Neeraj Chopra

Neeraj Comes In Support Of Wrestlers’ Protest

Olympic gold medalist Neeraj Chopra on Friday came in support of the ongoing wrestlers’ protest, and said that he was ‘hurt’ to see athletes on the streets demanding justice.

“It hurts me to see our athletes on the streets demanding justice. They have worked hard to represent our great nation and make us proud,” Tokyo Olympics gold medallist said in a tweet on Friday.
He said,” As a nation, we are responsible for safeguarding the integrity and dignity of every individual, athlete or not.”

“What’s happening should never happen. This is a sensitive issue, and must be dealt with in an impartial and transparent manner. Pertaining authorities must take quick action order to ensure that justice is served,” Chopra added.

Indian wrestlers have been protesting at Jantar Mantar here in the national capital against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over allegations of sexual harassment.

Top Indian grapplers such as Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia, and many other wrestlers are involved in the protest against the WFI chief.

Having waited for three months, star wrestlers like Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia again started their protest against WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh on Sunday and said that they took the step after alleging that no action has been taken in the matter and said that the FIR has not been registered against the WFI chief.

Ace India wrestler Sakshi Malik broke down while interacting with the media as wrestlers protest at Jantar Mantar.

“We wanted to file a sexual harassment FIR against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. We got a complaint filed two days ago but FIR has not been registered yet. There are seven female wrestlers and one of them is a minor. We want the investigation to happen fast. It is a sensitive matter. We are being framed as liars which we cannot bear. We are waiting for two and a half months now but no one is listening. People are saying we are spent force that is why we are protesting. We just won a medal at CWG 2022,” Sakshi Malik told the media at Jantar Mantar.

“It is being heard that we are finished, that is why we are protesting. For two and a half months the government has not taken any action. We cannot reveal the name of a minor. Otherwise, her name and career will get spoilt,” she added.

Earlier in January this year, top Indian wrestlers, including Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat, Ravi Dahiya and Sakshi Malik, held a sit-in protest in Jantar Mantar, demanding that Brij Bhushan be removed from the head office and Wrestling Federation of India be disbanded.

They had accused the body and its chief of sexual harassment and mistreatment of wrestlers.

Following the protest, in January, the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports announced the formation of an ‘oversight committee’ to probe allegations levelled against the Wrestling Federation of India and its chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and other coaches.

The committee was given the task of submitting a report on the issue to the Ministry.

Earlier, India’s first individual Olympic gold medal-winning shooter and member of the Olympics Athletes Commission, Abhinav Bindra expressed support for Indian wrestlers who are protesting at Jantar Mantar in the national capital against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over allegations of sexual harassment.

Abhinav Bindra supported the wrestlers in their protest with a poignant tweet on Wednesday.

“As athletes, we train hard every day to represent our country on the international stage. It is deeply concerning to see our athletes finding it necessary to protest on the streets regarding the allegations of harassment in the Indian wrestling administration,” Bindra tweeted.

“My heart goes out to all those who have been affected. We must ensure that this issue is handled properly, with the athletes’ concerns heard and addressed fairly and independently. This incident highlights the crucial need for a proper safeguarding mechanism that can prevent harassment and ensure justice for those affected. We must work towards creating a safe and secure environment for all athletes to thrive in,” he added. (ANI)

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Mission Olympics: India Army Marches On

Indian Armed Forces have been in the forefront of selecting and training sportsmen of international repute right from the time of independence in 1947. Dhyan Chand, the hockey wizard who helped India win three gold medal in Olympics, the Flying Sikh Milkha Singh, Rajyavardhan Rathore, the shooter who got the first individual Silver medal in Olympics and Neeraj Chopra, the golden boy of Tokyo Olympics, are all from the Indian Army.

The boxers, shooters, wrestlers and rowers from the Army continue to give a good account of themselves and were quite close to getting medals for the country. At least three to four players from the Army including Balbir Singh (Junior) were always part of the Indian hockey team.

