Going off track

You'd like to believe that national honour in sport does not hinge on its non-playing elements — the administrators. Because that throws up unflattering images of smug, unathletic individuals taking sole responsibility for upholding India's sporting glory.

These backroom stalwarts of contentiously long tenure have hijacked India's best Olympics season, now that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has suspended the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). Calling it a national shame is a bit of an exaggeration, given the intricate politics that triggered this expulsion. Besides, the country's sporting glory, or shame, should rest solely on its sportspersons. The federation babus should sort this self-created mess with minimal fuss. And stay firmly in the background. So, on to more pressing matters post-London, which concern the athletes who go out and play the sport.

Let's start with Lalit Bhanot's former fiefdom — athletics. India failed to field a 4x400 metre women's relay team at the Olympics after the 2011 doping positives wiped out an entire generation of quarter-milers. What becomes of these girls once the bans are lifted? Who are the youngsters being groomed by the athletics federation for the next Olympic cycle? These questions that need urgent answers. Other questions involve follow-up plans for discus throwers like Vikas Gowda and Krishna Poonia, both finalists at London, as well as for athlete Tintu Luka, whose big stage experience can be expected to count at the next Commonwealth and Asian Games.

Shooting, the discipline that the other IOA-IOC headliner, Randhir Singh, knows all too well — having been a marksman himself — fetched India two medals this year. But a fresh Olympic cycle brings new challenges. Who will take over shooting coach Sunny Thomas's responsibilities of liaising between shooters and the Sports Authority of India? When will the three specialist coaches for rifle, pistol and shotgun be appointed? What is being done to ensure that a precious talent like Ronjan Sodhi is prepared to seek redemption in four years' time at Rio? Then there is the question of the cold-weather shooting range in India so that the winds and rains of Europe, which hosts a majority of the competitions, don't leave Indian shooters with frozen nerves. The country should also aim to reclaim lost territory in the women's air rifle event; once an Indian strength, it failed to add to the tally at London. The devil's always in the detail, as shooters will tell you. But that does not stop the politicking Indian administrators from chasing grander ambitions, like hosting this event and that.

V.K. Malhotra, another character in this saga, presides over archery. There is much to be done here before the next quadrennial, from finding a competent national coach to the more delicate matter of restoring Deepika Kumari's confidence after London.

Abhay Chautala, who aimed at the IOA's high seat after being the boxing boss for years, can claim the credit of having sent an unprecedented eight boxers to London, but only Mary Kom returned with a medal. While the heavyweight administrator has a fight on his hands, quelling the big suits at the International Boxing Association who have suspended the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation, the more long-term worry for the sport ought to lie elsewhere. How to help Vijender Singh move a weight category up, for instance, or how best to ensure that the talented Vikas Krishan and Shiva Thapa rediscover their pre-London magic?

Both Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt's wrestling medals could be called a culmination of two eight-year-long dreams. But there should be plans in place for the likes of Amit Kumar and Narsingh Yadav. Badminton doubles need more attention and a dedicated coach, and there must be a suitable replacement for David John, the backroom man with the envious work ethic in hockey.

Most pertinently, it remains to be seen whether government funding in the next two years matches the amounts allotted right after 2008, when Indian athletes benefited from the country's enthusiastic preparations for the Commonwealth Games. The IOA must clean up its mess before the next IOC meeting in February. The real question is whether Indian athletes will be ready before the Commonwealth and Asian Games, set to take place in two years' time.


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