Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken has said that India will target for 25 medals at the 2020 Olympics. While speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, Maken said that 25 medals at the 2020 Olympics is the target India has set for itself.
Maken said given the efforts the government is putting in to train its athletes, this is a reasonable expectation in eight years' time.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. With the Olympics coming to an end, has India's performance been satisfactory or disappointing? That's the key issue I shall explore today with the Sports Minister, Ajay Maken.
Mr Maken, let me start with a simple question. India has a population of 1.2 billion but as of Friday lunch time, it's only won four medals at the Olympics. If we are lucky, we might get one or two more by Sunday but that's all. Would you accept that this is a disappointing and unsatisfactory performance?
Ajay Maken: Well, if you compare India's past performance, I think this is the best ever Olympics so far we have ever had.
Karan Thapar: As of now by just one extra medal..
Ajay Maken: No, it is not like that. You should compare how many medals India could win, except hockey, ever since Olympics started. It was just seven medals. And this time alone, we have got four medals. It is not only in comparison to last time, if you take last time and this time both together, we have won seven medals so far as compared to five medals ever since Olympics started. Four medals ever since Olympics started..
Karan Thapar: You are taking great pride in the fact that this time we have done one medal better than Beijing but the truth is that in Beijing we got a gold. This time, so far as of Friday, our best is silver. The others are two bronze. And secondly, one of those bronze medals was won by default not by winning games.
Ajay Maken: But you should atleast appreciate the fact that it was the first time in badminton, a boy Kashyap go up to quarter-finals and Saina (Nehwal) could go up to semi-finals. So, both these things have happened for the first time. So if you compare India with others, we still have a long way to go. I am not denying the fact..
Karan Thapar: But minister..
Ajay Maken: But let us fist compare India with India. Our past performances..
Karan Thapar: But listen to what you are saying. You are taking pride in the fact that one badminton player got to the quarter finals and the other one got a bronze medal?
Ajay Maken: No, no..
Karan Thapar: You are putting the bar so low and that's not a compliment for India.
Ajay Maken: No it is not like that. Straight away you can't win a gold medal. You have to go up step-by-step. China won their first gold medal in 1984. So, where China is now. And India won their first gold medal just last year.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. India, if you look at its performance in hockey, is it regressing, up till and including 1980..
Ajay Maken: After..
Karan Thapar: Let me finish..
Ajay Maken: After 1968..
Karan Thapar: Let me finish..
Ajay Maken: After 1968, we have never won a gold medal in hockey. Except for 1980..
Karan Thapar: Absolutely. That's what I am saying. Mr Minister, if you don't let me finish a question, how can you answer it? You are talking about India getting better year by year, I am pointing out that in hockey we have regressed. After 1980, we have not only not won medals, but the truth is this time around we failed to get..
Ajay Maken: Mr Thapar..
Karan Thapar: Let me finish the question.
Ajay Maken: You are talking about hockey and let me tell you last time we could not even compete.
Karan Thapar: And this time around we did not win a single one in the five games. Is it..
Ajay Maken: So this time around..
Karan Thapar: We have got gold upto 1980.
Ajay Maken: That's when half of the world was not playing. Why not? Why not? Why don't you compare it with Asian Games, Commonwealth Games?
Karan Thapar: Just a moment..
Ajay Maken: When half of the world is not playing and you get a gold medal, you take pride in that.
Karan Thapar: I am not taking pride in it. I am pointing out to you that our performance is deteriorating. In 1996, which is our worst performance up till now, we came eighth. This time we are coming eleventh.
Ajay Maken: Last time we could not even come in first twelve.
Karan Thapar: This time we do not have a single point in the Olympics.
Ajay Maken: Last time we could not even go to the Olympics, leave aside getting a point.
Karan Thapar: So then you are agreeing that it is an embarrassing outcome?
Ajay Maken: No, it is not an embarrassing outcome. Let me tell you, India as far as the human development index is concerned, India is 134th in the world. As far as the per capita income is concerned, India is 129th in the world. And as of now, we are 46th in the Olympics.
Karan Thapar: Forgive me, we are 48th. As of Friday lunch time, we are 48th.
Ajay Maken: Okay. 48th.
Karan Thapar: That means we are deteriorating..
