'These youngsters have proved there is money in sports today, not just cricket!'
'They are youth icons and people look up to them.'
'Our athletes are not scared. Like a child knows no fear, they are youngsters without fear.'
India won a record 19 track and field medals at the Asian Games in Indonesia last August. The medal tally could have been better had other participating countries not fielded African athletes.
Though India conceded as many as many as 8 gold medals to African athletes at the Games, Adille Sumariwalla -- president of the Athletics Federation of India and council member of the International Association of Athletics Federations -- is unfazed.
India's recent success in track and field events, says Sumariwalla -- who was India's sprint champion for 11 consecutive years -- is the culmination of hard work put in by the athletes, coaches and the AFI for the last 10 years.
"I am confident that India's best chances in the Tokyo Olympics are in the two relays (men's and women's) and we have been working on that front," Sumariwalla, who represented India at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, tells Rediff.com's Laxmi Negi.
What is the reason behind India's steady rise in track and field events?
Nobody in India understands the meaning of planning and execution. What we see today has been planned and executed for the last 10 years.
There has been some serious projects going on for our lead athletes and very serious planning is going on at the grassroots level.
We have been working hard, finding talent by organising district level competitions, devising strategies etc.
We have been successful as many juniors, like Neeraj Chopra, Hima Das and Sarita Gayakwad have come up through our junior program.
Athletics is not a very difficult sport. There are no barriers, anyone can run, jump. You don't need a shuttle or racquet or any other equipment to start athletics.
Athletics is sport in its purest form.
There are 215 nations participating at the world level, so competition is very high, unlike other sports, not to take away anything from any sport or any other sportsperson from what they do.
So, you need to be best to compete against that huge number of competitors. It is not easy.
Does training overseas help our athletes?
We need to look at this aspect from a different perspective.
Where are our training centres? Patialia, Bangalore, Trivandrum. The weather is not conducive; the structures are not conducive. Look at the quality of air, food or even competition.
When athletes are abroad, it is a different ball game. They compete every week. The reason our 400 metres athletes did well was because they were abroad for three months.
(Mohammad) Anas was running the 200 metres and Sarita (Gayakwad) was participating in hurdles. They were mixing and matching and the results are here for us to see!
Have Neeraj Chopra, Hima Das and Dutee Chand prompted more children to take up athletics as a serious career option?
All these athletes are worth crores today.
I am on the verge of retiring and I don't have a crore today. How many careers can guarantee you crores of rupees? So, yes, these youngsters have proved that there is money in sports today, not just cricket!
They are youth icons and people look up to them.
Our athletes are not scared; in fact, they look so confident nowadays...
Like a child knows no fear, they are youngsters without fear.
Recently, you made a strong statement by calling African athletes competing in the Asian Games human trafficking. Can you elaborate?
There is nothing wrong in making strong statements. Truth has to be said. When people are bought, I am against that.
These Africans are allegedly given fake passports, they are given only residency on the basis of which they are participating and sent back once they have stopped competing.
I am fighting against these practices in the IAAF. I am dead against human trafficking. That's why I pushed for a five-year waiting period, which was finalised at three years.
Athletes have a right to employment, they should have a good lifestyle as it will attract youngsters to the sport, but I am against athletes being used and misused.
This is what my statement is about. We need to follow a proper process.
Is there any long-term planning for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo?
I am confident that India's best chances are in the two relays (men's and women's) and we have been working on that front.
If I have to put my money, I will put it on them.