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Review: Standing Committee makes recommendations about ‘India’s Olympic Preparations’

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The 2020 summer Olympics were postponed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic also resulted in the cancellation of many global sporting events depriving sportspersons of the much-needed experience. The standing committee of parliament recently made a slew of recommendations about India’s preparation for the Olympics. Here is a quick review of these recommendations.

The 32nd Olympic Games scheduled to be held in 2020 in Tokyo, Japan had to be postponed because of COVID-19. In March 2020, the International Olympic Committee announced that both, Olympics and Paralympics, would be held on the same dates in 2021. While the Olympics are expected to take place from 23 July to 08 August 2021, the Paralympics are expected to be held from 24 August to 05 September 2021.  The Olympics torch-lighting ceremony was held behind closed doors on 12 March 2020. 

With around seven months left for the Olympics to begin, the Department- Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth, and Sports submitted a report on “Preparation for Olympic Games, 2021” virtually in December 2020 to the Rajya Sabha Chairperson. Olympians, sports journalists, sports federations, and other stakeholders were consulted for drafting the report. 

Mental and physical fitness of athletes amidst the pandemic should be ensured

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee enlisted the following few recommendations aimed at ensuring the mental and physical fitness of athletes while also ensuring they get adequate training. 

  • All athletes in the Olympics contingent should undertake physiological, mental, and nutritional assessment. This would help identify their strengths and weaknesses and help in the preparation. 
  • Because of the cancellation and postponement of events, athletes have not been able to participate in international tournaments which would affect their exposure. Hence, measures need to be taken to organize competitive matchups to make up for the lost experience. Also, India should host more tournaments so that players can reduce travel while performing better and improving their rank.
  • Training facilities, stadiums, and sports centres for Olympic qualified athletes that were shut due to COVID-19 should be reopened at the earliest or athletes should be relocated to centres that have opened.
  • Bio-bubbles should be created in training facilities so that athletes can be isolated and undergo training with minimal infection risk. It should be ensured that Indian athletes and sportspersons get bio-bubbles at the Olympics. Special attention should be given to medal hopefuls by sending them abroad for championships as soon as possible in a bubble environment that has top scientific infrastructure. 

Government must be swift in granting approvals and fulfilling athletes’ requirements 

The committee made multiple recommendations for the government and institutions to look into.

  • The government should be swift in decision making and granting approvals such as equipment, financial grants, etc. without delay. Further, the government must be prepared to deal with any unforeseen situation resulting from the pandemic. 
  • A proper schedule for qualification and selection procedures should be maintained and adhered to, to avoid last-minute selections. 
  • Many foreign coaches returned to their countries due to the pandemic. Most of the coaches are aged above 65 years and sports federations have asked those aged 65 years and above not to visit training venues. About 561 vacancies for coaches exist. The committee has called for filling up these vacancies so that Olympics preparations do not get affected. Sports federations should estimate the coach requirements immediately and layout timelines to recruit vacancies for foreign experts and coaches

Head coaches must conduct survey to identify equipment requirement 

The human and technical resource support to be extended to the athletes as recommended by the committee include-

  • All head coaches should carry out a sports equipment availability analysis in the sporting facilities and their requirements can be forwarded to the Mission Olympic Cell for fast procurement. A digital portal may be created wherein athletes can list their equipment, training, and nutritional requirements which can be centrally coordinated for fulfillment.
  • A customized 200-day plan focusing on training, preparation, and nutrition should be prepared for each qualified athlete.
  • Domestic ex-players, consultant, and regularized sportspersons may be engaged to help athletes in preparation. Further, professional analysts may also be engaged to give data-backed inputs to athletes for improvement.

Athletes, coaches, and support staff going to Olympics must be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination

With respect to medical support, the following recommendations were made by the committee.

  • Medical staff and equipment should be available in select training centres so that athletes need not visit hospitals where the risk of infection is more. They should also have dedicated physiotherapists.
  • Both central and state governments should formulate sports injury insurance schemes covering players from different categories.
  • Athletes and coaches and support staff who will be going to the Olympics should be prioritized in the vaccination drive. 
  • Athletes should be made aware of doping. A full-time functional National Anti-Doping Authority (NADA) helpline should be made available for clearing doubts. 

Financial support should be ensured to athletes and coaches

Financial support, funding, and financial security related recommendations were also made by the committee. 

  • Because of the pandemic, many National Sports Federations (NSFs) lost their sponsors. IOA has been asked to sign up with a sponsorship management firm immediately and asked to rope in the private sector for collecting funds. IOA stated during the meeting that the organization is providing scholarships to players who lost sponsorship to the pandemic. In the long run, the department may come up with special incentives to invest in sports and attract more CSR funding.
  • For athletes who perform well, the committee has recommended conducting a National Olympic Scholarship Programme in a phased manner such that those performing well are provided a fixed minimum financial aid. Training should also be imparted to athletes to raise private funding. 
  • A mechanism should be formulated to ensure financial security to athletes and coaches during and post their careers by taking into consideration their contributions. 3% sports quota reservation in government jobs for meritorious athletes should be assured.
  • Sports Ministry must cover Life and Health insurance to all Olympians.

Improper scheme implementation and slashing of fund allocation are challenges

Target Olympic Podium Scheme  (TOPS) is a flagship program of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports under which assistance is provided to top athletes in the country. Potential medal winners in the 2020/2024 Olympics are identified and special preparation is undertaken. The committee stated that the scheme is being used as a top-up program for covering discretionary expenses that cannot be funded by NSFs. The committee added that this was not acceptable and that TOPS is an independent programme and allocation should be increased for Olympics preparations. Moreover, many well-performing athletes have not been covered in the scheme which calls for formulating schemes to include those excluded. 

The committee expressed its dissatisfaction with the allocations made under ‘Support to NSF’ and commented that the government is slashing the funds in Revised Estimates (RE) as compared to Budgeted allocation under ‘Support to NSF’. This would affect India’s Olympics preparation. Budgetary allocation for Scheme of Assistance to NSFs during 2019-20 was Rs. 300.85 crores (revised) and budgetary allocation during the current financial year 2020-21 is Rs. 245.00 crores. 

In the long run, India must start identifying and nurturing talent from school level 

The committee called for spotting talent at the school level and nurture the talent for future Olympics. India should learn from top medal-winning countries for talent spotting, training, nutritional support, etc. World-class infrastructure and facilities need to be built and maintained in India. Sportspersons and athletes should be sent abroad for getting world-class training. Even the supporting staff should be provided with the necessary training for specialization. India has so far won only 28 medals in Summer Olympics since 1900. Only one individual has won a gold medal while multiple gold medals were won in Hockey. 

Featured Image: India’s Olympic Preparations

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