London: Winning glory aside, India’s athletes at the Olympics could also hit the jackpot if they win medals here.
The Haryana government, which announced a prize of Rs 2.5 crore to a gold medallist from the state, may just be in the vanguard of sponsors and corporate well-wishers looking to reward the winners—and, obviously, get some rub-off from it.
For instance, on Friday afternoon, even as the archers struggled to live up to their high billing at Lord’s, the boxing squad got a whiff of the bonanza that awaits them if they translate their potential into medals.
At a press conference soon after the weigh-in, one of the sponsors of the squad, Venky’s, announced Rs 50 lakh for a gold medal-winning boxer, Rs 25 lakh for silver and Rs 10 lakh for bronze, which immediately lit up the proceedings.
Medal hope: A file photo of five-time world boxing champion M.C. Mary Kom. Pradeep Gaur/Mint.
Incidentally, the poultry giant from India has come to grief with its foray into football, its English Premier League (EPL) purchase last season of Blackburn Rovers leading to massive dejection among fans, and relegation after a poor season.
Indian boxing is a far smaller enterprise than running an EPL team; the entire cost for Venky’s, even if every boxer won a gold medal, would not be more than, say, a million dollars.
The moot question, however, is whether cash awards are the incentive for Indian sportspersons to unleash their prowess going ahead. A member of the support staff for the boxing squad, who prefers anonymity, believes it would. “Apart from cricket and, to an extent, tennis, other sportspersons have been beleaguered,” he said. “In the past, these guys played and took victory or defeat as it came, hoping from some recognition from the government in terms of a job, or some piece of land to start a small business.”
Times have changed dramatically in the past couple of decades, he said. “We live in a different India today. High-performance sportspersons are not content only with lip service. They need to secure their future because sport is their only livelihood and a sporting life is time-bound. Money has become integral to the psychological well-being of an athlete, and is a clear incentive to do better.”
Interestingly, Venky’s also announced a special allowance of $2,000 each, which, the support staff member observed pithily, was more than what the entire squad would have got in the past. Just how relevant this theory is remains untested in the Indian context, though it is widely acknowledged elsewhere, even increasingly in communist China, where elite sportspersons enjoy rich material privileges. But it would be fair to say that with the rising interest in sports in India, and with many corporates and sundry well-wishers finding the entry barrier to cricket prohibitive, other disciplines could be in for a rewarding time.
Of course, the athletes will have to be winners. Like everywhere else in New India, there may be no place for losers; not even commiserations.
Best ever Indian team?
Meanwhile, chief coach G.S. Sandhu and technical director B. Fernandez have both averred that this is the best squad of boxers they have seen from India in the past several years.
“The boys are fighting fit, and in form. There can be no excuses,” said Sandhu, to which Fernandez nodded sagely. The draw was to be held on Friday evening and if luck holds, the support staff is hopeful of more than just the bronze medal won by Vijender Singh at Beijing. M.C. Mary Kom, five times world champion but who is fighting in a heavier weight category for the first time (51 kg), missed the press conference, preferring to go to train at Liverpool after her weigh-in. She has also skipped the opening ceremony and will return to London in the first week of August.
Ayaz Memon writes a fortnightly column in Mint, Beyond Boundaries