The Army has always contributed sportsmen at national and international sports events. For the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, 12 Indian Army personnel formed part of the Indian contingent.
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
The 2021 Tokyo Olympics, delayed by a year because of the pandemic, included participation of 12 serving Indian Army personnel including Subedar Neeraj Chopra, VSM who won the first gold medal for India in athletics with his stupendous javelin throw of 87.58 metres. This seventh medal was a singular landmark with India never having won seven medals in one Olympic. Indian Army has been contributing personnel to India’s Olympic contingent since more than 90 years ago.
In 2001, ‘Army Sports Institute’ was established in Pune to tap sportspersons serving in the Army
The present generation perhaps became aware of Major Dhyan Chand of Indian Army because the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award has recently been renamed after Dhyan Chand though the Dhyan Chand Award for Life-time Achievement in Sports and Games had been instituted in 2016. Dhyan Chand known as the ‘Wizard of Hockey’ because of his extraordinary goal-scoring feats earned three Olympic gold medals during 1928, 1932 and 1936. He attracted Hitler’s personal attention during the 1936 Berlin Olympics and his influence continued in the Indian hockey team as India won gold medals in seven of the eight Olympics from 1928 to 1964.
Milkha Singh from Army’s Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering of Indian Army is better known to youth of today as many would have watched the Bollywood movie ‘Bhag Milkha Bhag’. Milkha Singh known as the ‘Flying Sikh, won gold medals in 400 metres race in the 1958 and 1962 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. He represented India in the 1960 Olympics in Rome and 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. He died of Covid-19 complications on June 18 this year at the age of 91. Then is Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore from the Army who became the first shooter from India to bag the silver medal in shooting at the 2004 Olympics held in Athens. He later served as the Union Minister for Sports.
For the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, 12 Indian Army personnel formed part of the Indian contingent. Serving in the Army in various ranks, these included: Neeraj Chopra, Avinash Sable, Sandeep Kumar and Gurpreet Singh in Athletics; Amit Panghal, Manish Kaushik and Satish Kumar in Boxing; Pravin Jadhav and Tarundeep Rai in Archery; Arjun Lal Jat and Arvind Singh in Rowing, and Vishnu Saravanan in Sailing.
The Army has always contributed sportsmen at national and international sports events. ‘Boys Sport Companies’ recruited youth and facilitated their soldiering and sports drills. In 2001, ‘Army Sports Institute’ was established in Pune to tap sportspersons serving in the Army and young talented boys of Boys Sports Companies; training physically fit boys aged 11 to 15 in seven sports - archery, athletics, boxing, diving, wrestling, fencing and weightlifting.
In 2016, the Army launched ‘Mission Olympics 2020’ under which potential kids were identified, employed, given the best of diet, coaching, infrastructure and incentives - medals too as incentive for promotion. Subedar Neeraj Chopra is product of Army’s ‘Mission Olympics 2020’.
Neeraj achieved a world record of 86.48 metre javelin throw in the 2016 IAAF World Under-20 Championship. In 2018, he won gold medals both in Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. He is one of two Indians winning individual Olympic gold medal, the other being Abhinav Bindra in shooting in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Neeraj is the youngest-ever Indian gold medalist in an individual event and the only one to have won gold in his Olympic debut. Being 23 year old, he has the potential to win many more medals for India.
The Indian Army has always delivered in every field including in sports. That is why a post on social media reads - Finally Army had to be called in on the last day to win Olympic Gold. But the irony is that as a country we are doing little to promote excellence in sports. Neeraj Chopra’s 58-year old German coach Uwe Hohn holds the world record of javelin throw to distance of 104.80 metres – only man to do so. As a consequence, design of the javelin was changed by moving up the centre of gravity of the javelin by few inches so that it falls faster at a sharper angle.
In 2016, the Army launched ‘Mission Olympics 2020’ under which potential kids were identified, employed, given the best of diet, coaching, infrastructure and incentives
Hohn gave an interview to an Indian daily in June 2021 saying both the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and Athletics Federation of India (AFI) did not do enough to prepare athletes for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, diet given by SAI not fit for athletes - Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) athletes handpicked by the Sports Ministry also struggle to get diet supplements, and that the only reason Neeraj Chopra could travel to Europe for training and competitions leading up to the Olympics was because of ‘JSW Sports’ private enterprise that supports the Asian and Commonwealth gold medal winner.
Expectedly the ‘whitewash brigade’ went after Hohn with a vengeance. But at the reception for the Olympic contingent at Hotel Ashok, New Delhi when Chairman AFI took credit for himself claiming athletes-players were provided excellent support for the Tokyo Olympics, Aditi Ashok, 23-years old golfer who missed the bronze medal just by one putt interjected and said she was put up 75 miles away from the golf course, her requests for accommodation closer fell on deaf ears and she had to get up every day at 2-3 am in order to reach on time for her game while other international players were staying 2-minutes away from the venue.
AFI is directly responsible for loss of Aditi’s medal for India. Aditi perhaps spoke because she is the daughter of an Army officer but knowing the system may not be included in the Indian contingent for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Witness the suspension of Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik by the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), one of the charges against Vinesh being that she wanted to practice with “her own coach” – reminds one of the Bollywood movie ‘Dangal’.
The only reason Neeraj Chopra could travel to Europe for training and competitions leading up to the Olympics was because of ‘JSW Sports’ private enterprise
Ironically, the state of our government institutions leaves much to desire no matter who is ruling. Politicians only want to hog the limelight without ensuring adequate support. According to a participant in the Rio Olympics, selectors demand money though not from established sportspersons. The common belief is that every Indian sportsperson is on his or her own, and the organization stinks with nepotism, politics, partiality, favoritism, lack of support– even proper nourishment and supplements. One suggestion is privatisation of sports - by professional civil bodies supported by the corporate.
The euphoria over winning seven medals in Tokyo is good. But being the second most populous country globally with the largest youth pool in the world, how do we view winning 7 medals (1 gold, 2 silver, 4 bronze) first time ever versus 88 of China (38 gold, 32 silver, 18 bronze) in Tokyo Olympics? Are we happy with so many smaller nations above us in Olympics medals tally and India’s ranking of 48 in Tokyo Olympics? Are we destined to mediocrityor can we usher a Revolution in Sports Affairs? We do have the capacity to be in the top rung of sporting nations in Olympics provided we can get our act together.