Let's give our athletes a sporting chance

Yesterday, this paper carried a front-page report about Mumbai-based swimmer Virdhawal Khade, who holds national records in several categories, struggling to raise money to compete in the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, next month.

The report stated how Khade’s training has been affected as he is juggling his job as a tehsildar along with his swimming training. Left with little time to train, Khade, who is an Asian Games bronze-medallist, admitted that he was finding it tough to stay motivated enough.

Recently, shuttler Jwala Gutta had spoken about how she was hopeful for some support now that she and doubles partner Ashwini Ponappa (incidentally ranked 13 in the world badminton doubles now) were back after winning the Canada Open.

Both Khade and Gutta’s story is an unfortunate and familiar one. Our athletes need all the support they can get if, as officials claim, India is to move from a one-sport (read: cricketing) nation into a multi-sport powerhouse.

Some officials have stated that the athletes are not Rio (Brazil) Olympics medal prospects. One has to tell officials that no athlete comes with a guarantee of an Olympic medal. They are human beings with strengths and failings, and anything can happen in the cauldron of top-class competition. Jwala Gutta and Ashwini are nudging the top 10 in doubles, and could upset the applecart at Rio.

Olympics aside, India’s top athletes should not be humiliated in this way — having to forage for funds is certainly a humiliating experience.

It is also sad that players have to speak out through the media so many times, rather than have direct communication with the sports federations.

The Rio Olympics are just one year away. The clock is ticking. India is trying to build its image as a sporting nation. We have had sporadic top-class success, but consistency is key. For that, we need a better system and the time to listen to our athletes.

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