Tokyo 2020: India’s double-digit medals tally possible, says Olympics body chief

Kolkata: It’s not easy to be in the shoes of Narinder Batra, the President of Indian Olympic Association (IOA), these days. The Tokyo Olympics is less than a month away and unlike the previous editions of the Summer Games, the focus is as much on the logistical challenges before the umbrella body - as it’s about the medal prospects.

The veteran sports administrator, who is also the President of FIH, the world governing body of hockey - is quietly optimistic about the medal prospects of the contingent with a strength of 120-125 athletes. According to Kiren Rijiju, the Union Minister of State for Sports and Youth Affairs, Tokyo may see India’s best-ever show with the medals tally reaching double digits, a view which the IOA top boss also shares - but feels such expectations should not bring undue pressure on the athletes.

‘‘I see many many firsts happening in this Olympics and also have a feeling that we have the potential to reach double figures. However, I would like to remind the words of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a recent ‘Mann ki Baat’ (inner thoughts) programme that don’t put the athletes under pressure. My plea to them will be to give your best and see,’’ Batra said in an exclusive interview with Gulf News over phone from New Delhi.

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A major headache for the IOA, as of date, will be scheduling the travel plans of the large contingent for as per the travel protocol of the Games organising committee, athletes can reach Tokyo only five days before their event.

‘‘We have sought a clarification from the organising committee. They have said five days… now shooting starts on 24th and some shooters are participating on 24th, some on 26th, and so on. We have asked them if they want the five-day gap to be maintained event-wise. If they want that for each event, it will become a logistical nightmare,” a pragmatic Batra said.

How have the likes of a Manpreet Singh or a Dyuti Chand, the sprinter who earned a ticket for Tokyo on the last day of qualification on June 29, be going through their vaccination before they head for Tokyo? ‘‘See, 85% of our athletes have already taken both shots of Covishield. Only one athlete, a male shooter, had tested positive and hence his vaccination was delayed - has taken the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. We are not leaving anything to chance...I have also done the same since I am also going,’’ the official said.

Bhavani Devi will be the first-ever fencer to represent India at the Olympics in Tokyo. Image Credit: Twitter

The journey of the athletes, across all disciplines, had been a turbulent one over the past one year ever since the Games had to be cancelled last year when the first surge of the pandemic brought the entire sporting world on their knees. The respective national bodies, in sync with the IOA, had done a commendable job to ensure that their training process didn’t suffer - though the random cancellation of qualifiers resulted in some elite athletes like Olympics medallist shuttler Saina Nehwal and former world No.1 Kidambi Srikkanth missing out on what could have been possibly their last shot at the Games.

Reflecting on the entire journey, Batra claimed: ‘‘Not a single athlete’s training schedule was affected and there was no compromise on quality. Yes on hindsight, there were chances of an additional six to seven athletes qualifying for the Games but then the events got cancelled. Once again, I will not comment on medal prospects, but there is a lot of potential.’’

M.C. Mary Kom (right), Olympics bronze medallist, will be part of a nine-boxer boxing contingent in Tokyo. Image Credit: Supplied

While Batra is loathe about picking up disciplines as medal prospects, there are a few no-brainers like shooting, boxing and of course hockey - the latter always rekindling the romance with its glorious history. ‘‘In boxing, an unprecedented number of nine athletes have made the cut. Yes, like all the previous Games, hockey will always raise expectations and fact remains that their performance graph has been very consistent over the last four years. The men’s hockey team has climbed up from 13th in FIH rankings to fourth, while it’s the first time that the women’s team has qualified for back-to-back Games,’’ he pointed out.

Another interesting facet about the Tokyo-bound contingent is there is representation in a number of niche disciplines - like Bhavani Devi in fencing, Ishita Malaviya in surfing and Pranati Nayek in gymnastics. What’s more, in swimming - a marquee event which was considered out of bounds for India - two athletes Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj have qualified by cracking the ‘A’ timings.

How does it augur for the sporting future of India, very much a cricket-crazy country? ‘‘A lot of effort has gone into this with Khelo India projects while a lot of academies are functioning across the country. See, the goal is not only Tokyo but 2024 and 28 as well and we would like to see the country develop into a real sporting nation in near future,’’ he signed off.



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