By Chetan Sharma
New Delhi, May 28 (IANS): "In the past nine years, a new sporting era has dawned that is empowering the society through the medium of sport."
This quote from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while virtually inaugurating the 'Khelo India University Games' through, wasn't wrong. It's a fact!
Indian sports have taken a giant leap in the past few years at the international arena and credit must be given to the ruling BJP government at the Centre.
In the last nine years of the BJP-led government, we have had six different sports ministers (Sarbananda Sonowal, Jitendra Singh, Vijay Goel, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Kiren Rijiju and now Anurag Thakur), but the success graph of Indian sports has only been rising.
Each minister was clearly instructed by the Prime Minister that India must become a sports powerhouse in the world. They were asked by the PM to take care of athletes' need for finances, resources, infrastructure, foreign exposure and others and to make sure that "not to pressurise any sportsperson for a medal".
PM Modi's interaction with the athletes before and after events became frequent, and it was welcomed by all, including the opposition parties.
Through the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), a number of medal contenders were identified and nurtured for major events. The results were also favourable.
The 2016 and 2021 Olympics, though, were a little disappointing, according to coaches and experts, considering the huge sum spent on the players. But no one can challenge the heart-warming growth, from two medals in Rio to seven in Tokyo, including one Gold. Numbers, in this case, don't lie!
This motivation pushed the BJP-led government to focus more on sports keeping the 2024 Olympic Games in mind. at the grass-roots level too, Khelo India/Khelo India Youth Games got good response and a number of talented athletes were picked for future tours.
Neeraj Chopra (javelin), P.V. Sindhu (badminton), Mirabai Chanu (weightlifting), Sakshi Malik (wrestling), Bajrang Punia (wrestling), Ravi Dahiya (wrestling), the men's and women's hockey teams, both men and women, have made India proud in recent years.
They became the talk of the town with their stunning performances. They brought laurels to the nation when other disciplines struggled in the Olympics.
Well, why just the Olympics and not other Games, such as the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. Again, the credit goes to athletes and the government who raised the bar, and now medals in Asian and Commonwealth Games look "easily" achievable, albeit less competitive.
And it will be wrong to not mention the kind of progress Paralympians too got under the BJP-led government.
Even the national sports federations made much-needed change within the board as well as in the working style after strict instructions from the Central government.
The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) got new office-bearers, led by the legendary P.T. Usha.
But... nothing is easy in a country of billions!
With power comes responsibility. The BJP-led government may have provided everything to the athletes, but satisfying everyone is a tough task. It faced many challenging times, which sometimes shamed Indian sports at an international level.
To start with, the ongoing wrestlers' protest against Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh has put the government in the dock.
Barjang, Sakshi and Vinesh Phogat, while levelling serious sexual harassment allegations against Brij Bhushan, have also slammed the government for ignoring the wrestlers' plea and supporting the WFI chief, who happens to be a BJP MP.
The month-old protest has made international news with several Olympic champions coming out in support of the grapplers and questioning the WFI chief and the government. Whether the allegations are true or false, an investigation is on, but whatever is happening is not good for Indian wrestling.
Prior to the much-publicised protest by the wrestlers, the BJP and the Sports Ministry also had other controversies to grapple with.
Following an FIR over a sexual harassment complaint by a junior athletics coach, Haryana Sports Minister and BJP leader Sandeep Singh earlier this year handed over his sports portfolio to Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on "moral grounds".
Singh -- the former captain of the Indian men's hockey team -- was accused of contacting her on Instagram, inviting her home, and sexually harassing her at his camp office later. A case was registered against Singh under different sections of the Indian Penal Code.
Singh, however, has dismissed the allegations as an effort to tarnish his image. He had made a successful start to his political career in 2019, when he won the Assembly elections from Pehowa and became the Sports Minister of Haryana.
Earlier in 2016, during the raging controversy over the participation of wrestlers Sushil Kumar and Narsingh Yadav in the Olympics, then Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had said he won't "interfere" in the matter and it has to be resolved by the WFI.
Narsingh won the Olympic quota place in the 74kg category at the World Championships. But double-Olympic medallist Sushil, who missed the event owing to a shoulder injury, had insisted that a trial be held to determine who should ultimately represent India at the Rio Games.
"The Federation's criterion has to be followed. We can't interfere. It is an autonomous body. It is the responsibility of the Federation," Sonowal had said categorically at a ministry programme.
Not only the Sports Ministry, the Wrestling Federation of India was also not able resolve the issue at the earliest, leaving room for speculation and controversy.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the international agency responsible for containing drug abuse in sports, had then slammed India for sending a dope-tainted athlete to a major tournament and he was sent back home, shaming the entire national contingent.
These bumps may have been irritants, but they have not slowed down the growth story of Indian sports powered by the TOPS and Khelo India initiatives.
Now, all eyes are on the Asian Games, which begin a few months later, and then the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Will Indian athletes script even bigger success stories?