The Army gives tremendous opportunities to the budding sportsmen to rise, shine and zoom. The sports culture, sports infrastructure and facilities, strict regimen and discipline gives these aspiring sportsmen a head start over other competing athletes from the civil street. Having sports competitions from grass root levels of inter-company, squadron or battery.

It was Gen S Padmanabhan, the then Chief of Army Staff (COAS ) in 2001 who revived the old tradition of having boys companies for sports in various disciplines. He also started Mission Olympics to prepare sportsmen for representing the country in Olympics. As on today, the Army has 26 boys sports companies in 21 disciplines. These sports companies are affiliated to regimental centres whose troops excel in these disciplines. For example, the Rajputana Regimental (RAJRIF) Centre in Delhi had boys companies in Athletics, Basketball and Volleyball. During the rationalisation, the Athletics Boys company has gone to another regiment whose training centre is located at Faizabad.

Olympic semi-finalist wrestler Subedar Deepak Punia (middle) felicitated by Lt Gen KJS Dhillon (2nd from right) of Rajputana Rifles

Incidentally, Neeraj Chopra is from 4 RAJRIF, a Battalion with a great fighting legacy; it was awarded two Victoria Crosses (equivalent to Param Vir Chakra) and 167 other decorations during World War II. Based on its performance over the years, the unit went on a United Nations Peacekeeping Mission to Congo from 1960 to 1962. Today there are three serving and three recently retired generals from the battalion; a rare honour for any unit of the Indian Army.

The boys companies pick up promising young boys of 08 to to 14 years of age, who have attained certain levels of expertise in a particular sport for having played at district or state level. These boys are given education in a good day scholar school located close to their military hostel. The Army gives the boys free boarding and lodging as also train them to join the regular army after attaining the age of 18. The boys who show adequate talent to go higher are then sent to Army Sports Institute (ASI) Pune, where scientific coaching and diets are given to these boys and they are prepared for taking part in the Nationals and Olympics.

The ASI was also raised in 2001 and till date has produced 52 olympians. The outstanding sportsmen who qualify for nationals are then picked up by Sports Authority of India (SAI) who prepares these sportsmen for international events like Commonwealth and Asian Games and World U20 Athletics.

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Gen JJ Singh, the then COAS in 2006 introduced additional disciplines like Shooting and Golf wherein promising sports persons including the wards of servicemen were picked up at an early age and trained for Olympics in a systematic manner. Mission Olympics Wing (MOW) in the Directorate General of Military Training (DGMT) was given the overall responsibility to oversee the training of the Olympics probables. The boys companies and the ASI operate under the close scrutiny of the DGMT who also works closely with SAI and Khelo India organisation. To make it more lucrative for the promising sports persons, the Army gives the direct rank of Naib Subedar, a Junior Commissioned Officer on their joining the Army. These selected sportsmen are then prepared for Olympics by giving them training abroad under foreign coaches with the help of SAI.

The selection system of the Indian Army in various sports disciplines is very transparent and fair. Once the sportsman is selected, concerted efforts are put in to ensure that he gets international exposure and coaching in the correct environs. The levels of motivation, dedication and killer instinct inculcated in the sportsmen in the Army stands them in good stead when they compete with the best in the world. In times to come, the Army will surely raise Girls Companies in the major sports as our women athletes have shown more resolve and resilience in Tokyo Olympics and the Army is also getting girls into Sainik Schools, National Defence Academy and other institutions and the intake of officers and ranks is going to enhance for women in the Army. The ethos and elan of the Army instills in every soldier to give their last ounce of blood and sweat for the country and sportsmen are no exception!

Subedar Neeraj Chopra with fellow Armymen of Rajputana Rifles

In Tokyo Olympics, the Army sent 16 probable from various disciplines. Neeraj Chopra got the gold medal, Deepak Punia in wrestling and Satish in boxing narrowly missed medals. The men’s 4x400m relay race team gave an excellent account of themselves by setting a new Asian record; with athletes from the Indian Army. The two rowers Arjun Lal and Arvind Singh got 11th position in the double skull event, the best that any Indians had done so far.

