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When you look at the final medal tally in the Rio Olympics 2016, you’ll find India at the bottom of the table, even behind countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Fiji, Indonesia, etc. You get the point right? Any thinking Indian is left frustrated after every Olympics, scratching their heads as to what could be the reason for our consistently dismal performance at the Olympics? Why does a country with a rapidly growing economy that competes with the likes of China is left far behind when it comes to churning out quality athletes culminating into Olympic medals? China bagged a total of 70 medals at Rio Olympics 2016, while India could only manage two, I’m sure there was no lack of effort from the athletes. So, where does the fault lie? Are we, as a country doing enough to support the athletes? India is known to produce quality minds with its world-class technical education so why not give the same impetus when it comes to backing sports that bring pride and glory to the entire nation on an international platform? We produce IITians who go on to lead multinationals, so do we need an IIT for sports to train students for Olympics? Maybe, Yes!

India, being a cricket-struck country, has never really thought beyond cricket. Partly responsible for this prejudiced mindset are the British who inculcated the sport in the countries they colonized. However, it has been decades since we’ve become an independent nation, and still we don’t focus on or honor other sports. Looking at the results of Rio Olympics, 2016, maybe it’s time to have an IIT to train students for Olympics.

Why we Need an IIT for sports to train students for Olympics?

  • Focused Year-Round Approach: Just as students need to study throughout the year to excel at exams, the athletes also need training, nutrition guidance, state-of-the-art facilities, and coaching to excel at the Olympics. We can’t just start preparing when the Olympics are six months away. A dedicated Institute to train students will ensure a continuous and rigorous endeavor to prepare athletes for the biggest stage in the world.
  • Sports as a Career: The traditional Indian mindset never allows us to think of sports as a full-time career. Everyone is herded in the same direction i.e. the pursuit of a ‘well-paying’ job. Unless we have an IIT like Institute, which is backed by the Government, specifically to prepare world-class athletes, we can’t think of changing this mindset. In a utopian India, students will strive for their favorite sport during the last phase of their high school, put themselves to the test in a sports decathlon as a part of a general entrance exam all over the country. The best ones in each sport will be admitted to the premier institute for sports in their respected sport/stream. World-class coaches/dieticians will train the students during their stay at the college to realize the ultimate Olympic dream.
  • Catch them Young: If you notice, the sporting life of any athlete is hardly beyond 30-35 years. Hence, it’s critical to identify talent at a very young age, as young as 8-10 years. That’s the time when they can be trained and ready to compete by the time they’re 16 years of age. This is true especially in the field of gymnastics where the body needs to be extremely elastic to be able to perform the highly complicated maneuvers. The schools will play an important role here in identifying the young talent and getting them enrolled at the premier Institute to get them the required training to hone their talents.
  • Security of Career: We often read sad stories on social media about former Olympic medal winners straining to meet ends after their career has ended. An IIT like sports Institute can ensure that the athletes get financial security for life so that they can leave their worries and concentrate on the task at hand. Just as all premier Institutes have placements, the IIT for Olympics can ensure that there is participation from the public as well as private companies in offering well-paying jobs to athletes so that they can lead self-respecting lives even after their careers are over.
  • Industry Backing: We must remember that not all sports lead to fat pay cheques in India like cricket. Hence, it’s critical to get the Industry to participate and pitch in if we’re to have world-class athletes competing at Olympics. All major companies have a CSR budget and it’s time to divert it to sporting aspirations of the entire country. An IIT for sports would ensure that athletes get corporate sponsorships even without a premium sports management company backing them.
  • Focus on a Variety of Sports: Most of us discover the number of sports that are a part of the Olympics only when we watch them on television. We’re so used to watching just cricket or football that we forget that there are a plethora of sports and gymnastic activities that are hosted by the Olympics. There were 28 sports that were contested in the 2016 Olympics and five more are likely to be added in the 2020 Olympics. An IIT for Olympics would ensure that we train and develop athletes for almost every discipline, if not all and thereby increasing our chances of more medals at the Olympics.

Finally, we can’t just leave it all to the Government. We also need to do our bit and encourage athletes in whatever little way we can. It could be a small social-media initiative or relevant posts that cost nothing. We often hear rumors of Indian Olympic medal winners returning to their homeland, only to find deserted airports with no one welcoming them. It does not come as a surprise that most Indians would rather watch a cricket world cup than cheer for a gymnast or swimmer. With such a mindset, we can’t expect the athletes to stay motivated and win medals at the Olympics.

It’s not surprising that a leading Western Daily recently called India a ‘mysteriously non-athletic nation.’ The natural reaction to such observations is to tout our cricketing heritage. But we could do more than that. India needs IITs for sports. India needs the latest in coaching, technology, and amenities to birth sporting legends.

If we can have premier institutes for engineering, medicine, law, arts, fine arts, mass communication, etc. then why not a premier institute in the country which receives ‘institute of national importance‘ status, purely for sports?

The idea of a utopian India is far but achievable. It’s only we the people, who can bring it to life.

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