For long, the sports ministry’s Target Olympic Podium scheme has been chastised for red-tapism and inefficiency in execution. So much so that the Sports Authority of India was given the mandate to oversee its functioning after several athletes termed the ambitious policy a ‘flop’ owing to long delays on the government’s behalf in releasing funds.
However, that could all change for Rio-bound athletes following the sports ministry decision to do away with bureaucratic hurdles and ensure all those who have qualified for the Olympics receive prompt support under TOPS. Subsequently, it has been decided that the athletes will be given 90 percent of their entitled amount up front, without them having to provide necessary documents at the time. Remaining 10 percent can be availed at a later date after they justify their expenses.
Sports secretary Rajiv Yadav said they decided to go ‘paperless’ to ensure there are no delays in releasing funds. “We are doing away with the paperwork. We were having continuous interactions from the athletes and on the basis of the feedback they gave, we realised they found it time-consuming. At this stage, it is necessary they focus only on their preparations so we decided to make this exemption,” Yadav said.
Seventy Indian athletes have qualified for the Games, to begin in August, in six disciplines so far. Apart from the 32 hockey players (men and women), all sportspersons are eligible for financial aid under TOPS. Previously, the ministry disbursed the amount in three installments — 30 percent up front, 40 percent upon producing actuals and the remaining 30 percent towards the end.
That drew a lot of flak from the athletes, who complained of long delays and receiving financial help. “We hope this will help in solving their problems. Each sport has a mentor, a SAI project officer, who is helping them with whatever they need,” Yadav said.
There is a renewed focus on TOPS after the Prime Ministers’ Office got involved in the process, asking the ministry for regular updates. The PMO, it is reported, took cognizance of the issue after being informed about the long delays and is now closely monitoring the scheme. The sports ministry has maintained that the delay wasn’t their fault. They felt if the proposals of the athletes were not satisfactory they generally withhold the money. As per the TOP scheme rules, athletes have to furnish all details including the coach’s name, venue and duration of the programme, apart from expected budget.
The TOPS committee also decided to drop nine athletes from its list following a recent review by chairperson Anju Bobby George. Athletes who have failed to qualify for the Olympics have been dropped, with more names likely to be excluded soon. Boxer Vijender Singh, who turned professional earlier this year, was formally removed from the list although he did not take any financial help from the government while chasing his pro dream. Apart from Vijender, the other athletes who have been axed are Mandeep Kaur (athletics), Guru Sai Dutt (badminton), Sharath Gayakwad (para-swimming), Sanjeev Rajput, Swetha Choudhary, Vijay Kumar, Rahi Sarnobat and Aneesa Sayeed (all shooting).