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We are hopeful of medals in Tokyo Olympics but focus is on Paris 2024 and LA 2028: Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju

India has been participating in the Olympics for a very long time but our results have been limited to hockey and some individual sports such as shooting, badminton, wrestling and boxing. We have had a limited presence. This base needs to be broadened. We can’t go to the Olympics hoping to win only one or two medals, said Minister of Youth Affairs & Sports Kiren Rijiju.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Feb 22, 2020, 11.00 PM IST
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Rajiju---BCCL
Minister of Youth Affairs & Sports Kiren Rijiju (File Pic)
India has not done well in sports because of lack of training facilities and coaches. But the government is keen on changing that, says Minister of Youth Affairs & Sports Kiren Rijiju. In an interview with Prerna Katiyar, the MP from Arunachal (West) explains what his ministry is doing to improve the country’s medal prospects and ensure sporting associations are run efficiently. Edited excerpts:

What are India’s chances at the Tokyo Olympics, which starts in July?

India has been participating in the Olympics for a very long time but our results have been limited to hockey and some individual sports such as shooting, badminton, wrestling and boxing. We have had a limited presence. This base needs to be broadened. We can’t go to the Olympics hoping to win only one or two medals. That is why the preparation for Tokyo is in full swing. We have inculcated scientific training methods and a support system. We are creating the best possible environment for our sportspersons. We are in the process of sending the largest Olympic contingent ever. At the same time, you can’t produce champions in one or two years. That takes eight to 10 years. I had very limited time (of one year) for Tokyo 2020 when I took charge. I have tried to make the best use of the time and resources we had. But the real task we have will be after Tokyo 2020 — for Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028. That is when the talent we are scouting and training now will bring in results. More than 50,000 young sportsperson are undergoing training at national camps. The PM had set up an Olympic task force in 2017 and we are implementing its recommendations. I am confident all these efforts will bear fruit.

In which sporting disciplines do we have better chances?

We have identified 14 disciplines, including wrestling, boxing, weightlifting, athletics, badminton, table tennis, archery, shooting, fencing and hockey.

What are India’s chances of a gold medal this time?
I will be very careful in answering that. We must go fully prepared. But to predict how many gold medals we will win is not wise. I should not name any athlete just like that.

Are you satisfied with the kind of budgetary support you get?

We saw a huge jump in budgetary support, a jump of close to Rs 1,000 crore. It was a huge rise from 2018-19 to 2019-20.

What is your ministry doing to fill the vacancies of coaches and improve training facilities?

The lack of training facilities and coaches has been our key failure. Now we are improving on both fronts. We are looking at sports science, nutrition, bringing in worldclass coaches, trainers, physios and strength conditioning experts. All these have made a tremendous impact. Look at our hockey team — both men and women. They are beating the world’s number one team.

What do you have to say to Pakistan PM Imran Khan congratulating his kabaddi team for defeating an ‘unofficial’ Indian team at a ‘world championship’ event there?

The players who went to Pakistan and participated in the tournament are not recognised Indian players. They did not go with the permission of the ministry or the kabaddi federation. They have no right to participate as the Indian team. So how can Imran claim Pakistan has defeated the Indian team? If they went to Pakistan as private citizens — because visa is a sovereign privilege of that country — and played there, what can we do? The prime minister of Pakistan, a sportsperson himself, should not have made such statements.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India has come under the National Anti-Doping Agency’s ambit but it is not yet under the sports ministry. Do you think that will happen anytime soon?

Many sports in India are not recognised by the Olympics committee or the ministry. We support all these games. But in terms of administrative, financial or technical support, we will support only Olympic or traditional indigenous sports. Cricket is neither. So we are not so concerned about it.

Talking about indigenous sports, the Northeast has numerous games of its own that need recognition. Similarly, many southern states have their own talent in certain events that are not recognised at the national level. What is the ministry doing on this front?
We have recognised events that are not part of the Olympics but are traditional games. Kabaddi, for example, is now an Asian Games event. Similarly we are supporting mallakhamb (pole gymnastics), kho-kho, kalaripayattu and kantha of Manipur. We are providing funding for these games. National federations have been created and contests are being held.

How do you plan to tackle drug abuse, foul play and sabotage that affect sportspersons?

I am very careful in creating a kind of protocol where an athlete’s life is not spoilt by any malicious work or foul play. Athletes work so hard. But due to wrong instructions or some unfortunate events, their careers can come to an abrupt end. We are careful in monitoring and guiding them. My priority is clean sports.

But mismanagement in federations, especial factional feuds, continue to hurt the interests of sportspersons.

Every federation has to be run democratically. Some factionalism is likely when there is an election process in any federation. If the losing group goes to court, we cannot intervene. If the situation becomes bad, we derecognise these federations. Then we can’t fund them and the players are forced to play under an independent flag. I want every Indian to play under the Indian flag. If any federation is suspended, we take over. I will then have to ask Indian Olympics Association and Sports Authority of India, of which I am the chairman, to form an ad hoc committee for selection of players. Player selection is the duty of sports federations. We do not like taking over that job. That is how I want things to run. My request to all sports bodies is, please function with the intention of promoting sports; ensure there is transparency, accountability and good governance; please do not get into an ugly spat with each other and go to court or get suspended. Ultimately, the players and the country will suffer.

There was a talk of India boycotting the 2022 Commonwealth Games due to the exclusion of shooting, which got India 16 of the 66 medals it won during the 2018 event?

We are not boycotting CWG. That matter has been resolved.

What about corporate funding?

We are promoting the National Sports Development Fund for companies to fund sports under corporate social responsibility schemes. The finance ministry matches that funding. The progress has not been very encouraging.

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