Former Indian athlete Anju Bobby George has heaped praise on the Modi government for the support provided to sportspersons, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. George is the first and only world champion from India at the IAAF World Athletics Final and is a recipient of the prestigious Arjuna Award.
The highly accomplished athlete made the remarks during an interview with Indranil Basu on the Sony Sports channel. At about 8 minutes into the conversation, George emphasised, “Our Indian government is giving much priority (to the athletes). The Prime Minister is directly calling them after winning the medals. No one wants to leave (that opportunity).” She went on to explain the close involvement of the Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India with the athletes participating in the Tokyo Olympics.
“This is for the first time that it is happening like that. During our time, even our Sports Minister was a visitor in Olympic village. Even after winning the World Championship medal, India celebrated in a big way but the Ministry side nothing big. Yes, the Prime Minister (Dr Manmohan Singh) congratulated me, otherwise, nothing was there. This time, even before the games, the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) is calling the athletes, interacting with them one to one, and encouraging them. Something big is happening in India. I am really missing out on fun and opportunities,” she added.
On being pointed out the active involvement of Kiren Rijiju, despite being an ex-sports Minister, Anju Bobby George further added, “He was very much into sport and he knows each athlete. Whenever we messaged or called, he was there. And he is ready to support. That is the kind of encouragement Rijiju sir was giving to our athletes. Even the new Minister (Anurag Thakur) comes from a sports background and he is also very good. So, this is the kind of support we are expecting from our Ministry and system. So, it’s not that they are celebrating only after the medal. They are there from the beginning.”
The retired athlete concluded, “They are supporting. They are behind us. The confidence they are giving to each athlete is showing the result. There is work (on the grassroots level). There are long-term plans. Sports Authority of India (SAI) is now planning for the 2028 Olympic Games and 2032 Olympic Games. This is how the system should work. And there are a lot of opportunities for the younger kids from the grassroots level. If you are talented enough, then, you will be noticed and will become a part of the system. Through this kind of support, (I am sure) India will be on the top one day.”
TOPS programme paved the path for India’s success at Tokyo Olympics
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.
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.
Anju Bobby George’s achievements
Anju Bobby George is India’s first and only World Champion in the IAAF World Athletics Final. She won bronze in long jump at the 2003 World Championships in Athletics in Paris becoming the first Indian athlete ever to win a medal in a World Championships in Athletics jumping 6.70 metres. In 2005, gold medal at the IAAF World Athletics Final. She was awarded the Arjuna Award in 2002, Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award in 2003 and Padma Shri in 2004. She participated in 2004 Athens Olympics but remained in 5th position.