Of the Rs 36.85 crore spent by the government on the 117 Rio-bound Olympians, under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) launched last year, only 1.66 per cent went into preparations of the two eventual medal winners — P V Sindhu and Sakshi Malik, according to the latest Sports Ministry data.
The data, compiled on August 22 and accessed by The Indian Express, shows that some of the Olympians, for whom a sizeable chunk of the money was spent, turned out to be among the prominent under-performers. For instance, Rs 2.94 crore was spent on the women’s relay squad, which ended up finishing seventh in their heats and failing to qualify for the semi-finals.
Nearly half of the amount was spent on shooting, which has been India’s most successful Olympic sport in the last three Games but failed to make a mark this time. And overall, athletics — where India did not have any realistic chance of a medal — got the second-highest funding, with the ministry releasing Rs 7.80 crore to 30 out of the 36 athletes who qualified for the Games.
TOPS, the flagship top-up funding scheme launched in March 2015, aims to meet the direct requirements of Olympians, which includes fees of personal coaches and other support staff, cost of travel and stay during competition and training stints, as well as purchase of equipment.
It is over and above the central budget, which previous sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal told Lok Sabha on March 15, was Rs 750 crore (roughly $111 million) from the beginning of 2012 to December 31, 2015. Apart from the expenditure on athletes, that figure also includes the administrative costs incurred by 67 sports federations eligible for government grants.
And yet, the amount spent on TOPS in the run-up to the Games — approximately $5.5 million — is minuscule compared to what the rest of the world invested in their athletes. According to reports, Great Britain spent $350 million on 374 athletes who travelled to Rio while Australia splurged $332 million between the London and Rio Olympics.
Sports Minister Vijay Goel acknowledged the gap between India and the rest of the world, saying his ministry is currently preparing fresh estimates. “If we want to broad-base our sport, we need more budget to provide infrastructure, training and coaches for our athletes. So definitely, we need a bigger budget,” Goel told The Indian Express.
A glance through the sports ministry data on TOPS throws up some interesting trends.
The women’s relay squad — Tintu Luka, Nirmala Sheoran, Debashree Majumdar, M R Poovamma, Anilda Thomas and Ashwini Akkunji — was the biggest beneficiary. Poovamma received Rs 92.43 lakh, Majumdar got Rs 56.35 lakh, Akkunji was granted Rs 53.59 lakh and Thomas got Rs 39.05 lakh. On race day, Tintu (Rs 23.45 lakh) and Nirmala (Rs 30 lakh) were chosen ahead of Akkunji and Majumdar. However, their performance was much below expectation, with the team finishing 2 seconds slower than what they had recorded a month ago at the qualifiers.
Says Akkunji, “Out of that amount, we got just Rs 3 lakh each, which was the pocket money for three months from June to August. The rest was spent directly by the government on our training and competition. That is my understanding.”
She adds, “We can’t complain about the funding this time. But it could have been done in a more planned manner.”
In his review report, Sports Authority of India (SAI) Director General Injeti Srinivas concluded that the relay team’s performance was “disappointing to say the least”, and highlighted the below-par performances of athletes in several disciplines.
While it is difficult to quantify money with medals directly as there are many more variables to it, and winning an Olympic medal isn’t the only measure of the success of investment made in grooming athletes, the data gives an indication of the priorities of the government as well as federations in the build-up to the Olympics.
Of the Rs 36.85 crore under TOPs, Rs 6.36 crore went to disciplines that came close to meeting their targets (badminton: Rs 3.84 crore and wrestling: Rs 2.52 crore). Out of that, Rs 61.13 lakh went to the two medal winners — Rs 45.27 lakh for badminton silver medal-winner Sindhu and Rs 15.86 lakh for Sakshi, who won the bronze in wrestling.
Approximately Rs 30.49 crore went to disciplines that fell far short of goals. Discus thrower Vikas Gowda, who received Rs 1.02 crore, was among the athletes who the ministry projected had an outside chance to win a medal. However, he finished 28th in his event, with a throw of 58.99m — way below his personal best of 65.75m.
The 12 shooters who travelled to Rio received Rs 15.39 crore, with 10 of them getting more than Rs 1 crore each. At the same time, shooting is also among the most expensive sports, considering the equipment has to be imported — testing and purchasing ammunition is a costly affair, too.
Abhinav Bindra, who missed a podium finish by the narrowest of margins, got Rs 2.37 crore, according to ministry documents. It was the most among individual athletes overall.
The 16 Paralympians, in contrast, received approximately Rs 3.56 crore separately from the government, as on August 22. Gold medallist Mariyappan Thangavelu got Rs 13.19 lakh while bronze medal winner Varun Bhati received Rs 21.74 lakh.