India has bagged 15 gold, 24 silver and 30 bronze medals (total 69) in Asian games 2018 surpassing previous best overall haul of 65 medals at Guangzhou in 2010 and equaling 15 gold medals won at New Delhi in 1951. The Army contributed 11 medals including 4 gold, 4 silver and 3 bronze. It is a spectacular performance compared to Asian Games 2014 where India won one silver and one bronze medal only. The Modi Government deserves accolades for this impressive transformation, and so does Army’s ‘Mission Olympics’. Though India ranked 8th in Asian Games 2018, it is a definite high because the only time India bagged more than 10 gold medals in 18 Asian Games was: 15 gold at New Delhi (1951), 12 gold at Jakarta (1962), 11 gold at Bangkok (1978), 13 gold at New Delhi (1982), 11 gold at Busan (2002), 14 gold at Guangzhou (2010), 14 gold at Incheon (2014) and now 15 gold at Jakarta-Palembang in 2018.
It is heartening to note our credible performance in athletics, winning 7 gold, 10 silver and 2 bronze in Asian Games 2018. Medals in badminton and in events like Kurash, Wushu, Sepaktakraw and Bridge added to India’s tally. Losing gold medals in Kabaddi, both in men and women teams was disappointing; Kabaddi can’t be monopoly of India, but notably both South Korean and Iranian teams that India lost to, had Indian coaches. Our players were good but compared to winning teams, lacked agility. Performance in sport like weightlifting was below expectations. Examining actions can help better planning, for example, our women volleyball team that lost to China and the closely contested China-Pakistan men volleyball match indicated height of players also matters.
An oft repeated opinion is play matters, not winning or losing, but how much is that relevant when participating in international sports events needs consideration. We must be proud of our medal winners in Asian Games 2018. But concurrently we must also compare our medal tally with countries ranked above us; China ranked 1st won 289 medals (132 gold), Japan 2nd won 204 medals (74 gold), South Korea 3rd won 176 medals (49 gold), Indonesia 4th won 98 medals (31 gold), Uzbekistan 5th won 70 medals (21 gold), Iran 6th won 62 medals (20 gold) and Chinese Taipei 7th won 67 medals (17 gold) and. Our ranking in 2014 Asian Games was 8th and continues to be 8th in Asian Games 2018, implying if we have improved, so have other countries. Significantly, India was ranked 2nd in Asian Games 1951 and five times 5th in 1954, 1966, 1970, 1982 and 1986.
At Asian Games 2018, India participated in 34 out of 40 sports, leaving out baseball, football, jet-ski, modern pentathlon, rugby sevens and triathlon. Could we have participated in all the events and should that be standard practice for all international sports meets? Interestingly, in track events, Japanese athletes were not all original Japanese citizens; Japan appears to have changed its policy of not granting citizenship to foreigners – possibly in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics also. In Rio Olympics 2016, India participated in 15 sports out of 28 but won only two medals (one silver in badminton and one bronze in wrestling) despite 117 Indian athletes participating (63 men and 54 women). Compared to 28 sports in Rio Olympics, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will have 33 sports; five added sports being softball, karate, sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing – which means 18 new events in which 474 new athletes will be participating.
Ironically, India has won only 28 medals in 24 Olympics since 1900. Of the nine gold medals won in Olympics, eight gold medals are in hockey – six of them consecutive between 1926 and 1956. Post our dismal show at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Niti Aayog, on directions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had released a 20-point plan aiming to win 50 medals at the 2024 Olympics. This included short and long-term plans and identifying 10 priority ‘sports’ besides training, selection of athletes, coaches, infrastructure etc. A task force was also to be set up, presumably in conjunction Sports Authority of India.
It is not known which 10 priority sports have been identified but this should not imply lesser focus on other sports. When we have the second largest human source and largest youth pool in the world, our aim should be to participate in maximum sports events. Corporate houses must be roped in for funds, as required. Courage and determination is certainly not lacking as the young talent in Asian Games 2018 proved, but support, direction, coaching, and infrastructure are far from the required. The trying conditions under which many of the medal winners of Asian Games 2018 prepared has been exposed on electronic and print media. Lack of basic equipment and infrastructure certainly needs to be addressed.
There is need for the Centre to establish a separate fund to reward medal winners. This is all the more necessary for rationalizing award money to medal winners across the board. For example, Gujarat announced Rs 1 crore award to Sarita Gaekwad who won gold medal as part of 4×400 women relay team but West Bengal announced only Rs 10 lakh for heptathlon gold medalist Swapna Barman. Surely, the latter too deserves the Rs 1 crore award, if not more. Perhaps, the Centre could establish a fund like ‘Pradhan Mantri Khel Protsahan Nidhi’ for the purpose.
India must now set its sights on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, with Army’s ‘Mission Olympics’ redoubling its effort, building upon its laurels earned in the just concluded Asian Games. Of the five additional sports in 2020 Tokyo Olympics, we could participate in at least softball, karate and sport climbing. The Army and Navy could also take the lead in training participants for sports like skateboarding and surfing in future international sports events. If India is aiming for 50 medals in 2024 Olympics, we must aim for at least 40 in 2020 Tokyo Olympics and minimum 180 in Asian Games 2022 in China. There is no reason we cannot achieve this.