An evening with Three Olympians, Nurturing the Future

Did you know that in the 127-year history of the Summer Olympics, India has only won 35 medals? To put that into perspective, USA and China won more gold medals than that at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, and the Netherlands, ranked seventh in the medal tally, took home 36 medals from that event.

That’s how depressing India’s Olympics journey has been.

The good news, though, is that since the London 2012 Olympics, India has bagged 15 medals (1G | 5S | 9B), and 12 of those have come from athletes that have been supported and nurtured by the good folks at the Olympic Gold Quest (OQG), a not-for-profit, who are on a mission to help Indian athletes win Olympic Gold medals as they believe that it “it takes just 6 grams of gold to lift the worth of a nation.”

Mary Kom, Gagan Narang, PV Sindhu, Mirabai Chanu, Ravi Kumar and Lovlina Borgohain are some of the individual medalists that have been beneficiaries of the OGQ platform, which was co-founded in 2001 by Prakash Padukone and Geet Sethi, two legendary figures of Indian sports.

Beyond these sporting stars, the platform has supported 351 athletes in total, including 142 senior, 136 junior and 73 para athletes and their efforts have helped India win 9 Olympics medals, 10 Paralympics medals, 15 World Championships, 31 Asian Games medals, 55 Commonwealth medals, 6 Youth Olympics medals and 17 awards at the Junior World Championships.

At the recently conducted fundraiser event that I had the privilege to attend in Singapore, we had the chance to discuss when and why the OGQ platform was created; how luck plays a massive role in the lives of our sporting champions and what India as a nation has to do to make a quantum leap to win double-digit medals at The Olympics?

OGQ’s co-founder, Padma Shri Geet Sethi, who is also a Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna and Arjuna awardee for his 5 World Professional Billiards Championships and 3 World Amateur Billiards Championships, shared how a few personal experiences shaped his desire to set up a sporting platform like this.

In 1998, when Geet was part of the Indian contingent at the Bangkok Asian Games, where he eventually won a Gold medal, he experienced the sorry state of Indian sports, be it in terms of the delayed arrival of sporting jerseys, skewed ratios of sporting officials to players traveling for the event and a lack of national pride.

He further recalled that at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, he had seen Leander Peas shed a few tears on the podium when he won India its first individual medal in 44 years, a bronze medal with a wild-card entry, when the Indian flag was raised. Geet had then remarked to his wife, Kiran Bir Sethi, that he couldn’t understand why Paes was in tears but in 1998, when he took to the podium to receive the Gold medal at the Asian Games, and sew the Indian flag being raised and heard the national anthem being played, tears wouldn’t stop rolling down his cheeks from the otherwise stoic athlete.

For the first time ever, the cue sports champion, who otherwise never had the chance to be part of an Indian contingent as his sport had never qualified as an event in the Asian Games till then and has never been part of the Olympics, experienced what it meant to win for India and the collective pride and worth felt by the nation.

The final trigger was experienced during the Sydney 2000 Olympics, where he had been invited to a dinner that was organized for the Indian contingent and the general feeling of dejection as a sporting nation was further reinforced as he interacted with the Indian athletes.

On his way back from Sydney, he decided that it was time to do something about and for Indian sports and visited Prakash Padukone, a Padma Shri and Arjuna awardee himself for his yeomen services for the nation in the field of badminton, to conceptualize and start OGQ, which was officially launched in 2001.

Eight years down the road, when OGQ was looking for a professional CEO, their paths crossed with Viren Rasquinha, the ex-captain of the Indian men’s hockey team, who had represented the nation in 180 matches between 2002 and 2008, and had just completed his MBA from the Indian School of Business (ISB).

Viren, who has helped Geet and Prakash realize their grand vision through his exemplary leadership and operational excellence over the last 14 years, shared how luck can shape the fate of an athlete and a sporting team. He was referring to the must-win match against Australia, where India had come back to level up 3-3 but the legendary Dhanraj Pillay was given a yellow card with just six minutes left to play and India to battle the mighty Aussies with just ten men.

The team paid a heavy price when Michael Brennan breached the Indian defence and made it 4-3 with just 25 seconds to go. The Australian Kookaburras went on to win the Gold medal at the Olympics at Athens in 2004, the only time they have ever done so, leaving Viren to wonder if things could have worked out differently that evening and if he and his mates could have had added six grams of Gold to their own cabinets?

Geet spoke about his share of luck, in this case, good fortune that changed the course of his career when he and three of his teammates accidentally got a chance to stay with an Indian gentleman in the UK, who, instead of dropping them to the airport, took them home. He sponsored their practice session at local clubs, and from there, Geet went on to win some of the local tournaments, which fetched him life-changing prize money and set him up for success.

Talking about success, I asked Geet what India needed to do differently to make a quantum leap in its medal tally in the coming Olympics? He believed that the nation’s economic growth directly correlates to the investment in sports and our success at global tournaments. Beyond that, both Geet and Viren reiterated that we need to invest at the grassroots to scout, nurture, and support junior athletes, give them international exposure, invest in the right equipment, their physical and mental health, nutrition, and training programs. To scale up institutions, we need to invest in training our coaches. To do the above, platforms such OGQ, Go Sports Foundation, and Inspire Institution of Sports need sustained sources of funds from corporates, institutions, and HNIs, who have a passion for sport, connection with the nation, and are aligned with the vision.

Our audiences also need to support by watching, supporting, cheering and exposing themselves to sports beyond cricket, and our media too has the responsibility to cover and promote Olympics and Paralympics sports and also women athletes, just the way we have begun doing at RevSportz.

They brought the above plan to life when they showed us a video of a young Paralympics archer from India, who has been winning on the international level as a junior athlete, despite not having any arms. Her bow costs $25,000, and she needs a thorough training program for the next five years to make her ready for Los Angeles 2028, or Brisbane 2032.

Geet Sethi, Viren Rasquinha and Neha Aggarwal, an Olympian who was the only Indian table tennis player in the Indian contingent at Beijing 2008 and who now heads partnerships at OGQ, may not have won an Olympics medal themselves due to luck, sponsorship or lack of support or simply because their sport of choice wasn’t an Olympics event. But they and their qualified team at OGQ are striving hard to back the future generation of Olympians from India to win, and win big, in the coming decades.

May we all rally around their cause and their professional effort, along with skills and courage of our athletes, to give us double-digit medals at Paris in 2024 and numerous occasions to feel goosebumps when we see the Indian tricolour go up and hear the Jana Gana Mana when we win Golds on the podium.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *