Our performance at the Rio Olympics has been disappointing. A country of 125 crore people should do better than have just two podium finishes. Our PM lost no time in announcing a task force to ensure that we do well in the “next three games” Such announcements might make good headlines but they are actually knee-jerk reactions. We need to learn from successful models in states such as Haryana — the only state that has given the country at least one Olympic medalist in the past three Olympics .
Having seen Haryana transform itself into a sports powerhouse in the last decade, I am not fully convinced with the PM’s approach that emphasises “effective participation” and “ruthless implementation”. Modi had raised the issue in one of his public meetings in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections and had suggested that we should take sporting talent from the armed forces and train them for a couple of years to produce Olympic champions. Unfortunately, his record in ensuring sporting successes for Gujarat, in his 12 year stint as the state’s CM, is a disappointing one. He has also failed to deliver on his promise of engaging the Indian Army in sports. The run-up to Indian’s participation in the Rio Olympics saw much mismanagement, a high-degree wrestling controversy and incidents of red tapism with most of the financial assistance coming only in the last eight months. After the Games, the Indian Railways, the country’s largest employer of national-level sportspersons, announced freezing of recruitment of such sportspersons in the group C and D categories.
In sports, unlike politics, there are no short cuts. Talent needs to be nurtured. Let us look at Haryana’s sporting success in the last decade. In the 2015 National Games, in which Haryana finished third with 107 medals, some districts in the state — Bhiwani for example — had more medalists than big states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan or Andhra Pradesh. But that wasn’t a one-off. Players from Haryana won 35 of the 101 medals won by the Indian players in the 2010 Commonwealth Games and 21 out of the 65 medals won by the Indian players in the 2010 Asian Games. Districts like Bhiwani and Rohtak would have topped nations like Pakistan in these games. In the 2008 Olympics, two of the three Indian medals came from Haryana while four of India’s six medalists were from, or associated with, Haryana. Twenty nine per cent of the Indian contingent at these games came from Haryana; the state accounts for just 2.1 per cent of the country’s population. Sakshi Malik from Rohtak made sure that Haryana was represented on the Olympic podium in the third consecutive Games.
India would be best served if other states, as well as the current government in Haryana, can learn from the achievements of the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government. Haryana’s success lies in understanding that achieving sporting excellence requires long-term planning. More than a decade ago, Haryana launched a policy to identify and promote sporting talent. This involves a sports and physical aptitude test that is mandatory for all school students in the state. Students are required to undergo a series of physical tests that ascertain their physical potential. The top performers become eligible for stipends ranging from Rs 1,500 per month to Rs 2,000 per month (14-19 years). They are also provided free national-level coaching, sports equipment, and access to government infrastructure.
Haryana authorities also focused on creating new sports infrastructure, especially in rural areas. During this period, Haryana became the first state to set up modern sports stadiums in each of its administrative blocks. Two hundred and twenty-six Rajiv Gandhi sports complexes at the block levels were built and augmented with 232 rural sports stadiums at the village-level. Six international level sports complexes were built at the district-level. The focus was on ensuring that the coaches and support staff at the stadiums were passionate about their job.
However, the most essential aspect of the Haryana model derives from the idea that even relatively modest sporting success should ensure livelihoods to sportspersons when they hang up their boots. Haryana became the first state in the country to launch the “padak lao, pad pao” scheme — career opportunities in the government sector were guaranteed to the medal winners in the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, other international events and the National Games. Over 500 players from the state have been employed by the Haryana Police Department. Wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, boxer Vijender Singh, the captain of the women’s hockey team Mamta Kharab and the captain of the men’s hockey team Sardara Singh, cricketer Joginder Sharma are serving Haryana Police DSPs. Hopefully, Sakshi Malik will join them soon. Hundreds of lesser-known sportspersons are also serving with the Haryana Police — and other government departments. Yogeshwar Dutt was, in fact, appointed as a DSP in the Haryana Police based on his potential four years before he won India an Olympic medal.
We need to give our champions “tireless support” and not just demand “ruthless implementation”, if we want to them to be world-beaters. Let’s celebrate their wins but not abandon them when they disappoint us — and themselves.