German legend Uwe Hohn has blown the whistle on India’s shambolic preparations for the Tokyo Olympics. The coach, whose ward, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, is the nation’s brightest Olympic prospect, has exposed how with less than two years to go, the three most important stakeholders of Olympic sports in India — the sports ministry, Sports Authority of India and the federation — aren’t working in sync. Hohn has raised issues that are as immediate as they are fundamental to India’s chances of winning its first-ever athletics medal.
Chopra competes in an event that is a stronghold of the Europeans. So when a foreign coach, brought in for top dollars, repeatedly pleads for better equipment and urgency in clearing foreign trips for Indian athletes, his concerns can’t be ignored. He isn’t rocking the boat, merely warning about the choppy waters ahead. Contrary to what the sceptics say, foreign coaches aren’t roped in because Indians are more deferential to them. They are repositories of expertise, with years of technical know-how that India’s pay-masters tend to wrongly dismiss when grudging them their high salaries. Chopra is up against odds that are unprecedented for Indian athletes — for, besides Anju Bobby George and Vikas Gowda in the last two decades, no one has really shown the potential to hit the highest notes in track and field. The 21-year-old and nine other javelin throwers from India need that backup that is commonplace in Germany and Finland.
The SAI and the sports ministry, cranking up focus on Khelo India in the name of grassroots development, routinely overlook the star athletes whose performance at the Olympics can amplify the reach of a sport at the bottom of the pyramid. It has needed non-profit organisations to step in and fill this gap because the government systems refuse to hurry up in comprehending the problems and then acting on them. Given the limited numbers of genuine Olympic contenders in India — even the most optimistic estimate wouldn’t take the count beyond 25 — it wouldn’t need an army of officials to be at their beck and call. If the prevalent system cannot even cater to the needs of one genuine bright spark in athletics for Tokyo 2020, there is an urgent need for the decision-makers to go into a huddle. The coach who once threw the spear 100 metres knows what it takes to break the barrier. The least the SAI could do is to listen to him.