AFI President Adille Sumariwalla: "The day is not far when India can expect an Olympic medal in Athletics"
He always leads from the front. Back in the day he was ahead of the pack, sprinting in front of all towards glory. Today he’s the head of the AFI, the president, pushing the athletics program of our country towards glory. Adille Sumariwala used to be a national level sprinter and he has carried his hard charging attitude towards success to the AFI.
He was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about athletics in India.
Q. How much has athletics progressed in terms of infrastructural development and governmental support since the time you ran?
There has been tremendous improvement in the last 5 to 7 years, especially in funding received for the Commonwealth Games and the London Olympic Games. Initiatives like The Olympic Gold Quest and Mittals Trust have also lent huge support to the government. Progress in athletics over the years has been outstanding thanks to the backing received. This is evident in the number of medals won at the Common wealth Games and also the the number of Indians in the top 15 athletes in the world. I am extremely happy and proud that we manged to secure the 7th place in women’s discuss throw event. Vikas Gowda has made a splash too.
Q. How much have companies like OGQ helped the cause?
OGQ has done an outstanding job in shortlisting the right athletes and supporting them all the way. The federations are doing their bit. However, there is a gap in terms of international level training facilities, coaches, etc. This gap is filled in by OGQ. The best part about OGQ is that it is run by a bunch of people who understand the sport. People like Prakash Padukone and Viren Rasquinha have played sports for years and understand the need of say, an extra coach, or world class training facilities, etc. as they have already been there and done that.
Q. When can India expect an Olympics gold medal in Athletics?
The day is not far when India can expect an Olympic medal in Athletics. There are a couple of things that we need to do with the structure. The recent performance shows that we definitely have the potential to be at the top.
Q. Some athletes have to spend out of their own pocket to cover their expenses. How do you think we can find ways to help them?
Basic expenditure of the athletes is covered by the government. Rs 1 crore was spent on shooters like Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang each. It is absolutely incorrect when people claim that they have spent out of their own pockets. In 2010, the government spent 350 crores on the Commonwealth Games. Organizations like OGQ and Mittals Trust also take care of all the expenditures. If an athlete says that he or she spent out of his or her own pockets, maybe he or she did that for things over and above what the government compensates them for.
Q. Your opinion on shifting the focus on juniors as opposed to seniors?
The problem is that we only want to focus on champions, on medal winners. Barring a few corporates, nobody is ready to invest money on new talent except for the government. The private sector has failed sport. They need to pull up their socks. We do not need money from them. What we need is infrastructural support. For example, if we need an office space, the private sector should provide us with one, staff should be provided, international level coaches should be brought in by them, players tickets and other travel arrangements should be made by them. Today, when people give money to the federations, they do not trust that the money is being spent in the right areas. The federations are then put under the scanner. By directly investing in infrastructure, the private sector can be rest assured that their money is being put to good use. The governments new initiative, OPEX 2020, ought to bear fruits soon. Hopefully by Rio we shall see its results. I hope they start with junior athletics coaching camps. Since the last few years, owing to CWG and Olympics, focus has only been on seniors. The junior program has suffered immensely. A serious dip in performance will take place if we do not concentrate on the juniors.
Q. What can be done about wrong reports by the media which hurt the credibility of our athletes and staff?
The media has created a monster out of the federations. Nothing is ever enough. In this country, there is nothing like satisfaction. It is made out like if I have 2 coaches, I will want 3. Once I have 3 coaches, I will want 2 masseurs. After that I will want a psychologist. After that I will want my wife, and with her I will want my kids. There never is an end to the things we want. It is very easy ripping the federations, the coaches, the players, etc.
Things are blown out of proportion. One needs to first understand the scenario the different subjects under scrutiny are place in, understand what happened. Negative publicity does not help the sport. It just drives sponsors away, thereby jeopardizing the athlete’s careers. Instead of highlighting the athletes, they are constantly putting them down. That is definitely not what the sport needs. A balanced approach is the need of the hour.
With such a driven leadership at the helm, the prospects of our country to achieve our goals at Rio seem good. Let’s hope the vision put forward by Adille Sumariwalla can be realized soon.