The Mittal Champions Trust (MCT), which funded several of the country’s top athletes, has shut shop. The non-profit trust financed by steel billionaire Laxmi Mittal, founded in 2005, was associated with nearly 40 top athletes, including two Olympic medallists, 16 medal winners at the 2010 Asian Games and 12 at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Its closure is likely to prove a huge setback for Indian athletes, who are set to take part in the Commonwealth and Asian Games later this year. At Beijing 2008, the MCT was integral in Abhinav Bindra winning India’s first individual gold. Four years later, the MCT-backed Yogeshwar Dutt bagged a bronze at the London Olympics.
Other MCT-backed athletes included Ronjan Sodhi, Bombayla Kumari, Preeja Sridharan, Akhil Kumar and Dipika Pallikal. Earlier, the MCT had also backed Vijender Singh and Saina Nehwal.
While Mittal’s son-in-law, Amit Bhatia, did not give an official reason for closing down the operations, the key reason is reported to be budget constraints. “We believe that we did our best to help athletes at Beijing 2008 and London 2012. It is now time to hand over the reins to others to continue with this wonderful initiative,” said London-based Bhatia.
The trust was co-founded by doubles ace Mahesh Bhupathi with an aim to improve India’s medals tally at the London Olympics. Former tennis player Manisha Malhotra was its CEO.
According to reports, the MCT spent close to Rs 80 crore on athletes from various disciplines, focusing on two sports in particular — archery and shooting. “MCT was an individual’s effort to support the athletes because of his passion for sport — a family thing. They introduced professionalism in the way we ran our sport and all of us benefitted from it,” said Bindra.
The marksman was supported with a physio, fitness trainer and mental trainer ahead of the Beijing Games, which played a crucial role in him winning the Olympic gold in 2008.
Bhatia said the lack of planning and organisation within the current system is the biggest challenge. “The biggest challenge is to be able to support athletes in a way that makes a real difference. There is a lot of disorganisation within the Indian sporting system. The lack of planning within the government and federations makes it challenging to implement systems,” he said.
“There are a lot of problems in India. There is a lack of system, framework; everything is fragmented. It is challenging to bring athletes, administrators, coaches and corporates together,” agreed Malhotra.
There are fears that other such trusts may also shut down or downscale their operations, especially because of the sluggish economy. But OGQ CEO Viren Rasquinha said, “I don’t think it will have a spiralling impact. MCT was a family-run organisation and depended on the interest of an individual. We have multiple backers so such a scenario won’t arise.”
Bindra said emerging athletes who do not have the wherewithal to sustain themselves may be impacted, but said federations should step in. “We shouldn’t depend solely on the trusts. They are here only because of their individual interests and passion. It is not their duty to help us. Our federations need to be proactive and create an environment through which the athletes can profit,” Bindra said.