'Top' Scheme For Olympics a Flop?
With eleven months to go for the 2016 Rio Olympics, a number of Indian athletes, do not have their training programme in place. The Sports Ministry's ambitious Target Olympic Podium or TOP scheme has proved to be a hurdle, rather than of any help, so far.
Inderjeet Singh. Shotputter. Proposed training programme in Pennsylvania - Rejected. (Inderjeet Singh may quit TOP Scheme)
Khushbir Kaur. Race Walker. Proposed training programme in Portugal - Rejected.
Pinky Jangra. Boxer. Proposed training programme in New Jersey - Rejected.
Arpinder Singh. Triple Jumper. Deadline to enroll in American academy under the world's best coach Jermy Fischer. Missed.
All four athletes are part of the Sports Ministry's ambitious Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme that promises to help India's athletes to prepare for next year's Olympics.
Initiated in 2014, with the likes of Olympic medallists Abhinav Bindra and MC Mary Kom, former All England champion Pullela Gopichand and Ex-Indian cricket captain Rahul Dravid in its selection committee, the scheme promised to help more than 75 shortlisted sportspersons, with a budget of Rs 40 to 45 crore.
But so far, it's been a hurdle, and barely of any help. The reason for the Sports Ministry rejecting all the above proposals is that government officials want to have their say in picking training centres and coaches for the athletes. The athletes, they say, can't have a say.
Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal though didn't see any problem in the issue. "My Ministry is very clear about this," Sonowal told NDTV in New Delhi. "They have to communicate with us. Whatever their problem is, we are ready to support them fully so that they can give their best."
Last month, Inderjeet Singh became the first Indian shotputter to qualify for the final of the World Championships in Beijing. He finished last. The India and Asia No. 1 realises that at the world stage the competition is at a different level, for which training abroad is essential.
Inderjeet has proposed a budget of Rs30 lakh for a period of three months for himself and his coaches, Pritam Singh and former Olympian Shakti Singh. Inderjeet was allotted an amount of Rs45 lakh under the TOP scheme, but his proposal was rejected. "They expect us to leave behind our coaches who we have trained with all our lives. How is that possible?" Inderjeet Singh told NDTV.
"If they want me to go with some new coach and not my own coaches, then I am going to quit the TOP scheme. We have never been made a part of these meetings. If the coach is for me, how can I not have a say in it?"
Infact, two months ago, then sports secretary, Ajit Sharan, had told NDTV that Inderjeet's problems would be addressed immediately. But since then, nothing has happened.
Boxer Pinky Jangra's problems are worse, as India's boxing federation is currently serving a ban, and is being operated by an ad-hoc body. That means she has no camps or competitions at home.
"If our federation wasn't banned, we would've got some foreign exposure," Pinky told NDTV from Jaipur. "The TOP scheme has not been of any help to me. If I receive even 20 per cent of what they promise, it will be of a big help."
Release of money from the TOP scheme was scheduled to have begun in January this year, but nothing of the sort has happened. And athletes like Inderjeet, Arpinder, Pinky and Khushbir, who need it the most, are the ones who are suffering the most.
The Sports Minister's optimism amidst the gloom and doom cannot be missed though. "We are aiming to win 10-plus medals in Rio," he said.