The high-profile committee that selected 184 athletes for the Sports Ministry’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) — a programme to train and fund elite athletes — has expressed its anguish over what it calls tardy implementation of the scheme.
The committee, led by Beijing Olympics gold medallist Abhinav Bindra and which includes Prakash Padukone, PT Usha and Karnam Malleswari, has asked the Ministry for a status report on TOPS.
In a letter to Sports Secretary Rahul Bhatnagar earlier this month, the committee said that a Rio-like disaster — where a 117-strong Indian delegation returned with just a silver and a bronze — couldn’t be ruled out at the Commonwealth and Asian Games later next year.
Sources said that none of the athletes selected for TOPS have received necessary support for their training apart from the monthly stipend of Rs 50,000 that was announced by Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh continued on Rathore in September.
The Indian Express spoke to several of the selected athletes who said their request for additional support staff or a training stint abroad has been stuck with the Ministry for weeks. Bhatnagar and Bindra could not be reached for comment. Bindra resigned from the committee last week citing potential conflict of interest with his private projects.
TOPS is the Sports Ministry’s flagship scheme launched two years ago to take care of an athletes’ training expense, personal coach fees, cost of travel and stay during competition and training stints as well as purchase of equipment.
Its implementation, however, was severely criticised as most proposals made by the athletes were stuck in red tape. The delay in releasing the funds coupled with athletes’ poor planning resulted in India winning just two medals at the Olympics last year.
Consequently, the Ministry formed a special committee in January that was mandated to select athletes for the scheme.
The committee held six meetings since March 2017. In the last meeting on December 5, they added 32 athletes to the previous list of 152 who were selected for the support for next year’s Commonwealth and Asian Games. Some of them would even receive grants for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.