Target Olympic Podium Scheme: A Mess, From Top to Bottom

Ambitious sports ministry scheme to boost Olympic medal count under fire for depriving athletes of funds & Inclusion of undeserving names

Published: 30th October 2015 04:36 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th October 2015 04:36 AM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI:  The controversy surrounding the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) is refusing to die. Some of the top athletes of the country expressed their displeasure over it with one even calling it a ‘flop’. When all athletes around the world have started preparing for the Olympics, Indian athletes are not even sure whether they would be able to train with the coach of their choice or in the country they want to train. Interestingly, more than other streams, track and field athletes and some shooters are the ones facing a lot of problem.

“Athletes from around the world will start preparing for the Olympics next month, but in India, top athletes don’t even know where they will train or with whom,” said a senior athlete.

Manpreet.jpgIt has been learnt that due to athletes’ grievances the ministry is even contemplating on shifting the scheme to the Sports Authority of India for proper monitoring. Ministry officials, however, felt it was not entirely the ministry’s 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.

However, athletes aren’t convinced. National shot put champion Inderjeet Singh, who was the first Indian track and field athlete to qualify for the Rio Olympics, blamed the ministry. “No one can run such a scheme (TOP) with bureaucrats,” he said. He had  requested the ministry to clear his proposal, wherein he had wished to train at Aphelion Athletics Club, Pennsylvania (US), in August. But he is still  awaiting the ministry’s clearance.

“I submitted my application and other documents to the ministry in August but they sat on the files. Only after media pressure, the files started moving. But the response lasted for a short time. I had to keep pursuing. It’s not easy for an athlete to train, compete and then run to babus. Government finally sanctioned it on October 15 but till now I haven’t got a single penny,” he told Express from Bhiwani.  According to sources close to the athlete, sanction was obtained after he threatened to pull out of Rio Olympics. 

Asian Games gold medallist Seema Antil Punia termed the scheme a ‘flop’. “It looks good only on paper. I  repent signing up for the scheme, which had a clause that we can’t receive funds from other sponsors or organisations. They have left us in the lurch. Athletes like me are ruined. I’ve been writing to the ministry for the last one year but they are not listening,” she said.

Another shocking fact is that some of the athletes who have already qualified for Rio Olympics are not being listed under the scheme. Shot putter Manpreet Singh Kaur, who set a national record to qualify for Rio, and walkers Baljinder Singh and Chandan Singh are still not included.

“We approached the ministry officials but no one listens to us. As a result, she still trains in Patiala with her own money,” said Karamjeet Singh, husband-cum coach of Manpreet.

Neither  the Athletics Federation of India nor the sports ministry has been able to reveal the reason behind this.  They can’t comprehend the logic behind including quarter-milers like Sini Jose and Ashwini Akkunji, who haven’t run below 55s in the last two season, either.

If sources are to be believed, the scheme will slowly be handed over to the SAI. “This is what happens. Whenever ministry feels things are getting out of hand, it will shift it to sports authority,” said an official.

won’t be able to spare time: bindra  

New Delhi: Star shooter Abhinav Bindra has decided to quit the Target Olympic Podium Committee. In a letter to TOP Committee chairman Anurag Thakur, Bindra said that he has decided to resign from the panel as he will not be able to spare time for a “meaningful contribution” to the scheme in view of his preparations for Rio Olympics. “I am completely engrossed in my training,” he wrote.

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