The countdown for the Tokyo Olympics 2021 has started. More than 100 Indian athletes have booked their Tokyo berths. Whereas in a few weeks from now it will be clear as to whether India will be able to make its presence felt in the best possible manner in terms of podium finishes. Amidst this, in a bold move, the sports ministry has decided against sending any of its officials as part of the Tokyo Olympics delegation. Union Sports Minister, Kiran Rijiju took to Twitter to inform that the rationale behind the decision is to optimize the performance of the athletes by sending more support staff like physiotherapists, coaches, and doctors.
Mr. Rijiju's tweet says:- 'A decision is taken not to send any official from the sports ministry as a part of the delegation to the Tokyo Olympics except for the necessary protocol needs. We want to send more support staff such as coaches, physiotherapists, doctors to optimize the performance of the athletes'.More than the content, the intent per se of the decision should be construed as a huge transformative step in terms of the governance of the sport in the country. Whereas some may argue that the step has been necessitated by the changes and circumstances arising from the pandemic confronting India and the rest of the globe. It may also be argued that there is a fixed percentage of support staff that can accompany teams in the Olympics and one can't have more arguing that government delegation has been reduced. Amidst the pandemic, some of the credible reports say that Japan has asked for governments to reduce the size of the delegation to attend the Olympics and para Olympics games. Irrespective of these, this move is historic, much desired, and potentially a game-changer in many ways.
Firstly, my experience of having covered the games from the ground zero and observing the same for almost two decades now, ministry and other freeloaders were sore sights in most of these games. There was so much hectic lobbying, pulls, and pressures to accommodate government and sports bodies officials as the part of the delegation that focuses in terms of players' preparation and the required support staff went into total backburner. Every loophole in the accreditation manuals was applied to push one favourite candidate. There were officials who were part of the large entourage but when they did not get the daily passes they used to watch the events on the television sets in their hotels and roam around the city for the rest of the time.
Secondly, more than the impact this had in terms of the image of the contingent, it badly impacted the morale of the athletes who represented the country. Many of the athletes, both former and the present, privately used to vent their frustration on fighting tooth and nail for getting their coaches and support staff who are so crucial to the performance as part of the contingent. Many times they missed the bus. Ironically, unnecessary officials from the ministry and the IOA used to find the place easily.
Thirdly, a strong message which was badly missing but which has to be clearly sent was that the players who will be representing the country in the games are the ultimate VIPs and their optimization in terms of performance has to be the ultimate objective and providing the best possible congenial atmosphere to them in terms of preparation, support staff and exposure the crux of the process. The entire system which includes judicious use of funds should revolve around the same template.
The idea is to make the country of 130 crore strong people with a huge youth population base a strong sporting nation of the world. Incremental steps like these may not be populist and may ruffle feathers but will go a long way in bringing about transformative changes in terms of the governance of the sport of the country. In the longer run, this step should not be an aberration but should be institutionalized. The priority in terms of the composition of the delegation should be very clear.
At the heart should be the athlete who represents the country, the support staff which helps these athletes to give their best performance and minuscule proportion in terms of domain experts who gets to observe and coopt the best of the practices back into our system. Right now, we have a paucity in terms of such experts in the decision-making bodies of the governance of the sport.
To reach the desired stage mentioned above, we needed the first bold step in the direction. Sports Minister, Shri Kiran Rijiju should be commended for biting the bullet and making the intent clear. In sports governance, processes like these may pave way for conversion in terms of medals and performance later on.