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World University Games – Where does India stand?

World University Games – Where does India stand?

Suhrid Barua

Published: 4 July 2019 10:55 AM GMT
University-level sports haven’t quite attracted the public attention in India and refuse to command a strong presence in the country. But globally, such university-level sports are treated as seriously as any other sports event. The 30th World University Games, also called the Summer Universiade, is currently on in Naples, Italy. It is interesting to note that the host nation, Italy, is conducting the World University Games for the fifth time – the most hosted by any country – in fact, Italy had hosted the inaugural Summer Universiade in 1959 at Turin. The World University Games had largely been held in Europe and Asia over the years. Clearly, it has grown in stature over the years – the inaugural event in 1959 attracted just 42 countries, and the 2019 edition has attracted 112 nations.

India's participation

The Summer Universiade, the second biggest multi-sport event on the planet after the Olympics, brings into focus expectations from the Indian contingent. The 2018 Asian Games 100m and 200m silver medallist Dutee Chand, a student of Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT) Deemed to be University in Bhubaneswar, spearheads the 135-member Indian contingent at the Naples event. The Indian contingent has traditionally been strong medal prospects in three disciplines – athletes, shooting and archery. Rewind to the 2017 World University Games held at Chinese Taipei, where India managed its place in the medals tally through Nashik girl Sanjivani Jadhav, who won a silver medal in the women’s 10,000 metres.

Medal haul

In terms of overall medal haul, the Indian contingent turned its best-ever performance at the 2015 World University Games held in South Korea, where they scooped a decent haul of 5 medals comprising one gold, one silver and three bronze medals. Inderjeet Singh won the men’s shot put gold, while Kawalpreet Singh and Jyothi Surekha Vennam won a silver medal in the mixed compound event in archery. Inderjit Singh The three bronze medals came in shooting - the men's 10m Air Rifle shooting team comprising Akhil Sheoran, Harmanvir Singh and Ekambir Singh, Indian men's 25m Rapid Fire Pistol team and men 25-metre rapid fire team comprising Achal Pratap Singh Grewal, Amrender Pal Singh Chauhan and Akshay Jain lapped up a bronze medal. Like the 2017 World University Games, India returned home with a lone silver medal at the 2013 World University Games held in Russia, bagged by men’s shot-putter Inderjeet Singh. India had won most gold medals at the 2011 World University Games in China, sewing up two gold medals along with one bronze - Harveen Srao won the women’s 10 metre air pistol gold, while the women’s 10 metre air pistol team bagged the other gold medal. The Indian contingent had won a bronze in archery via its women compound team comprising Gagandeep Kaur, Anjali Kumari and Sunita Rani.

Priorities elsewehere?

With ten medals at the last four editions of the World University Games, Indian sports fans would be hoping for a more significant medal haul this time around; given the fact, a large contingent is representing the country. All this is fine, but one must underpin the humongous role played by universities in not just training their athletes for this event but providing them financial support in terms of providing coaches, training kit, travelling costs, etc. Over the years, the efforts of these universities have been critical towards India not only participating in the World University Games but also being among the medals. There is a line of thought that the government must come up with funding for these athletes – until 2013, the government has been providing funding, but after 2013 it is these universities, who are supporting their respective students. The Association of Indian Universities (AIU) – a member of the International University Sport Federation (FISU) that organises the World University Games or Summer Universiade - is merely responsible for the selecting the Indian contingent for the World University Games and does not have any ‘role’ to play as far as providing funding to athletes are concerned. There were also whispers (could not be confirmed) that some selected athletes even had to pay on their own for their participation in the World University Games. “Most of the students are financially assisted by their respective universities – these universities are self-sustaining and better placed to offer support to these athletes,” said an AIU official on condition of anonymity. The objective is not to pick holes in anyone, but to understand if the Sports Ministry and the AIU can identify a workable mechanism for funding athletes for such big-ticket events in future. Last and not the least, the World University Games will bring newer university-level talents to the fore – who knows these athletes could turn into household names in future Olympics, World Championships, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games among other sporting events.
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