Heading into the Olympic year, important to remember that 2023 opened many frontiers for Indian sports, promising bigger feats

Neeraj Chopra and Kishore Jena in Asian Games
Neeraj Chopra and Kishore Jena in Asian Games (Photo: Rohan Chowdhury)

The coming year may well turn out to be the year of reckoning for Indian sport, another step towards becoming a better sporting nation, rather than being just a massive, readymade and welcoming market for overseas sport in which Indians have no presence at all. But until that happens, the year rolling by has to be seen as the defining year for Indian sport.

What is a defining year? Shall we say it is one in which, more than any earlier year, we get a stronger indication that Indian sport will leapfrog on the Olympic Games charts to the top 20? A defining year does not necessarily mean that it is an end in itself or that everything is hunky-dory. Sport, by its nature, is almost always work in progress.

And that is the reason why gains from each defining year have be built upon, so that India is ready to face any eventualities while keeping an eye on trends across world sport. Let us start by examining some reasons for such optimism.

More than anything else, it is the combination of self-belief and fearlessness that has come to typify Indian athletes. With the relentless backing of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, National Sports Federations have been able to plan the training and competition schedule for their athletes in India’s quest to be among the world’s top 20 in the Olympic Games.

From an administrative point of view as well, 2023 has been significant, not the least for drawing attention of inadequate safety provisions in Indian sport, especially for female athletes. It took a stormy protest by wrestlers, including Olympic and World Championship medallists, near Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, to highlight some underlying issues in Indian sport.

Big incentive in chess

There is one development that is arresting. The All India Chess Federation has earmarked Rs 2 crore for Vidit Gujrathi, R Praggnanandhaa and R Vaishali’s preparation for the Candidates (FIDE World Championships qualifiers) next year. The AICF has perhaps shone a torch on a path that more federations will have to take, sooner than later.

Of course, there were disappointments and upheavals and there is no doubt that India — including each of its states and Union Territories — must invest more in a long-term athlete development pathway to become a powerhouse in proportion with its human capital and talent. Yet, there has been much to cheer for us to think of 2023 as the defining year.

For the Latest Sports News:  Click Here


Neeraj & the Javelin Revolution

In javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, India found its first world champion in athletics, arguably the most competitive of events simply because no other discipline attracts 200 nations to its World Championships. That three Indians finished in the top six in that event has been a massive talking point in the athletics circles.

I was witness to a Japanese journalist seeking out Athletics Federation of India president, Adille Sumariwalla, to try and understand India’s progress in javelin throw. And, more recently, I learnt that the Germans were keen to study how India ‘suddenly’ became so efficient in the event that three of its throwers finished in the top 6 in the World Athletics Championships in Budapest.

Earlier, the national anthem rang out four times in medal ceremonies at the IBA Women’s World Boxing Championships in New Delhi. Nitu Ghanghas, Nikhat Zareen, Lovlina Borgohain and Saweety Boora won the hearts of the packed crowd at the KD Jadhav Hall at Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium. Compound archers Aditi Swami and Ojas Deotale became the latest Indians to claim World Championship titles, while billiards ace Pankaj Advani increased his tally of World Championship trophies to 26.

Accolades in badminton

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty rose to be World No. 1, while fellow badminton ace HS Prannoy picked up a World Championships bronze and rose to World No. 7 at the end of the year. The young Antim Panghal was the silver lining in a lacklustre year for wrestling as she won a bronze at the World Championships.

India returned its best haul in the Asian Games and the Asian Para Games in Hangzhou to contribute to the growing belief that 2023 has been the best year for the country. I must admit I was surprised by the medal harvest in the Asian Games. When making my assessment ahead of the Games, I erred in not taking team medals in shooting and archery into consideration.

But then, it is always wonderful to be proved wrong by our athletes.

Century of medals at the Asian Games

With athletics, shooting and archery combining to deliver 60 medals, the target of 100 was surpassed. Veteran Rohan Bopanna’s tactical switch that made a difference in the mixed doubles tennis final and Saurav Ghoshal and Abhay Singh’s heroics in beating Pakistan in the men’s team squash gold medal match will stay etched in the minds.

Cricket made its appearance in the Asian Games and the Indian women’s and men’s teams kept their dates with gold, while the equestrian dressage team of Anush Agarwalla, Hriday Chheda, Divyakriti Singh and Sudipti Hajela claimed a surprise gold. Dipika Pallikal Karthik and Harinder Pal Sandhu claimed the squash mixed doubles gold.

The men’s hockey team had finished a disappointing ninth in the FIH World Cup in Bhubaneswar, but the side did well to bounce back to win the Asian Games gold and seal an Olympic berth. The year ended in a blaze of glory for Hardik Singh and Savita Punia, as they were named FIH Men’s Player of the Year and FIH Women’s Goalkeeper of the Year.

Also Read: SA v IND: Batting first and pace aces – the story of India’s Test wins in South Africa

Leave a Reply

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