Indian weightlifter Mirabai Chanu won a historic silver medal in the weightlifting event in the Olympics, making her the first athlete to win a medal for the country in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. On Saturday, Mirabai Chanu finished second in the 49kg category of weightlifting to secure the silver medal for the country. However, most Indians are unaware of the flagship programme launched by the Modi government in 2014 that helped the ace weightlifter in her journey to secure laurel at the world’s largest stage.
Adequate funding is crucial for a sportsperson to achieve professional success in the International arena. All sporting categories, with the exception of cricket, has suffered from neglect and lack of training facilities. The athletes are often faced with sponsorship challenges, thereby making it difficult for them to excel. Having understood the underlying reason behind India’s poor performance in Olympics Games, the Indian government launched the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) in September 2014.
How TOPS turned out to be a boon for athletes
The programme was monitored by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, wherein it provided financial support and assistance to top athletes in the country. With the objective of helping sportspersons secure Olympic medals for the country, a TOPS Elite Altheltes’ Identification Committee and a Mission Olympic Cell were set up. The body was tasked to identify top athletes and parathletes and provide them with several benefits.
It includes training by reputed coaches at world-class facilities, purchase of equipment, supporting the services of physical trainers, sports psychologists, mental trainers and physiotherapists. At the same time, the athletes are provided with a monthly incentive of ₹50,000. The scheme covers sporting activities such as table tennis, tennis, weightlifting, wrestling, hockey, archery, athletics, badminton, boxing, shooting and para-sports.
Ace badminton player Saina Nehwal once remarked, “While our travel for the competition was always financially supported by the government, the establishment of Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) in 2014-15 has been a great step. There was a time when if we needed some equipment, we would have to ask an NGO for help. Now, it is easier for more athletes to seek support from TOPS. The monthly out-of-pocket allowance is also a great step as more players now get support for their training, including dietary supplements.”
Success story of Indian government’s flagship programme
The TOPS programme has witnessed tremendous success, with athletes such as PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik winning medals for India at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Similarly, India won 2 gold medals, 1 silver and 1 bronze medal at the 2016 Paralympic games. At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, 47 of 70 athletes supported by the TOPS programme won medals for the country.
About 100 Indian athletes were covered under TOPS in 2016 and the number has increased since then. According to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) website, about 106 athletes/teams are part of the Target Olympic Podium Scheme as of February 2021.
Olympic Bronze medalist & #TOPSAthlete @MangteC praises #SAI‘s @kheloindia and #TOPS initiative and wishes all athletes and sports fans luck for 2021.@KirenRijiju @DGSAI @RijijuOffice @PIB_India @PMOIndia @IndiaSports @YASMinistry @mygovindia @WeAreTeamIndia @ddsportschannel pic.twitter.com/CJUITYkCji— SAIMedia (@Media_SAI) January 3, 2021
Although some athletes have expressed disappointment over their exclusion from the programme, TOPS has been applauded by other champions such as MC Mary Kom, and Neeraj Chopra. Given the success of TOPS, it has now been extended for junior athletes in August 2020. The Selection Committee had shortlisted more than 250 sportspersons for the 2024 and 2028 Olympics. India has sent the largest contingent to date to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and hopes to improve its medal tally this year. Mirabai Chanu’s success is just the beginning of India’s Olympic story.