Most of these participants are in their early 20s and with their experience in Tokyo Olympics; they are likely to get greater number of medals for the country at Paris in 2024. We have only three years to prepare and ensure that these promising athletes peak at the time of Olympics just like Neeraj Chopra who was head and shoulders ahead of all other contestants in javelin throw. The country should also follow the model of the Armed Forces to ensure that the very best are sent to the Olympics and they do their nation proud by earning medals somewhat commensurate to our population.

The Best Athletes in The World

‘I Have A Request For Olympic Viewers: Do Not Judge’

Olympian and Arjuna Awardee Virdhawal Khade, 30, talks about what it takes to be among the best athletes in the world. He says criticism is important but toxicity on social media can impact an athlete’s morale

I was the youngest Indian swimmer to make it to the Olympics at the age of 16, to become part of the 2008 Beijing Olympics squad. In 2007, before I finished my 10th board exams I had qualified for the Beijing Olympic Games.

I was in great shape I remember. I was training hard, and had a crazy desire to win every race I swam in. There was a phase where it was all just about racing and winning. It didn’t matter where I was swimming and who was swimming next to me.

I realised the worth of being an Olympian after I reached Beijing. Being among the best athletes in the world, living among them, eating at the same place, meeting athletes whom I had only seen on TV was a surreal experience. There I was, an Olympian, like my heroes. That’s when it struck me. I was proud and happy about what I had achieved.

I participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, won a Bronze Medal in Asian Games 2010, and have participated at six FINA World Championships and have held four National Records for over 13 years. I would say it takes hard work, dedication, consistency, sacrifice and perseverance to set about an Olympic journey. When you put your performance together on the race day, all those grueling training hours, early mornings, sore muscles, routine discipline, diet control… all of that makes sense when you see the rewards.

India has come a long way in terms of international results in the past few years, but there is still a long way to go. All we need to do is stay on this path of upward trajectory. We can’t expect our athletes to go from not making a semi-final or a final to directly winning a medal.

If you take cricket for example, crores of children take up the sport, at the end of the day only a few hundred of them earn a name for themselves as a distinguished cricketer. When more children start looking up to heroes from Olympic sports and when parents realise their children can win glory from sports, only then will we have a huge volume of youngsters and then our coaches can do a better job of mentoring the next Ian Thorpe or Michael Phelps from India. My father got me into the pool before I turned five and I started competing a year after I learnt how to swim.

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It’s unfortunate and a sad reality that your own countrymen back home troll/judge athletes when they are not able to win or qualify to a certain level. Hardly do they realize the punishing schedule and challenges that an athlete goes through to compete at the Olympics. It’s there in all sports in India. If you do well, you are a hero, if you don’t, then you are a traitor and a fraud.

Social media has given everyone a voice and some of them are extremely toxic. I would like my countrymen to think of the athletes in Tokyo as our own children. Criticism is important but being toxic will only do harm than good. It would help greatly if more people played a sport. 

Everyone trains hard to do the best they can for their country, for their parents and for themselves at the biggest stage in the world. To all the athletes out there who couldn’t make it at the Tokyo Olympics, if you have given your absolute 100 percent in training and in the competition, accept the result. Plan for the next one and improve. Compete with yourself. Be better than you were yesterday. And remember that you are in Tokyo, the whole world is watching and you are representing 130 crore Indians. You are the best among us, so be proud of it!

As Told To Mamta Sharma

Tokyo Is Ready, Indian Athletes Aren’t

In many ways, the countdown for the postponed Tokyo Olympics have begun. The Summer Games will be held from July 23, to August 8, 2021. With each passing day, there is more reassurance from the stakeholders the Games will be held.

Going by official statements emanating from the International Olympic Committee, headed by President Thomas Bach, and the local Tokyo Organising Committee, efforts to stage the Olympics in a new environment are being made in a huge way.

