Indian Gymnastics: Is It Set For A Revival?

Each time India participates in the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics, the tally of medals for India is always questioned.

Till date, India has only won 22 medals in all the Olympic games combined, whereas the United States of America has won 2500 medals till date.

India always under-performs and if we manage to win a few medals; we are overjoyed at the victory and consider it our “best performance”.

Countries such as North Korea, Morocco, Kenya, Ethiopia, and other small nations perform better than India at international events. Not to mention, the participants from other nations such as China, Japan, and Germany are provided with the right training facilities and the equipment, from an early age.

Germany is highly competitive in athletics and their Olympic medal tally till date is 1260. Japan’s ultra-modern facilities had attracted athletes for training from Germany, Britain, Sweden, and the Netherlands during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Government bodies, such as China’s General Administration of Sport, allocates enough funds to train athletes and even takes special efforts to find young competitors who are worthy of training for certain sports.

People are sent to scout for children who can participate in particular sports. These children are then specially trained to be internationally competitive.  The Chinese government itself has invested and opened up numerous sports training centres. The Chinese are aggressive, they play gold-oriented sports. More than 200,000 athletes are trained in these government schools, keeping only the Olympic gold in mind.  China is a developing nation like India, yet it allocates much more than 130 million US dollars per year on boosting sports within the nation. Although the Chinese government has faced flak by some Chinese intellectuals for the excessive spending on sports, they continue to push their athletes.

Sadly, Indian families and schools encourage academics over sports. Majority of the children are propelled to focus on studies and secure well-paying jobs. The few well-to-do Indians, who encourage sports, propel their children into taking up more financially lucrative sports such as cricket and squash. In the race for glamour and glory, nascent sports such as gymnastics lose out. Additionally, underprivileged athletes who are talented but are unable to finance their sporting dreams, are forced to give up midway because of lack of finances and proper nutrition to build up physical fitness. The few who struggle ahead manage to win us a bronze or a silver medal through their blood and sweat.

If only teachers and physical trainers in schools, along with the moral support of the parents, helped students to pursue sports seriously, then we could produce more capable and fit athletes.

The Indian government too, does little to help. Even in 2012, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, allocated only Rs. 1,152 crores to the Sports Ministry when the budget for sports was expected to be approximately Rs. 4,000 crores.

India’s performance in gymnastics up until the 2010 Commonwealth Games was nothing to write about until, Ashish Kumar, a young lad, won the country’s first bronze and silver medals in gymnastics since the Games began in 1930.

Despite the challenges that he has faced, Ashish owes all his success to his coaches. His Russian coach, Vladimir Chertkov, said that the Indian gymnastics scene is set to grow.

Ashish’s win has made him more convinced of this real possibility. However, he also regrets the loss of the gold because of bureaucratic negligence and the late arrival of equipment for the Games. He feels that even though the games were held on home ground, the Indian officials did not make use of this golden opportunity to help their country’s gymnasts.

The equipment for the Commonwealth Games held in India in 2010 did not arrive until the last minute. While the Federation does little to encourage young athletes,  it should refrain from making apathetic statements such as, “That was all you could deliver, a bronze medal?”

Gymnastics has always been considered a fringe sport in India, with the lack of modern equipment at most gymnastics venues within the country. The sport is neglected like most others and Indians lose out on prestigious international meets, thanks to corruption and bureaucratic red-tapism. Officials in the Federation have little knowledge of the sport and its demands. Hence, they should know better than to deride the people who are well-aware of the rigors of this sport. Most of their time is spent bickering about the finances and indulging in useless rivalry.

Indians, have to battle it out with, both external and internal forces, which are keen on becoming obstacles in their progress as gymnasts. They lack quality international exposure and to make matters worse, the Gymnastics Federation of India does nothing to help its gymnasts.

The Sports Authority of India’s many centres across the country have often been blamed for poor facilities and lack of food supplements for athletes. The budget allocated to them is also meagre, Rs. 256 crores. They fail to understand that gymnasts need nutrition; they need to develop their physique to excel in the sport.

Gymnastics is a sport that I watch with keen interest. Watching foreign gymnasts perform marvellous feats at international events, I often feel saddened at the distressing conditions of our young Indian gymnasts. With under-nutrition, inadequate training, and lack of financial support, they are expected to compete at par with China and the US.

How is this fair?

They have the spirit and the determination to excel, yet they are tied down by a lack of encouragement and moral support. Our Sports Federation and Gymnastics Federation are Indian-run organizations that should be ashamed of their callous attitude towards sports in the country.

Indian gymnasts, who do win a bronze or even a silver medal, deserve to pat themselves on the back. Their few achievements are a bright spot in this nation’s dark past of gymnastics.

Today, gymnastics is relegated to the state of an “act” in talent hunt shows such as “India’s Got Talent”. These shows promote the talent of India but what happens after that?

Gymnasts and acrobats are placed in the same category; neither is considered a sport. Such feats and acts are seen by the masses only as entertainment.

However, Ashish Kumar’s win is just a small beginning. Gymnastics in India has a long way to go before it can be ranked as a major competitive sport. India has the raw talent; it only needs to be nurtured and given the right direction.

Kritika Pramod Kulshrestha

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