All you need to know about the Indian government's Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS)

Top Row - from left - Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Achanta Sharath Kamal; Bottom row - From left - Neeraj Chopra, Mary Kom, Manu Bhaker
Top Row - from left - Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Achanta Sharath Kamal; Bottom row - From left - Neeraj Chopra, Mary Kom, Manu Bhaker

Sponsorship and funding remain an integral part of any sportsman's journey as they strive to accomplish their professional goals. In a country where the sporting landscape has been dominated by cricket for decades, it has been tough for other Indian sports and athletes to find sponsors with deep pockets to help them excel on the international stage.

In light of this and with the aim of improving India's performance at the Olympic Games, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports introduced the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) in September 2014. The scheme provides financial and other assistance to top athletes in the country, to help them reach the podium at the Olympics.

Athletes and parathletes are identified by the TOPS Elite Athletes’ Identification Committee and there is also a Mission Olympic Cell, a body whose sole focus is to help the athletes who are selected under TOPS.

Benefits and facilities for athletes under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme

The scheme has seen some reasonable success with TOPS Athletes P V Sindhu and Sakshi Malik winning medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics. At the 2016 Paralympic Games, the TOPS Athletes won two gold, one silver, and one bronze, while at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, 47 of 70 athletes who won medals were also TOPS athletes.

Some of the areas where the TOPS scheme and the MOC helps the athletes include

  • Training under reputed coaches at institutes having world-class facilities

  • Participation in international competition
  • Purchase of equipment
  • Services of support staff/personnel such as physical trainers, sports psychologists, mental trainers, and physiotherapists
  • Any other support specific to the sport discipline
  • Out-of-pocket allowance of Rs. 50,000/ a month to the athletes as an incentive

More than 100 Indian athletes/ teams covered under TOPS

Silver medalist PV Sindhu during the medal ceremony at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Silver medalist PV Sindhu during the medal ceremony at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

The SAI website lists 106 athletes/ teams from India as of February 2021 who are part of the current TOPS list - with sports such as archery, athletics, badminton boxing, shooting, table tennis, tennis, weightlifting, wrestling, hockey and para-sports covered. There have been some additions to the list since then - among them Indian tennis ace Sania Mirza.

Like any scheme where a committee has to decide who are medal-winning prospects, some athletes who have been left out of the scheme have criticized the process. But overall, the athletes selected seem to have a lot of appreciation for the efforts being made under the TOPS scheme.

The effectiveness of any scheme depends on how much of an impact it has on those for whom it is intended. And going by the words of Indian boxing legend Mary Kom and ace javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, the TOPS scheme seems to be hitting the mark.

The scheme's success has also inspired the Ministry to launch TOPS for junior athletes in August last year, with more than 250 youngsters being shortlisted with an eye on the 2024 and 2028 Olympics.

With India looking to send its largest contingent to the Games this year and aiming for double-digit medals for the first time at the Tokyo Olympics, the success of TOPS and similar schemes will go a long way in scripting future Indian successes at the biggest sporting stage on the planet.

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