It’s been a week since Abhinav Bindra won a gold in the 10m-rifle category in Beijing. Almost everyday, an article has been written about him. Abhinav shot himself to fame—no pun intended. His blog is inundated with congratulatory messages left by excited patriots.
What’s the big deal?
Well, the last time India won a gold at the Olympics, it was way back in 1980, at the Moscow Olympics—a team event. Abhinav Bindra is the first Indian athlete to win an individual event at the Olympics.
Promptly after the news of an Indian athlete winning a gold medal hit the wire, everyone was understandably ecstatic. An Indian excelled in a sport other than cricket! Who cares what the 10m-rifle event is all about—even I do not know much about it. He won a gold medal for India!
Then came the knee-jerk reaction; the central, as well the state, governments lauded him for making his country proud. They promptly sanctioned reward money up to 45 million Rupees.
All this money came from different quarters. Indian states, privately-owned companies, and the steel ministry pledged money to the gold medalist. That is a lot of money for one man. The rest of the Indian states have pledged 1.5 million Rupees to the next gold medalist.
Rarely has an athlete been so richly rewarded. Come to think of it, we do not win medals that frequently in the Olympics!
These events leave me amused. Each day, I have learned more about Abhinav and his journey to the gold medal he so calmly accepted at the podium. Abhinav trained in Europe, under a Swiss national, and was entirely funded by his affluent father. I will not list his father’s investments or his turnover. It is not of any consequence to us.
The truth is, if an Indian athlete is to excel in an international event like the Olympics, he better be backed by some serious money. All Indians know where the serious money usually comes from—definitely not from the Sports Ministry.
It is a known fact that many players have to travel on their own steam if they want to take part in an international event. Private endorsements are also obtained with great difficulty, as the players should be able to give the brand a “return on the investment.”
Here is the irony: State and central governments pledged the money after the medal was won without any of their help. That's money that could have otherwise been used to invest in an infrastructure that creates a breeding ground for Indian athletes.
Here is another irony for you: 45 million rupees to an athlete whose father just gifted him a five-star hotel! By the way, 45 million rupees, in U.S. dollars, is a little over $1 million.
Does the sports ministry even have an idea how much money is required to buy the equipment Abhinav uses? I am not even factoring in coaching fees.
If it weren’t for Abhinav’s rich dad, quite frankly, he would not be where he is right now. (In no way am I taking credit away from Abhinav’s achievement. He overcame a back injury that almost ended his career before Beijing. He comes across as a modest guy who lets his rifle do the talking.)
The Indian government needs to realize that athletes in India are not always born with a silver spoon in their mouth. I just hope that Abhinav sticks to his word of doing something for the sports fraternity in India. We only have a handful of former athletes that are trying to change the sports ministry’s mindset.