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There is no sports culture in the country: Ajay Maken

Interview with Union Sports Minister

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Indian sport is riding high on its most successful yet, and the minister for sports and youth affairs, Ajay Maken, is delighted. But he is not looking to rest on the London laurels — he wants Indian sport to build on the platform it has gained. Aabhas Sharma talks to him about London, the future of Indian sport and the worst-run sports federations

Countries that won more medals than we did focused on sports that have a lot of medals: athletics, swimming, and others. Is there a lesson here for India?
Yes, we should perhaps look at specific sports if we want to increase our medal tally. However, more than half of the medals in the Olympics are in and aquatics. We can focus on boxing, shooting and wrestling, which are our strong sports, but the number of medals is comparatively less. We need to take up some disciplines in athletics and work towards improving in those events. In the next few years, we have to identify sports which give us a better chance of winning medals. We don’t want any sport to be neglected but yes, going forward, it is an idea we need to implement if we want to boost our medal hopes.

Why have we done so poorly in hockey? Is it not time that was de-designated as our national sport?
It was unfortunate that we finished last and did badly in hockey. The problem was that we had two associations simultaneously trying to run the sport, which affected the players. Whether it is our national sport or not, we need to restore the legacy of hockey and I am willing to give full support to the sport. There has to be a proper plan in place if we want to revive Indian hockey. I thought we did well to qualify for the Olympics, as last time we failed to do even that. But still there are issues which need to be resolved if we are to come close to replicating our past success.

The Centre is yet to announce cash rewards for our sportsmen. Why?
The athletes who have won medals and done our country proud will be suitably rewarded. Money is of course important but we need to start rewarding them in other ways as well. I want them to take up coaching roles, become mentors and encourage the coming generation to take up sport. We should utilise their experience in the best possible way.

Which are our worst-run sports organisations? And the best?
I would say that most of them are badly managed. I am against the idea of politicians running sports federations for too long. We need to change the way federations are run, but it will take time. Some associations work really hard for their athletes. The wrestling and boxing federations are well run and the results are there for everyone to see. London has given us a good platform and it is up to us to capitalise on it. We want more sportsmen to be part of the federations, as they know and understand the needs of a sport. We will implement these changes in the near future.

What should be the way forward if Indian sport has to progress and look beyond winning a handful of medals?
What we need to do is set up a sports science institute. We need to have a world-class coaching institute which produces great coaches, trainers and physicians. There is no sports culture in the country and children are still sceptical about taking sports as a career or profession. I don’t blame them, but the onus lies on us to change that. We need schools to encourage children to take up sport — and they will, once they see our athletes doing well, winning medals. I am hopeful that the culture of sports will change.

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