Before the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, India won only 12 medals in its 61-year history of participating in the quadrennial event. However, the 54-member contingent – our largest ever, has managed to surpass the medal-tally by bringing 16 medals, with one day remaining for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics’ concluding day. The sudden spurt in medals is no quackery but the result of a carefully crafted strategy, put in place ever since the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government came into being.
The 54 superhumans’ contingent
However, first and foremost, the entirety of praise must go to the superhumans competing at the highest sporting competition of the world to bring laurels for the country. Paralympics is not just a tournament but a celebration of the human spirit that knows all but one thing and that is to keep going against the insurmountable odds. These athletes have once again shown that we are only limited by the societal constructs and the boundaries erected by our minds.
TOPS – the cornerstone in our Olympic/Paralympic success
However, as is the saying, it takes an entire village to forge an Olympic winning medallist –the Modi government took the adage to heart. Through the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), the flagship government sports scheme, aimed at nurturing and polishing the Olympic dreams of the country, the glittering haul of medals has been achieved this time around.
All 54 athletes are part of TOPS and the government has rallied behind them, leaving no stone unturned for their success. Over the years, the government has spent Rs 1,200 crore on athletes according to the Sports Authority of India (SAI).
TOPS was initiated by the Modi government in 2014 but the Rio Paralympics happened within two years. The scheme did not have enough time to pick, train and polish the Paralympian’s. However, fast forward today and entire India is beaming after seeing the rich haul of medals our Paralympian’s have brought home.
TOPS – Target Olympic Podium Scheme launched in 2014.
2016 Rio Olympics was too soon.
2020 Tokyo Olympics & Tokyo Paralympics 2021 have proved what a success TOPS has been.
Tokyo Olympics:Highest medals tally ever
Tokyo Paralympics: More medals than all past medals combined
— Akhilesh Mishra (@amishra77) September 4, 2021
A prophecy that came true
Former TOPS chairman Anju Bobby George had remarked in the aftermath of Rio that the results of the scheme would yield in 2020 and like some holy prophecy, her words have rung true.
Anju had remarked in 2016, “This is the first time the government is supporting a scheme for such a long term, till 2024. Normally, for any other event, it is for six months or less. We never expected any performance this year through TOPS. The big results will come in 2020 and 2024. It was the prime minister’s vision to support it to the maximum and we could field more athletes than ever before at Rio.”
All 54 Paralympian’s are TOPS athlete
According to the Statesman report, the first Indian woman medallist of Tokyo edition, Bhavina Patel, a part of the TOPS core group who received key interventions from the Government of India in terms of participation in international competitions.
Bhavina received financial assistance towards procuring TT tables, Robot and TT Wheelchair for personal training, assistance towards Physiotherapy, Dietician, psychologist & coaching fees to prepare for the Tokyo Paralympic Games as well as Sports specific equipment such as Table Tennis balls, ply, rubber, glue etc for training.
While Bhavina is only one example out of 53 other stories, one can only imagine the effort the government must have put in behind every single Paralympian.
What makes the achievement sweeter is the fact that despite the Paralympics being delayed by a year due to China made coronavirus pandemic, India managed to send its biggest contingent with 54 athletes.
An athlete-centric approach
Deepa Malik, the President of the Indian Paralympics Committee and a former Paralympian, attributed the success of the Paralympians to the athlete-centric approach taken by the Federation and the government.
Appointing Deepa as the President of the Indian Paralympics Committee, as the example of a change in approach, Deepa stated “Once this position was being offered it was a good opportunity to fill in the gap and if the federation itself wants an athlete in the lead role and a person who comes from the severe most disability categories, then that itself sensitises them and the system to the needs of the athletes. My governing body members have been very supportive from day one and because of the great teamwork, my job has become a lot easier,”
(1/2) My heartiest congratulations on the commencement of new innings of a fresh tenure in @ParalympicIndia. Expressing my gratitude on being trusted with the Presidentship and welcoming an athlete centric approach in para sports in India. https://t.co/oqIj2EM7Lk
— Deepa Malik (@DeepaAthlete) February 1, 2020
PM Modi taking matters into his hands
Moreover, as reported by TFI, after the downfall of the Rio Olympics where India managed to win only four medals (Two gold, One silver, one bronze), Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016 took matters into his own hands and constituted a task force to prepare an action plan for the next three Olympics Games viz. Tokyo 2020, Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028.
The task force aimed at preparing a strategy for the improvement of the facilities, selection norms, and better training facilities. The task force includes the likes of national badminton coach Pulella Gopichand, Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra, former India hockey captain VirenRasquinha, among other foreign experts.
Khelo India Para National games
The biggest development towards the improvement of the sporting scene in India has come through the “Khelo India” programme. The official website of the programme states that it has been introduced to “revive the sports culture in India at the grass-root level by building a strong framework for all sports played in our country and establish India as a great sporting nation.”
The programme has been working wonders for India. It was launched with a budget of Rs. 97.52 crore. By the Financial Year 2020, it went through a nine-fold increase and reached a whopping Rs. 890.92 crore. First National Para Games under Khelo India Program was held in 2018 in Bengaluru.
Khelo India budget
FY 16 – 97.52 crore rupees
FY 20 – 890.92 crore rupees
Ninefold increase in four years!!
And there are despicable people who argue that the government has nothing to do this success.
Well, no success comes free of cost!!
— Amit Agrahari (@amit_agrahari94) August 7, 2021
While the Paralympians and Olympians have shown that TOPS indeed works, the signs had already been there. Out of the 70 athletes who won medals at the CWG 2018, 47 of them were supported under the TOP Scheme.
When the country’s top leaders have a vision and take an active role in assessing the condition of its players, one can be assured that India will be breaching new frontiers in the upcoming Olympics.