Ajay Maken: Mr Thapar, what about the human development, what about the per capita income.. Sports is not just about the number of people.
Karan Thapar: Mr Maken..
Ajay Maken: The base is broad.
Karan Thapar: Mr Maken, this time Kazakhstan has got six gold medals and eight in all and Iran has got four gold medals and eight in all.
Ajay Maken: Iran is 69th in terms of per capita.
Karan Thapar: And 14th in terms of Olympics and Kazakhstan is 11th.
Ajay Maken: India is 134th.
Karan Thapar: Ethiopia which is the poorest country is has got two medals..
Ajay Maken: Last time Ethiopia was 14th. Ethiopia has also come down. There are only two countries in the world who are better than India in Olympics and a worse human development index.
Karan Thapar: Can I…
Ajay Maken: Just let me finish.. I have made an important point. It is not in terms of only population or the total GDP produced. It is the human development index. Because it is afterall, talking about the well-being of the people. It is the per capita income. When we say we are such a big country..
Karan Thapar: Can I pause a moment? Do you know what you are saying? You are saying that our human development is so low and so poor, we can't expect to win medals.
Ajay Maken: Yes we..
Karan Thapar: This is like slap in the face of..
Ajay Maken: No, no that's not what I mean..
Karan Thapar: You are saying we are so badly nutritioned that we can't win..
Ajay Maken: I am saying we are 134th in the world and still if we able to get into 46th-48th. It is a big achievement for our athletes. Of our country.
Karan Thapar: Can I tell you something? We are an emerging superpower. If Kazakhstan can get 6, if little Belarus – which people don't even know where it is – can get three and a total of 10..
Ajay Maken: Mr Thapar.. All such countries have better human development index and per capita income than India.All these things are related to each other.
Karan Thapar: Congress has ruled this country for close to a century. If the human development is poor, surely Congress is to be blamed.
Ajay Maken: No. No, you are talking about Sports or you are talking about politics.
Karan Thapar: You got into politics..
Ajay Maken: Human development index is not politics. It is a reality.
Karan Thapar: It is failure of governance.
Ajay Maken: Whatever it is.
Karan Thapar: It matters.
Ajay Maken: Whatever it is. The reality is that human development index and per capita income are play a very important role.
Karan Thapar: Let's pull back from this quarrel. And look, instead, at specific sectors. We have already discussed, hockey with great acrimony. I pointed out to you that our worst performance in 1996 has now been even made worse. In 1996, we ended up as 8th and this time we are going to end up 11th or 12th.
Ajay Maken: Last time we did not even compete. Why are you picking years and then..
Karan Thapar: So you mean..
Ajay Maken: This is better than last time. Please make a comparison with last time and not as compared to earlier. You only take hockey.
Karan Thapar: I take your point and let's come to others subjects. First, let's come to this point on hockey. You were saying in comparison to last year when we could not even qualify to compete, the fact this time we have come and competed and will come last or second last is an improvement. I grant it. But it is such a marginal improvement.
Ajay Maken: It is an improvement. Which is bigger – this time 81 of our athletes would compete, last time it was just 56. Is it not a bigger improvement? I am saying qualified. I am not saying we sent so many..
Karan Thapar: Can I turn that around?
Ajay Maken: Tell me.
Karan Thapar: The number of athletes competing may have gone up by 25 per cent approximately, the number of medals in comparison to last time, so far as of Friday, is up by just one.
Ajay Maken: That is also 25 per cent.
Karan Thapar: The gold is missing.
Ajay Maken: The gold may come. But in terms of athletes who have competed it is a big achievement. 81 is the highest number of athletes who have qualified from India this time.
Karan Thapar: It is a marginal area where we can take a certain amount of pride and satisfaction.
Ajay Maken: No it is not a marginal - from 56 athletes to 81. If our Joydeep Karmakar who came fourth and missed medal by a whisker, if our silver medalist who missed gold medal by just one point are these not achievements. All our athletes have performed superbly well.
Karan Thapar: In each case the achievements is that we missed something by whisker. It is a very strange way of saying we missed by a whisker.
Ajay Maken: But still they have been able to achieve so much. So do not take credit from our athletes.
Karan Thapar: I'm not taking credit from them.
Ajay Maken: Even at the world scenario competing at international level, being able to qualify is a big achievement.
