Time to up ante on grassroot sports
Grassroots programmes. Catch them young schemes. Proper training under professional coaches and single-minded devotion.
Grassroots programmes. Catch them young schemes. Proper training under professional coaches and single-minded devotion. These are some of the oft-repeated jargon in Indian Olympic sports that have been trying to emerge from the labyrinth of dejection and despair.
The Tokyo Games, where India won seven medals including a gold, has definitely acted as a soothing balm, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done. And strong grassroots programmes are an integral part of that cog. Shaili Singh embodies the successful pursuance of such a programme. She jumped 6.59 m on Sunday for silver at the World Athletics U20 championships. India ended with three medals for the first time too. Neeraj Chopra, who won gold at the same event in 2016, went on to become an Olympic champion. Shaili has taken a strong first step at the age of 17.
What is heartening is that Shaili is a complete homegrown product, meticulously crafted by two of India’s greatest long jump exponents. One is a coach, Robert Bobby George, and the other a former athlete, his wife Anju Bobby George, who happens to be the only World Championship medallist from this country. The two spotted Shaili when she was 14. They brought her to the Anju Bobby George academy in Bengaluru. They worked on Shaili without over-burdening her, technically and scientifically. No foreign coach. All stakeholders like the Athletics Federation of India and the Sports Authority of India lent them support. In fact, AFI has one of the largest grassroots competitions in the country called National Inter-District Junior Athletics Meet (NIDJAM). That’s where Neeraj was spotted. That’s where Shaili too was picked.
There are good instances of strong grassroots programmes in India. In badminton, P Gopichand has managed to help produce Olympic and world championships medallists like Saina Nehwal and P V Sindhu. The Chhatrasal wrestling academy has produced Olympics medallists like Ravi Dahiya. There are centres in Haryana where the wrestling mat has replaced mud. There are academies in a few other sports like shooting and boxing. But for India to produce more champions, the base has to broaden with more players trying to break each others’ hegemony. There should be a bunch of athletes, not one or two sporadic instances of success.