When the Olympics were first postponed in 2020 after the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in summer, there was an overall sense of despondency. For the organisers, participating nations, competing athletes and everyone associated with the world’s biggest sporting spectacle, it was a sinking feeling. At that time, the pandemic had wrecked the confidence of all, especially the athletes who were hoping to peak in July 2020.

Today, the general feeling is if there is one country which can host the Olympics, it has to be Japan. Known as a country for its clockwork precision, discipline and being genteel, the host city is leaving no stone unturned to ensure the Olympics are staged in the best way.

From the spectators point of view as well, there is good news. The Games will happen, though the protocols will be very different and stringent. When over 30 per cent of the tickets for various events were returned, it offered another chance for the same tickets to be sold again.

ALOS READ: Covid Has Maimed Sports Fraternity

To expect full houses at blue-riband events like athletics, swimming and gymnastics may be tough but with the race for a Corona virus vaccine now at peak, it is assumed Japan will be fully ready.

From the IOC’s point of view, the Summer Games is top priority and the frontline workers who will be working with the event will be given the first vaccine. The best part is that the host city is leaving nothing to chance and athletes will obviously be accorded top priority vis a vis health measures. The same goes for support staff and thousands of frontline workers who will be associated with the Games.

As of today, the world is still battling the Corona virus and also trying to ensure sporting activity resumes slowly. Europe has seen the resumption of many sporting activities and so have other parts of the world. Leagues in football and other sport have come back to life, Formula One is back with a bang, what with Lewis Hamilton winning a record-equalling seventh world title. Pro golf action is also picking up.

Cricket first resumed with two bilateral series in England, followed  by the Indian Premier League in the United Arab Emirates. At present, there are another two bilateral cricket series on with T20 leagues in Sri Lanka and the women’s Big Bash also taking place Down Under.

The message is clear, sport will resume and the Olympics will be staged.

So, where does that leave countries which seek Olympic glory? Everyone knows, Wuhan, the city which is officially recognised as the first place in China where the first Covid-19 case broke out over a year is now normal. Flights are operational, tourists are visiting Wuhan and glad the bad memories are being erased.

Just as China has battled the Corona virus bravely, their athletes aspiring for Olympic glory are training full steam. Of course, it is too early to talk of who will win what in Tokyo and perhaps Olympic test events in 2021 and more qualifiers in the New Year will provide indicators.

The world has never known how Chinese athletes train and where. There is secrecy in it for sure and 100 per cent dedication. So, China, hosts Japan and the other powerhouses of sport like USA and Britain are  providing their athletes the facilities to train for Tokyo.

That brings us to India, a country which craves for Olympic medals and has never been able to win big. To be sure, the Covid-19 pandemic has wrecked India’s preparations. Lockdown did a lot of a damage though the elite athletes were lucky they got full support from the Indian government.

Camps in the Sports Authority of India campuses in Bengaluru, Patiala and a few cities in the North have resumed. But there is a big catch, while athletes are training and competing among themselves, one is not sure about their preparedness in the toughest sense.

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Going to the Olympics is not a party like before. In the old days, Indian athletes went to the Summer Games just to participate. The narrative has changed in the last 24 years since the time Leander Paes won a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics. Of course, the peak was Abhinav Bindra winning gold in Beijing in 2008.

Indian athletes today have themselves been laid low by Covid-19. From hockey players to wrestlers like VInesh Phogat and Narsingh Yadav, many have tested positive for Corona virus. When the hockey camps resumed in the end of July, four players tested positive and had to be admitted to hospital. No research has been done as to what extent these athletes have dealt with post-Covid complications.

The badminton camp in Hyderabad is in shambles. PV Sindhu is now training in England and Saina Nehwal is over the hill. So, if you are talking of a medal again from badminton, Sindhu still offers hope, though the next crop of players are nowhere to be seen.

Preparing champions for the Olympics is serious business. The Indian government is spending big bucks on athletes and foreign coaches. However, the postponement of the Olympics does give an impression now the Indian athletes are so scared of Covid-19, his or her preparation for July 2021 may be inadequate.

