Desh Deepak Verma, Director-General of the Sports Authority of India, in an interview with Ajay Rana, asserts that India's London Olympic contingent will return with the country's biggest ever haul of medals
With more and more players qualifying has SAI expanded its list of Olympic athletes it is supporting?
The earlier list of 42 players has been expanded. We have also provided facilities to them under the NSDF scheme. Now, 53 have applied for this customised training. Except for a few who are under consideration, most have been granted the specialised training programme.
So SAI’s final list has 53 athletes. Or is it flexible?
It was flexible when we had 42 names. So the number has gone up to 53. It is still flexible but we are so close to the Olympics that specialised training will probably not be useful anymore. It is time to give final shape to their skills.
How did you feel when you received news of Indians qualifying for the Olympics in boxing, wrestling, badminton and a few other disciplines?
I am very happy. Every day I get the list of athletes who have qualified and I am happy that the number is growing. The latest list says 68 sportspersons have qualified, out of which 52 are individual sportspersons in 11 disciplines and 16 are from the Indian hockey team. This is much better than earlier Olympics. The number is likely to go past 80.
Archers recently complained of lack of funds and gear. Why is this situation persisting since last November?
I also read about it in the newspapers. I sent a high-level team with SAI secretary and two coaches. They went to Jamshedpur to see the arrangements. They went to Kolkata. Before that, I personally met all the players. They had some plans. Some of the players among them also changed their plans later. They wanted to train not in Korea but in India. There were some problems related to equipment but that has been sorted out. We have given money to each of them. They were travelling to Turkey. Each of them has got the sanctioned money. They have been authorised to purchase some small equipments as well.
With the number of qualifiers increasing, how many medals do you expect this time?
When I took over, I set a target of over 80 qualifiers. We had also said that our medals tally will be more than double of the last Olympics. It can go up to even eight or nine. Many didn’t believe us at that point. But we were very sure that organised planning and the support of our coaches will yield results. We simply tried to bring professionalism into our working. Certainly the efforts of the athletes cannot be substituted. With the number of qualifiers almost one and a half times more than the last Olympics I am confident that the number of medals will be much higher.
Does SAI have any special initiative for the Olympics?
We are trying to send a technical team with the players and coaches. We are trying to provide a good support staff, including masseurs, so that athletes don’t feel the lack of any kind of scientific support and back-up during the Olympics. For the first time our high commission in London has also been actively involved. Recently shooters had some problem in London and the high commission intervened and resolved the issue. Now the Olympic committee, Indian Olympic association, the high commission in London, SAI and the ministry are all working in tandem to create a conducive environment for the players.
Most of those who’ve qualified feel that India lags way behind other nations in the field of sports science.
A National Institute for Sports Sciences has to be set up. In fact, a lot of work has already been done. There is a Cabinet note which is being prepared and it has already been circulated. Based on that a decision would be taken and we are proposing to set up this institute inside Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. This would be a top institute with the best talent from all over the world.
How is the ‘come and play’ scheme doing?
The come and play scheme, which started in Delhi, has now gone to the entire country. In Delhi, only 18000 students registered. During school days the number fell slightly but it is likely to swell again. During this period we made arrangements for coaches for disciplines added to the scheme. We have started organising tournaments among ‘come and play’ players. And in Delhi it happens between May 6 and 13 in all our five stadia. Those who succeed will be given an opportunity when SAI organises its national-level competition. The winners will be inducted into SAI schemes as well.
You had a plan to get women hockey players trained by the men’s team coach. What is the latest stand?
There is some change. The men’s hockey team coach Michael Nobbs was allowed to have some exposure not only with the women’s team but with the junior team as well. He has given some tips to them but now he is very busy with the men’s team. There is a proposal from the federation for having a separate coach for the women’s hockey team. Since the women’s team hasn’t qualified, we are waiting for the Olympics to end before we implement the proposal.
Is there any plan on paper to promote Indian coaches?
Yes, there is a plan. We have taken two-three actions. One is, since 1994 there was no recruitment of coaches in SAI. Now we have taken a decision to recruit coaches. There is an advertisement for about a hundred coaches for which the process has already started. We are now going to get people. Applications have already come. There are certain disciplines where we realise there is a shortage of coaches. So we are going to get all those coaches. To improve the skill of Indian coaches we have entered into an MoU with organisations in Cuba and Hungary. Our coaches, in batches of 32 to 35, are going to these places and getting specialised training.
SAI was planning to engage different corporate houses with its stadia and academies. What is the status there?
Even the Planning Commission has got involved in this in a big way. And there is a task force which is working under a Planning Commission member. We are going to give final shape to all these privatisation programmes. We will start with the Indira Gandhi Stadium. We are taking it as a pilot project. We will subsequently include other stadia in Delhi and other parts of the country.
You took over months after the controversy-ridden Commonwealth Games. What made you to accept this post?
To be honest, it was a huge challenge. But I saw a real opportunity in this challenge. Sometimes after chaos there is order. Since the Olympic Games 2012 was on the horizon, we had to forget the past and concentrate on the future. I hope our efforts are in the right direction. I hope it helps everybody – the athletes, the federations, the sports lovers and the nation.
Union sports minister Ajay Maken has strong views on many issues. How much of a challenge is it working with someone who is trying to overhaul the system?
It is a pleasure. I am not saying this because I work with him. He is young – he is younger to me – but he has the kind of vision that many senior politicians lack. I can say this because I have worked with many other politicians. He has that kind of vision and he works with the kind of determination that any bureaucrat should be happy with. We have great chemistry: whatever I want to do I get full support from him.