Karan Thapar: Minister for a country that considers itself an emerging superpower you are putting a threshold so low, you are slapping India on the face.
Ajay Maken: No it is not keeping threshold so low. What I'm saying from 56 (athletes) we have jumped to 81. China got its first gold in 1984, we got our first gold in last time only.
Karan Thapar: Let us move ahead, our two great hopefuls before the Olympic began was Shooting and Boxing. In Shooting we failed to retain the gold that we had in Beijing and our two hopefuls didn't even qualify for the finals no doubt, no doubt Vijay Kumar has given us a silver and we have got a bronze, but at the end of the our stars let us down.
Ajay Maken: Why didn't you expect Vijay Kumar to win a medal. It is the fault of the media. It is your fault why didn't you hope Vijay Kumar will win a medal. Why didn't you hope Joydeep Karmakar to win a medal, who came fourth.
Karan Thapar: But fourth is not a medal.
Ajay Maken: But you were expecting other to win medal
Karan Thapar: Gagan Narang was hopeful for a silver but he didn't get it.
Ajay Maken: Let me tell you, the media was expecting Gagan to win a medal in some other event, he won a bronze medal in other event. So what I'm trying to say, it was your fault who hoped medal from wrong horses.
Karan Thapar: Do I remember sports ministry saying that you expect something from Vijay Kumar, no. You didn't say even once but now cashing in. You were silent about..
Ajay Maken: You have asked a very good question. Let me answer it, we have spent a huge amount of money on Vijay Kumar's training, not just him all the medal winners.
Karan Thapar: But you have spend money on all your athletes. We don't send athletes to Olympics with out spending money on them.
Ajay Maken: All these athletes who have won, we have given special attention and personalised help.
Karan Thapar: But you have not even once said that Vijay Kumar to win. Which is why don't blame media take the blame yourself. Vijay Kumar was a pleasant surprise. You can't take credit and the media can't take credit either.
Ajay Maken: Let me tell you credit goes to the players and the coaches only. But we provided the best help ever in the Olympics. The money spent on training players for Olympics by the government of India is the highest ever.
Karan Thapar: I congratulate the government of India for doing so. Let's now come to the second area of great hope and hope we feel let down. Boxing, no doubt Mary Kom has got us a bronze medal and we are very proud of her but the male boxers seem to have regressed. In Beijing, out of the five three qualified for the finals and one got a medal, this time out the seven only two have qualified for the quarters and no medal. So we are not improving, we are going the other way.
Ajay Maken: You are picking some points deliberately to pin the minister or the ministry down.
Karan Thapar: For once you have at least concede it.
Ajay Maken: You have at least agreed to a point that against five, last time India has now qualified eight.
Karan Thapar: Seven.
Ajay Maken: I am talking total in boxing.
Karan Thapar: Ok.
Ajay Maken: Eight boxers qualified against five last time and qualification is not easy, you have to fight against the best boxers in the world and then only you can qualify.
Karan Thapar: Can I ask you to pause for a moment. Four or five times in this interview you have taken pride in this interview that we are playing at an international level. That we have qualified for the finals and that we have missed the medal by a whisker.
Ajay Maken: Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: You know that is not pride, that is self satisfaction and consolation.
Ajay Maken: Mr Thapar we have improve all round.
Karan Thapar: The bar is so low that it is a slap in India's face.
Ajay Maken: You have to compare India with India, you can't compare India with USA. And when you are making comparison you should also make comparison of the human development index.
Karan Thapar: Let's come to tennis. We have great players in tennis. We thought they would bring us medal, they showed enormous fighting spirit when they were quarrelling with each other to get selected for the Olympics, having got to the Olympics, the fighting spirit was drained out of them. They have done it abysmally.
Ajay Maken: I agree that the tennis players had they had better understanding amongst each other it would have been better. But still as compared to last time, this time seven of our tennis players have competed.
Karan Thapar: The only satisfaction is that the number competing has gone up. One of the reasons we haven't done well is that the selectors weren't allowed to send the sort of team they wanted.
Ajay Maken: No, no…
Karan Thapar: Let me finish. For the men's doubles they wanted to send one team of Leander Peas and Mahesh Bhupathi, many people including questioned them and put pressure and we ended up sending two teams.
Ajay Maken: You are absolutely wrong. By way of this we have got young players who have got the Olympics experience.
