System beats Abraham and others; Tintu Luka’s build-up far from ideal

“Everything in India is unplanned,” says Manisha Malhotra.

A large majority of the Indian sportspersons would agree with her as they look back at the way the Olympic qualification build-up had been gone through or how the final preparations for the London Games had progressed.

Being the CEO of the Mittal Champions Trust which has spent Rs 4.5 crore this year alone in supporting Olympic sports in the country, apart from being a former tennis Olympian, Manisha knows a thing or two about sports administration in India.

Long-term planning is alien to Indian sports administration, federations and government agencies included. Even if high- sounding schemes like LTDP (long term development plan) are there on paper, nothing much comes out of them. Invariably there is a last-minute rush to get proposals cleared.

Dejected

Not unexpectedly, a horde of athletes has been left dejected since they could neither have enough domestic competitions nor get support for entering competitions abroad. The support was not just about finances.

It required detailed event-wise, athlete-specific build-up, not eleventh-hour telephone calls to China, Sri Lanka or Italy to get entries organised.

At the height of competition elsewhere in the world, our athletes were being “roasted” in 45-46 degrees temperature at the National Institute of Sports (NIS), Patiala for all of two months — training.

There was desperation in the attempts that athletes like Asian Games 400m hurdles champion Joseph Abraham, and top 400m runner P. Kunhumohammed, made towards attaining qualification standards.

Eventually, they ran out of time.

It was not just Abraham and Kunhumohammed who were beaten by the system. There were several others, too, especially the rest of the men’s 4x400m relay team and middle distance runners Sajeesh Joseph and Sinimole Paulose, who spent from their pockets to try their luck at qualification in Europe, and failed.

Professional athletics is not yet part of the Indian scene yet. It is largely government-funded. The MCT and the Olympic GoldQuest have chipped in usefully to fill some vacuum that the government has left.

Yet a lot many were left fuming in the end, whether it be because of lack of modern bows for archers, adequate shuttlecocks for the badminton players, nourishing, hygienic food for the wrestlers and athletes, walking shoes for the walkers or optimum exposure for swimmers and athletes.

Enormous cost

The old system of ‘proposals and clearance’ continued despite a new name, OPEX London 2012, for the Teams Wing of the SAI. Even those proposals that did not look likely to yield dividends were approved at enormous cost.

“No one wanted to raise questions when it came to Olympics preparations,” said a SAI official.

With an Olympic budget of Rs. 258 crore at its disposal, from April, 2011 to August, 2012, funds were aplenty.

The Eldoret (Kenya) experiment with four woman middle distance and distance runners training under a reputed Italian coach (Claudio Beradelli) since last December was a failure.

Only steeplechaser Sudha Singh made the Olympic grade; distance runners Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut failed. Middle distance runner O.P. Jaisha suffered a stress fracture and had to return home.

No one seemed to have asked questions why triple jumper Renjith Maheswary should go to Italy to train with an Indian ‘sparring partner’ (Ankit Sharma) along with a foreign coach who was hired to train Indians at home.

There were other examples, too, where government sanctioned huge amounts from the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) while it differentiated between a ‘core probable’ and an athlete from the ‘developmental group’ in doling out food and supplements!

Athletes like Abraham and Kunhumohammed could have done with more opportunities. Had there been proposals in time, the ministry might have cleared. But lack of vision dashed their dreams as well as that of several others.

Apathy

A classic case of apathy towards a young talent was that of Tintu Luka, protégé of P.T. Usha. The talented 800m runner could manage only three competitions abroad; that too after Usha was forced to cross many a hurdle.

Understandably, Usha was frustrated but expressed helplessness. Getting entries in top-level meets was difficult.

There was no point in going to places where the best runner was in the 2:01-range.

“I tried my best to provide Tintu the right exposure abroad,” said Usha.

Ending up the loser

Caught in a situation where she could neither afford to reject federation support nor fully depend on it, Tintu ended up the loser, her Olympic build-up, with competitions spaced out far between, far from being ideal.

“We are already well into our planning for the 2014 Asian Games,” says Manisha.

The SAI and the ministry are counting the number of qualified sportspersons for the London Olympics.

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