete, Sunita Rani, got injured. It is not yet clear what the nature of her injury is, and whether she will be fit in time to participate. Shakti Singh did well in the Asian Games.

Actually, our standards in athletics has been improving lately. We hit an all-time low in 1990, when the only gold we won at the Asian Games was in kabbadi. But lately, we have done well both at the Asian and Commonwealth levels. What matters is not whether we make first, second or third place -- we also have to see the overall performance. The goal should be to put your athletes in the top bracket, to improve so that increasingly, you move up into the 4th, 5th, 6th slots. At the same time, we have to improve our standard even in those events where we haven't reached qualifying standards for the Olympics.

Earlier, you mentioned that the Indian contingent could possibly be 50-strong, but you are hoping for quite a few wild cards to make up that number. Jaspal Rana is one of them...

Jaspal Rana
Jaspal Rana
It is unfortunate that Jaspal Rana did not qualify directly for the Olympics. We have submitted his name for a wild card, yes. Only one shooter, Anwar Sultan in clay pigeon and trap, has qualified at this point in time. We are recommending four more names -- Jaspal Rana for pistol, Mansher Singh for clay pigeon trap, Anjali Ved Pathak for rifle, and Abhinav Bindra, who incidentally equalled the world record when he scored 596 out of a total of 600 recently in international competition. He is a junior, but he has already proved to be of international class.

But what went wrong with Jaspal Rana?

Jaspal is one of the best we have, he has won more medals than most of our athletes. The trouble is that his pet events are not listed among the Olympics disciplines. So recently, he had to switch to air pistol, which is not his forte. Just because you are a good shooter in one discipline doesn't mean you will do well in another discipline. He is coming along quite nicely, however.


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