Shooting is one sport where India have done well since 2004. However, zero medals from the 2016 Rio Olympics was a shocker. Maybe, had the Games been held in 2020, Indian shooters would have been sure medal prospects.

As of today, even the most ardent admirer and fan of Indian sport is sceptical about what will happen in 2021 in Tokyo. Covid-19 cannot be an excuse. Bio bubbles have been created for the Indian athletes as well in various cities.

The big step forward is to compete and win in 2021 before the Olympics, including the Olympic qualifiers, which will be the litmus test. Covid-19 fear has to be conquered what with the vaccine now a certainty in 2021. If the normal man has resumed life despite the pandemic, it is about time the Indian athletes also show the same purpose and poise.

Sindhu

‘I Learnt Cooking, Focused On Fitness In Covid-19 Times’

Rio de Janeiro Olympics silver medalist and world champion PV Sindhu is always looking for new ways to improve her skills and fitness. The latest, in a series of measures, is her visit to London. An eight-week stint in London will entail what she needs to do to improve on her recovery at a private lab run by Gatorade first and then also playing there. Gatorade lab is reckoned to be a modern sports institute, where top athletes undergo various tests to see how their body behaves after a tough match and what needs to be done to get the juices flowing again. It is well known that Sindhu, who keeps slogging on her fitness and speed will also use the opportunity to play in London with top guns.

In an exclusive chat with LokMarg, Sindhu shares her thoughts on how life was since outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown thereafter. She has faced tough times with the media in Hyderabad, her hometown, as well, but is now used to it.

How did you spend time after the lockdown was announced?

Well, it was fine, I was still training from home and then I looked at ways to keep myself busy. I spent time playing with my nephew (sister’s son) and the family. I managed to do a lot of new things like keeping myself busy learning to cook and painting. I did not get bored really during lockdown. Of course, there was no badminton (tournaments) obviously.

How did you resume training? And was it tough to find your rhythm back after the forced lockdown?

Well, as I was training during lockdown from home, so it was not tough for me. It took me a few weeks (to get the feel) when we got back to the courts. But for me, it was not like begin from the start really.

Definitely, when you are away from badminton and you do not connect with the shuttle, it will take time. I think for me getting the rhythm back was easier.

And did the lockdown affect your fitness regime?

In the lockdown, I had my trainer giving me the set of drills (schedule) to follow. Morning I was busy on court. I had my fitness drills in the morning, and evening was different. I had my workout in the gym, focused on my fitness and speed. Most important was to keep working out hard.

And your diet plan?

Well, diet, I eat rice, so I continue with it. I avoided junk food and did not eat much of oily food. For me, recovery is very, very important. As I also have my personal physio, I was stretching out which is very important to ensure I remained fit. When I needed treatment from the physio, they were there. I have to stay in peak shape.

Any the key areas of learning in your sport?

Well, as regards key areas, I want to focus on every aspect. This is the time to learn more strokes and I want to learn everything new possible. There are no tournaments immediately for me so it is a good time to keep learning strokes and keep improving. I have so much time, so there is nothing wrong in learning.

Your thoughts on the postponed Tokyo Olympics?

Well, the Tokyo Olympics, I hope to do well. We have tournaments before that in 2021. I am hopeful I will do well and one at a time is my mantra.

How did you deal with Covid-19 during the peak as an athlete?

I have been taking of myself care during Covid-19 and even now. Every individual should do that, in fact. Wear a mask, use sanitiser and maintain social distancing. In my case, when I returned home, I always washed and showered.

Please tell us about the role of your parents in your life?

My parents have always supported me in my life. They have helped me and supported me all along. I am lucky as they were both sportspersons, they know what best I need.

Your thoughts, looking ahead?

I do hope Covid 19 goes away and all the people can lead normal lives. For athletes, being on court is so important. I would say all people need to enjoy sport. It was tough during the pandemic as all the events got cancelled.

I think it is very important for all of us to stay positive. I am sure normalcy will return and we all need to be positive in our lives every single day.

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