The massive contingents that India usually sends for international sporting events have finally come under scrutiny, with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) issuing guidelines that have reduced the contingent proposed for the Incheon Asian Games by 28 percent. The hardest hit are sports officials, who have seen their numbers slashed by 42 percent.
Minister of state (independent charge) for skill development, entrepreneurship and youth affairs and sports Sarbananda Sonowal made the decision in consultation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Modi reportedly travels light himself and has encouraged his ministers and top bureaucrats to keep overseas travel to the minimum. Now it appears this approach is being applied to sports contingents.
“Questioning the need for so many officials in the delegation, the PMO suggested that a minimum number of officials, without affecting performance of players, should be included,” an unnamed government official told The Hindustan Times.
The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) had proposed an initial figure of 944 – 662 athletes and 282 coaches/officials – but the sports ministry has cut this down to 679, including 516 athletes and 163 officials.
Following this reduction, India will participate in only 28 disciplines, down from 35 in 2010. Indian athletes will not participate in rugby 7s, 10-pin bowling, modern pentathlon, triathlon, soft tennis, fencing and beach volleyball – sports that are in any case not potential medal-winning sports for our athletes.
At the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, India had fielded a contingent of 933 – 609 athletes and 324 officials. For all these large numbers, the country won just 65 medals, including 14 gold.
Issuing guidelines for the selection of sports contingents in the future, the PMO said the principle of ‘no cost to government’ should not be a consideration while finalising the team.
“It also advised that the criterion for selection be finalised at least six months to a year before selection so that aspirants are able to achieve the benchmarks,” the official told HT.
The sports ministry has also blamed the IOA for not sending the contingent list at least 90 days prior to the event as per the guidelines. The IOA sent the list on August 21, just 4 weeks prior to the Games that start on September 19.
The IOA is yet to decide on its own delegation for Incheon. here is speculation that at least two officials from each discipline that India is taking part in will go, which would add another 56 more officials to the contingent.
In the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, India achieved its objective of finishing among the top five nations on the medals list. However, the arrest of two officials – Indian Olympic Association (IOA) Secretary General Rajiv Mehta and unattached international wrestling referee Virender Malik – on charges of alleged assault and drunk driving had embarrassed the entire nation.
“If their guilt is proven, stern action should be taken against the accused,” Olympian Harbhajan Singh told The Telegraph after the incident. “Athletes toil to win medals for the country in international meets or better the national record. Officials go abroad for shopping and entertainment.”
He gave another insight. “Vote politics in the main reason behind IOA sending officials abroad. The IOA keeps officials in good humour to win their votes,” he alleged.
With Modi stepping in, the number of officials and non-medal hopefuls has been successfully pruned for the upcoming Asian Games. Both the government and the IOA should now formulate a clear policy to limit the number of officials and delegates in any national contingent. If this creates streamlined and focused sports contingents in the future, the cause of Indian sports will be best served.