For a nation with more than a billion people, India’s performances at the Olympics have been dismal. The country has had its share of good moments, but they have far too few in number.
Bindra 2008 shooting to win gold in 2008, PV Sindhu’s charge to the final in 2016 in Rio, and the hockey team's dominance in the middle of the 20th century are the cherished Olympic memories for every Indian fan. So why has India been unable to consistently deliver in the Olympics?
India has the potential to build a sound sporting ecosystem. The BCCI has proven that point in cricket. The country is a powerhouse of the sport and has systems in place which churn out talent year-in and year-out. But again, the only thing making that possible is a significant investment in the sport. The high volumes of investment is what has been lacking in other sports in the country.
With an aim to solve this problem, and promote sports at grass-roots level, the country launched the Khelo India program in 2018. The move, which was lauded by top athletes of the country, aims to revive the sports culture in India at a grass-roots level by building a strong framework for all sports played in our country and establishing India as a great sporting nation.
Let us take a look at how the Khelo India initiative has helped develop sports in India:
#5 Youth participation through Khelo India Games
The initiative has successfully been able to draw India’s youth to participate in sports other than cricket. The inaugural Khelo India School Games in 2018 saw 3,764 athletes participate via the program. Similarly, the Khelo India Youth Games, held in 2019 and 2020, witnessed the participation numbers rise up to 6,000 athletes from all over the country.
Lack of participation was considered to be the first hurdle in the process of promoting Olympic sports in India. Through Khelo India, more participation has helped create a pool of talent, from which promising athletes can be mentored and supported for the future.
In 2020, the Khelo India Winter Games were launched with an aim to promote winter sports in the country. The event was hosted at two venues - Leh and Jammu & Kashmir. The games included events like snow skiing, snow rugby, snow ice stock, snow baseball, snow mountaineering, snowshoe, ice hockey, figure skating, and speed skating.
#4 Building 'Excellence Centers' across the country
The initiative has emphasized the imparting of proper training for young athletes to help them develop their skills in their respective sports. For this reason, the Khelo India movement and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports established 143 Khelo India district centers across 7 states. The total budget allocated for this is a little over Rs 14 crore.
Apart from this, the MYAS also launched eight Khelo India State Centers of Excellence (KISCE) in Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala, Manipur, Mizoram, Odisha, Telangana, and Nagaland. The centers are to be run by the respective state governments and will provide coaches and training facilities to young athletes.
#3 India’s improved performance at Youth Olympics
India created history at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires where its athletes bagged a total of nev13 medals including 3 gold and 9 silver. This was India’s most successful outing at the Youth Olympics.
Although the Khelo India initiative was still new at the time, many of the athletes who won at the inaugural Khelo India Games represented India at the Youth Olympics. With more promising athletes set to come through in the upcoming editions of the Khelo India Games, India’s future looks bright when it comes to the Youth Olympics.
#2 Giving India its Olympic stars
The Khelo India games have provided India with athletes who have the potential to represent the country at global competitions like the Olympics and world championships. Shooting and weightlifting are prime examples. The duo of Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary, who will represent India at the Tokyo Olympics, have risen through the ranks with the help of Khelo India Games.
Bhaker is from Haryana and Chaudhary hails from Uttar Pradesh. Both of them won gold medals at their 10m air pistol events during the 2018 edition of the Khelo India Games. Indian swimmer Srihari Natraj also won medals at the 2018 Khelo India School Games. The swimmer from Bengaluru also broke the national 100m backstroke record at the games.
In weightlifting, Jeremy Lalrinnunga has caught the limelight with outstanding performances in various competitions. He became the first Indian to win gold at the Youth Olympics. Unfortunately, Jeremy missed out on a Tokyo berth at the very last minute.
#1 Nurturing future stars for 2024 and 2028 Olympics
The Khelo India initiative has given India a pool of sportspeople who have the skill to win on the big stage. Apart from the Olympians mentioned above, India has also seen the rise of individuals who will be medal hopefuls for the Olympic Games in 2024 and 2028.
Some of these stars include Lakshay Sen in badminton, Mehuli Ghosh in shooting, Komalika Bari in archery, and Nisar Ahmed, who went to train at the Racers Track Club in Jamaica, in athletics. All these athletes, given the right financial support and training, have the potential to win medals at the Olympic games in the future.
The Khelo India initiative has certainly laid out a framework for sports to develop in the country. The wheels have been set in motion. However, for the scheme to ultimately bear the results for India in future, it is imperative that it is effectively applied and the athletes are given the right support and are nurtured under proper supervision.