CWG silver lining: Increased funding for Indian sport

By Abhishek Roy, IANS,

New Delhi : A year after the 19th Commonwealth Games (CWG), India’s athletes are reaping the benefits of their good showing. A willing government has earmarked a record Rs.260 crore ($53 million) for training and competition ahead of the London Olympics.

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India’s best-ever CWG showing fetched the country a whopping 101 medals and helped it finish second in the medals standing. That performance was encouraging enough for the government to open its purse strings under its Opex London 2012 programme to fund anyone who has a chance of qualifying for the Olympics and the likelihood of winning a medal.

National sports federations may have been up in arms against the sports ministry over the proposed controversial National Sports Development Bill, but they all thank the sports minister in private for being so generous.

“The government is providing quality training to the athletes preparing for the 2012 London Olympics and hopes to win medals in quite a few of the 16 disciplines in which India is taking part. There are 26 disciplines in the London Olympic Games and India should make it for 16,” said Sports Minister Ajay Maken.

The ministry has spent Rs.6.87 crore on 22 elite sportspersons who are medal prospects at the Olympics.

The assistance from the National Sports Development Fund is for customised training to the elite athletes, which would include extensive training abroad, the hiring of foreign/Indian personal coaches, competitions abroad and scientific back-up in terms of sports psychologists, physiotherapists and masseurs.

Shooters are the most favoured lot after India’s first-ever Olympic gold by Abhinav Bindra at Beijing in 2008 and Rajyavardhan Rathore’s silver four years earlier at Athens. And the biggest beneficiary is ace double trap shooter and Asian Games gold medallist Ronjan Sodhi, who has received a lion’s share of Rs.97.37 lakh from the Rs.6.87 crore financial assistance.

Sodhi says sportspersons have benefited immensely by the government funding after the New Delhi CWG.

“At the Commonwealth Games, the Indians proved their mettle and promised to do much more at other major international events. The government too was convinced and thus increased its funding for London. We are thankful to the sports ministry for helping us to prepare for the Games,” said Sodhi.

Besides Sodhi, former shooting world champion Manavjit Singh Sandhu has been given Rs.91.95 lakh while veteran trap shooter Mansher Singh has utilised Rs.47.25 lakh.

The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), which has been earmarked Rs.43.79 crore, said the government is helping them in every possible way and this is reflected in the results of shooters at various World Cups.

“We may have our differences with the sports ministry, but we are getting all help from it to prepare shooters for London. Nine shooters have already qualified for the Games and we are expecting another four or five berths. The government has also helped us get at least three foreign coaches and we shall get one more for skeet soon,” NRAI secretary Baljeet Singh Sethi told IANS.

India also did well in the track and field events at the CWG 2010 and the Asian Games a month later. Though a doping scandal shamed the country, the performance of long jumper Mayookha Johney and discus thrower Vikas Gowda lifted the spirits of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI).

AFI technical director M. L. Dogra said government funding has helped the federation to send athletes for exposure trips abroad.

“Around Rs.15.94 crore have been allocated for athletics and the athletes are training abroad for longer durations. Commonwealth Games discus gold medallist Krishna Poonia is training in the US and it is fully funded by the ministry. Vikas and Myookha have also performed well in the recently held World Championships in South Korea,” said Dogra.

Poonia (Rs.24.20 lakh) and national record holder Gowda (Rs.24.51 lakh) and shot putter Om Prakash Karhana (Rs.48.10 lakh) have benefited from the government’s Operation Excellence 2012.

Till now Gowda, quartermiler Tintu Luka, Om Prakash and walkers Gurmeet Singh and Babubhai Panocha have qualified for the Olympics and the AFI is expecting five-seven more athletes to book a London berth by June.

Government funding has also boosted national sport hockey, even as the men’s team, eight-time Olympic champions, is doing well in the run-up to Olympic qualifiers.

The government will be spending Rs.20.50 crore on hockey as both the men’s and the women’s teams gear up for the February qualifying tournament to be played here.

(Abhishek Roy can be contacted at [email protected])