Booting out presidents and secretaries from selection committees, putting an end of officials’ junkets, giving athletes stipends and job incentives, and implementation of the sports code. These are some of the top recommendations made by the Olympic Task Force to the prime minister’s office and sports ministry in an interim report that was submitted earlier this week.
Following India’s Rio Olympics debacle, Narendra Modi had announced the formation of a task force that was given the mandate to form a road-map for the next three Games. Abhinav Bindra, Pullela Gopichand and Viren Rasquinha were tasked with forming a short-term strategy for the Tokyo Olympics. A month’s extension has been granted for their suggestions to improve performance at the 2024 and 2028 Olympics. Here are a few key points that the task force has recommended:
While the core sports remain the same as identified by the sports ministry, the panel has recommended that archery, badminton, shooting and wrestling need a ‘professional set-up as early as possible’ as they are multi-medal prospects. Hockey has been included in the priority list as it is the only team sport that India competes in while athletics, tennis and weightlifting are seen to be important sports from participation point of view. The committee also identifies athletes in three categories: potential podium finish, potential final eight and participation.
This time last year, the talk wasn’t about how many medals India would win at the Rio Olympics. Rather, it centered around two wrestlers – Sushil Kumar and Narsingh Yadav – locked in a legal battle for one spot in the wrestling team. It was an energy-sapping saga and not the first time that team selection ruined India’s build up to the Olympics. Ahead of the London Games, the feuding tennis stars dominated the headlines.
To avoid such controversies in the future, the committee has suggested there should be ‘absolute clarity’ on this issue. “If an athlete wins an Olympic quota in a particular sport/event, will he/she be the one to go to the Olympics or will there be trials? This cannot be debated at the last minute,” the report reads.
To ensure transparency, the committee has also recommended that presidents and secretary generals of sports federations should not be a part of the selection committee. It has also been suggested that selectors should be paid for their roles.
On site kitchen
Athletes have often complained that food at the Games Village doesn’t suit their palate. At most of these events, India is the only country with vegetarian athletes and they limited options. So, the task force has recommended that a full-fledged kitchen should be set-up at a rented apartment adjacent to the athletes’ village during an event.
The committee has cited the example of Japan, who did the same at Rio. “The Japanese contingent could come 24/7 to get some Japanese food and hot snacks so that they did not feel home sick. There was a nutritionist there to guide the athletes on the right things to eat and to supervise the food preparation,” the report says.
The sports ministry had thought of renting an apartment and fly Indian chefs to Rio but the idea was dropped since there wasn’t enough time for them to implement it.
At the Olympics last year, two radiologists travelled to Rio as official team doctors. Neither were they sports medicine experts nor did they have any experience of working with the athletes before. The CBI is now probing how they became a part of the contingent. The task force has recommended that only those coaches and support staff members who have worked with an athlete for the months and years leading up to the event should accompany him. “Priority must be given to the athletes who have the best chance of a medal. There must be a proven record of the official having worked extensively with the athlete during the training camps,” the report says.
Incentives upto Rs 6 lakh
Insisting that most athletes spend their prime years representing the country, the task force has suggested that athletes who will form the core probables for the Tokyo Olympics be paid an annual stipend of Rs 6 lakh each. The athletes will be selected by the steering committee “Most of India’s athletes come from small towns and villages so for them this amount can be important. We want to make this aspirational,” Rasquinha says.
In addition to the stipend, it has been suggested that athletes should not be marked ‘absent’ by their employers even while preparing for national duty. Recently, footballer CK Vineeth was sacked by from his position of an auditor at Accountant General’s Office in Kerala due to poor attendance. Apart from this, all elite athletes and their coaches might be given a Pradhan Mantri Gold Card, which can be used to get emergency quota for air, train or bus tickets.
The committee has recommended that all stakeholders must follow the code, which deals with various governance-related issues. “Sports Code with regard to conduct of athletes, relationship with federations, right & obligations; risks & remedies must be clearly brought out.
All stakeholders must follow code,” the report states. The sports ministry had earlier this year decided to revamp the sports code after the Supreme Court upheld Lodha Committee’s recommendations for the BCCI. It was then locked in a litigation but the ministry is likely to present it before the Delhi High Court soon. The committee has said their suggestions ‘on this aspect will be included in the final report.’