Karan Thapar: By the way of this we may have lost a couple of medals.
Ajay Maken: No, never.
Karan Thapar: Peas and Bhupathi had much better chance than Bhupathi and Bhopanna or Peas and the other person.
Ajay Maken: In the past Mr Thapar, every one knows that there has to be a chemistry in doubles players. There has to be some understand. You can't have doubles players acrimonious to each other.
Karan Thapar: It's is very odd that you believe as a ministry and all the other who agreed with you that you are better than the selectors. Should we have intervened?
Ajay Maken: No, the selectors themselves decided. The government never put any pressure on the selectors.
Karan Thapar: Let's stop quarrelling about whether India's performance was satisfactory or disappointing and the sort of low level at which we take satisfaction. Mr Maken let's talk about the strategy to ensure that the future Olympics would be better than the ones that have passed. Do you think the time has come for India to identify a select number of sports which it concentrates on rather than spread itself thinly.
Ajay Maken: Absolutely. I think we need to do few things, as you said we need to select small number of sports rather than spread thinly. The example in this case is Britain, they selected cycling and now they are doing so much that they are straight away came first by just concentrating on one sport.
Karan Thapar: Which are the sports you would identify for selection?
Ajay Maken: Just a minute I'll come to that but this alone will not be enough. We are very weak in sports sciences. We are very weak in terms of coaches. So unless we improve, unless we have a sports science setup and unless we have a sports coaching institute, any number of sports we select will not be good enough.
Karan Thapar: Now, these are area which require intense resources. Can the government do it on its own or do you require corporate sector to step in?
Ajay Maken: Well to setup an apex body, like what we have decided in the 12th plan, we are spending Rs 500 crore just to setup a national institute of sport sciences and national coaching centre which would be world class. Under this umbrella we have smaller institutes in different parts of the country where we would like the private sector to come. So under the umbrella like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences should be one and under which there should be different which can be used by the private player.
Karan Thapar: Have you begun approaching corporate India to help?
Ajay Maken: We have already done that but before that as far as setting up our apex institute is concerned we have already done that. But simultaneously we are also talking to the private players.
Karan Thapar: Now, which are the sports which you think India should target on first of all?
Ajay Maken: Well, shooting is one of our strong points. Boxing again is one of our strong points but the problem with the shooting and the boxing is that majority of the medals, 76 per cent of the medals lie with athletics, aquatics. So, unless you are strong in aquatics or athletics and also cycling, you are missing 76 per cent of the medals.
Karan Thapar: Unfortunately those are the area where we don't have strength. So when you say we should select areas you are talking of other areas.
Ajay Maken: That is what I am saying, I myself said this, that we should first of all select our strong points and we should also divert to such areas which have larger medal pool in Olympics.
Karan Thapar: But that is the second stage, the first stage is selecting your strength. Those are boxing, shooting, would you include archery?
Ajay Maken: Archery yes, but archery has to be because we are strong but archery has only four medals.
Karan Thapar: Ok. Would you include wrestling?
Ajay Maken: Wrestling obviously, wrestling is one of our traditional strong sport. But as I said, wrestling, shooting, archery, boxing all these have small number of medals in the tally. We need to select one out these big events.
Karan Thapar: Now, of the big evens, athletics and the aquatics, which of these you think we should select?
Ajay Maken: I think some of the events in athletics…
Karan Thapar: Field and track?
Ajay Maken: Field and track is something which we should try.
Karan Thapar: My last question, do we need to take a leaf out of China's book? They identified a year or a particular Olympics when they intended to go big and they made an enormous impact in the 90s. Should we start targeting a particular date 2016 or if it is too early, 2020.
Ajay Maken: When you said 2016, I was just going to correct you that it can't be so early as 2016, we can go gradually as we have gone. But for 2020 we should aim for atleast 25 medals and this is something which is achievable.
Karan Thapar: 25 medals…
Ajay Maken: …in 2020 is achievable.
Karan Thapar: And how many golds?
Ajay Maken: It can be… when we talk about 25 medals overall it can be five gold or it can be 10 gold. When you are into that bracket you can't just say how many golds.
Karan Thapar: Alright minister the target is 2020, 25 medals, hopefully five gold. A pleasure talking to you
Ajay Maken: Same here. Thank you.