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Out of World Championships, included in TOPS — Time for sensible decisions?

It is now evident who have made the cut and who have failed to impress in this crucial pre-Olympic year. Is the Sports Ministry taking note?

Out of World Championships, included in TOPS — Time for sensible decisions?

Md Imtiaz

Published: 9 Sep 2019 1:32 PM GMT

The big month of September, for which we have been all waiting, is here already and the Indian athletes are geared up to put their best foot forward at the four World Championships happening this month. Starting with Men’s boxing, the action will unfurl one after another in wrestling, weightlifting and athletics – all significant disciplines of Olympic sports.

With the Indian challengers being decided for all these four big-ticket tournaments, it is now evident who have made the cut and who have failed to impress in this crucial pre-Olympic year. However, is the Sports Ministry at all taking note of the recent spell of performances by these athletes? It is a surprise to see several names who haven’t made into the World Championships or haven’t produced an inspiring performance lately stick onto the newly updated Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) list, which is Sports Ministry’s flagship program to provide assistance to India’s top athletes. Whereas many, who have shown promise in the recent days, couldn’t make it into the TOPS. The Mission Olympic Cell (MOC) functions for these TOPS athletes and assist them in providing with providing added impetus towards the athlete’s preparations for the quadrennial event.

Dutee Chand missing out on TOPS

One iconic name which is yet to make its way within the athletics list has been of Dutee Chand. The Odisha sprinter made headlines this year by winning a gold medal in the World University Games at the 100m event. She became the first Indian to win a 100m gold in a global event, and she is the second Indian sprinter to win a gold in a global event after Hima Das, who clinched the top spot in 400m in the World Junior Athletics Championships last year. The ace sprinter also bagged the gold medal at the 100m event of the 5th Indian Grand Prix last month. The double silver medallist at the Jakarta Asian Games 2018, overcame a significant roadblock of controversy and stayed strong to script her own narrative as India’s only openly-gay athlete. Still, she doesn’t find a place in the TOPS list.

Annu Rani who broke her own national record with a 62.34m effort in the Federation Cup in Patiala in March
Annu Rani who broke her own national record with a 62.34m effort in the Federation Cup in Patiala in March

Another athlete excluded from the list is javelin thrower Asian silver medallist Annu Rani, who has been consistent in the 60m range this season, won the bronze in the Ostrava Golden Spike athletics meet, an IAAF World Challenge event, in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Annu, who broke her own national record with a 62.34m effort in the Federation Cup in Patiala in March and qualified for World Championship will be posing a good challenge to her contenders.

On the other hand, we see the name of discus thrower Seema Punia on the list, the 36-year-old athlete has not even taken part in a single competition since the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta where she won a bronze and now doesn’t even have a ranking by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). It’s maybe that the Sports Ministry still thinks the athlete, who is now caught up with age, and way past her prime, can strike a medal at Olympics 2020 but is nowhere in the World Championship contention.

Another name sticking on to the list is of Arpinder Singh. The triple jumper who clinched the gold medal at the Asian Games last year and went on to become the first Indian to win a medal at the IAAF Continental Cup had a disappointing 2019 concluding with missing a berth at the World Championship. Arpinder failed to qualify for the Asian Championships in Doha after finishing fourth in the Federation Cup in March with 16.34m. He even finished a lowly eighth with a best of 15.78m in the Classic Permit Meeting de Montreuil, near Paris. At the recently concluded Indian Grand Prix, the Punjab lad jumped 16.83m, almost a half metre from his best.

Sakshi's series of mediocre performances

India boasts of its strong contingent in wrestling with several world-class wrestlers in the team who are all gunning for glory at the World Championship starting next week. While all these names have been rightly included in TOPS, but the name of Sakshi Malik could be reconsidered. Taking nothing away from India’s only female wrestler with an Olympic medal, Sakshi has barely produced any inspiring performance after that apart from a bronze at this year’s Asian Championship. The 26-year-old continued her string of mediocre performances finishing 12th at the Sassari City Matteo Pellicone Memorial in Italy and was seventh at the 2019 Yasar Dogu Memorial in Istanbul, Turkey.

Sakshi Malik have had mediocre run at the recent tournaments
Sakshi Malik have had mediocre run at the recent tournaments

No swimmers and women archers on the list

One of the ironical decisions the Sports Ministry took this year was dropping the name of archer Komalika Bari from the TOPS list. It’s been hardly two weeks that the teenager emerged as the recurve cadet champion in the World Archery Youth Championships in Madrid, Spain. Her introspection and learning from the mistakes of the World Championship have now made her one of the elite archers of India who became the third from the country to claim the title. The Indian women’s archery team also misses a spot on the list for their failure to qualify at the Olympics from the World Championships in June in the Netherlands. But with two more shots to earn Olympics berth, shouldn’t our all-time best archer Deepika Kumari and Co. deserves a chance to be backed by government’s best scheme to fuel or Olympic aspirations?

Not only with archers, TOPS excluded swimmer Srihari Nataraj from its list even after he made it to two finals event in the World Junior Championships in Budapest and pocketed 10 medals in the National Championships. Even two swimmers – Sajan Prakash and Advait Page have attained B qualification standards for the Olympics who will be raring to bag an A standard at the Asian Age-Group Championships this month.

Srihari Nataraj

Presently, the TOPS list comprises the names of ten shuttlers including India’s top names like P V Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Srikanth Kidambi, who despite hasn’t shone in his recent outings remains India’s top male shuttlers. But the list further comprises the names of India’s women’s double pair of Ashwini Ponnappa and N. Sikki Reddy who despite striking bronze at the Commonwealth Games 2018, has lost in the opening round of a tournament recently as many as nine times.

Ashwini Ponnappa and N. Sikki Reddy
Ashwini Ponnappa and N. Sikki Reddy

Indian tennis duo of Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan who are included in TOPS list hasn’t been in shape for long producing disappointing results in the last couple of tournaments and have very slim chances of making t to the Olympics, whereas if the focus of India’s flagship scheme for athlete development goes on training purpose promising youngsters like Prjanesh Gunneswaran or Sumit Nagal, they could take it in as an artillery to fuel future development in the singles games. It is also significant that no boxer, male or female, figures in the latest TOP Scheme list maybe because of the few numbers of tournaments they participate outside the country.

Perhaps the sports ministry needs a way more sensitive to deciding upon the athletes who should be named in the TOP Scheme and also figure out whether the MOC funds should be used to train talented athletes who are yet to make it big or the star athletes of this country. If the decision favours the latter, then many names could be easily altered to give way for the athletes who are showing fresh promises today.

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