NEW DELHI: As Olympic under-achievers India head home from Rio having failed to win a gold medal, its gatecrashing, selfie-taking officials have been accused of failing to help its athletes taste success.
A string of below-par performances saw India win just two medals at the Games, fewer than the six clinched during their best-ever performance in London four years earlier. Badminton champion P.V. Sindhu’s silver towards the end of the Rio Games sparked an outpouring of national pride and celebrations, along with wrestler Sakshi Malik’s bronze.
But reports during the competition of Indian officials seemingly living it up in Rio, while athletes struggled to make it through qualifying, sparked anger back home and raised questions about the commitment of those in charge. “Officials do not have the welfare of the athletes on their mind. All they are bothered about is having a good time,” Aslam Sher Khan, India’s former hockey Olympian, told AFP. “While other countries have scripted a turnaround in their fortune like the UK, we sadly continue to languish in mediocrity,” he told AFP.
“We have become the laughing stock of the world.” Indian sports minister Vijay Goel has described as a “misunderstanding” reports that his entourage tried to muscle unaccredited people accompanying him into Olympic venues. Rio organisers reportedly accused his entourage of “aggressive and rude behaviour” and threatened to cancel his accreditation, prompting Goel to deny any involvement.
The minister also sparked ridicule on social media after praising one of India’s athletes on Twitter, only to use a photo of a different one. And the Indian Express newspaper accused him of spending his time in Rio taking selfies with “exhausted Indian athletes”-after posting a picture of himself ringside with just defeated boxer Vikas Krishan Yadav.
The incidents come as little surprise to observers who have long accused sport administrators of being more concerned about protecting their own fiefdoms than targeting success.
At the 2014 Winter Olympics, India suffered the humiliation of being banned from flying its flag at the opening ceremony following corruption concerns. The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) suffered a 14-month ban which was only lifted after it elected new leaders, excluding those who had been accused of corruption over the chaotic organisation of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist, shooter Abhinav Bindra, said he was fed up with apathetic officials, some of whom were unqualified for the job and were not being held accountable for a lack of success on the field. “I won’t get angry and spoil my own health. It happens every time and that is the way it is,” the shooter, who won gold in Beijing in 2008 and finished fourth in Rio, told the NDTV network. “We need a complete overhaul of the system. We need more experts coming in… I have no problem with a politician if he can bring something to the table.”
India’s anti-doping officials were also left red-faced in Rio after wrestler Narsingh Yadav was banned for four years for failing drug tests-overturning India’s earlier decision to allow him to compete. Indian officials had cleared Yadav just days before Rio, accepting his defence that a rival spiked his food supplements, after failing two tests for a banned steroid. The World Anti-Doping Agency swiftly challenged the decision in the Court of Arbitration for Sport which found “no evidence” of such contamination.
India, a country obsessed with cricket, has never finished high on the medal table-winning just 28 from 24 Olympic appearances. But India, with a population of more than a billion people and enjoying strong economic growth, had been targeting 10 medals in Rio and sent its largest ever squad.
India’s government spent about 1.2 billion rupees ($18 million), however, preparing the athletes, according to the sports ministry, a fraction of the amount forked out by China, Britain and other countries. With the lack of silverware becoming evident, media began focusing on the officials, including a former IOA chief, currently facing trial in a corruption case, seen attending the Games with an accreditation pass.
Veteran journalist K. Jagannadha Rao who has covered six Olympics said such incidents involving officials were not unusual. Khan, one of the few Indians to have tasted success when the hockey team won bronze at the 1972 Munich Olympics, agreed, saying few lessons had been learnt over the years. “They are simply not bothered if the country is winning medals or not.” —AFP