Except for Mirabai Chanu’s Silver Medal, the performance by the Indian contingent in the Tokyo Olympics has been dismal. Normally, teams sent to such games comprise three types of players – those who dominate the sport, those who are at the point of breakthrough and could surprise their rivals, and those that have potential and need the high-quality experience for future excellence. India has world level performers in sports such as badminton, archery, table-tennis, shooting, hockey, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, etc. As such, they were expected to be in the medals tally. Unfortunately, many of these have failed – some after putting up a fight – like Manika Batra – and others miserably. Those who are representing the nation in non-traditional disciplines for the first time did not do so badly – the upcoming fencing star Bhavani Devi did just as well as the major achievers, winning a round before going out in a well-fought contest.
The situation highlights the more subtle elements of taking part in competitions. Why should a top-ranked archer like Deepika Kumari not be able to perform at her usual level, leave alone her best, when it matters most? She has been long enough in the sport to know how to do so, mostly because it is a mental thing. Much of this depends on the coaches and back-up team. Is this element lacking in the present Olympics because of the many Covid restrictions? It has been reported that Batra’s personal coach was denied access to her at the competition venue – that must have been a setback. Similarly, shooter Manu Bhaker had problems with her equipment, which should not have been and certainly ought to have been rectified pronto. These are all management issues and, clearly, there have been shortcomings.
India has also had a very tough battle with Covid-19 and, despite all the efforts to cocoon the athletes, it must have impacted on their preparations, particularly mentally. The restrictions in the Olympic Village will have also affected the psyche of the competitors. Hopefully, as they adjust to the environment, the remaining sportspersons will be better motivated to perform. It is important for them to be told that, irrespective of the quality of the competition, they are required to give their best ever performance. It is they, their coaches and the management who are to blame, if they are not able to do at least that.