Swimming in India Caught in A Whirlpool

Swimming What’s so special about swimming ? Well, its one activity which can be taken up by whoever so desires. Experts say that it is one of the best ways for exercising all the muscles of the body without any additional pressure. Actually, swimming is multidimensional – while some indulge in swimming for recreation, there are others who take it up as a competitive sport.
At a formal level, swimming became a competitive sport since the 1896 Athens Olympics. Governed by the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), the goal of the competition was to be the fastest over a given distance. Swimming became extremely popular in the 19th century and since then there has been no looking back. In India, competitive swimming is managed by the Swimming Federation of India (SFI), an apex body that is affiliated to FINA. SFI came into being as a result of an amalgamation of the National Swimming Association (NSA) and the Indian Swimming Federation (ISF).
Swimming is a prestigious event at the Olympics, but in India the sport languishes for the most part. But forget the Olympics. Up till now, Indian swimmers have won only two medals in the Asian Games. Khajan Singh won a silver medal in the 1986 Asian Games at Seoul and after 24 years i.e. in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, Virdhawal Khade won a bronze medal.
But when Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken, who incidentally is also the Housing and Poverty Alleviation Minister, invited sports Federations to prepare a roadmap for the 2020 Olympics, unfortunately swimming was not a part of it. In this context, Virendra Nanavati, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SFI said that, “I cannot comment on what they have in their mind, but all that I can say is that for swimming there are a solid 34 medals at the Olympics.” He also added that, “we are rooting for hockey so much, how many medals do we get in hockey.”
It is very regretful that in India, swimming is not getting attention proportionate to its stature on the international stage. Another SFI official said that their efforts to bring a foreign coach for the 2012 London Olympics failed due to bureaucratic wrangling. He said, “they asked why should we pay so much to the foreign coach, but they don’t understand no foreign coach is going to work for Rs. 2 lakhs (approximately 4000 dollars) a month.”
Bronze medallist Virdhawal Khade said after the 2010 Asian Games that, “A lot of people think differently. Without giving help they expect results. We haven’t any support like the other swimmers get in the U.S and Australia from their Governments. This is not to say we want the same amount of money to spend, but just that I would like some one step up for us.”
The qualification of Gagan AP Ulalmath for the 2012 London Olympics also came as a surprise. Gagan had secured the Olympic berth through the ‘universality quota’ offered by FINA. But his performance raised serious questions on how he was granted a quota in the first place, when better ranked swimmers were ignored. It shut the door for more well-known swimmers like Virdhawal Khade, Sandeep Sejwal, Aaron D’Souza and Saurabh Sangvekar. CEO Nanavati commented in this context that “it was the prerogative of FINA to pick a swimmer from the country that could not have any representation. Gagan has not touched any qualification standard, while the other four have Olympic Selection Timing.” The situation of women swimmers is also the same. Women swimmers like Arti Bajarang Ghorpade, Bhavna Sharma, Sivaranjani Vaidyanathan can do better at the international level if sustainable facilities are provided to them.
In the recently concluded Ninth Asian Swimming Championships held in Dubai from November 15-18, 2012, Indian swimmers didn’t achieve any success. This is regretful, but even more regretful is what CEO Nanavati said : ‘when we sent the team for the meet, it was not expected to win a medal.” It is very shameful that even the CEO of the SFI is not confident about the team.
It is almost as if swimming in India is permanently caught in a whirlpool. Many such questions float in our minds when we read or hear about India’s poor performance in sports. We are saying ‘sports’ because a situation similar to the questionable state of swimming exists in almost all the other sports.
We have the resources, the manpower required for creating a better ‘sporting’ nation, but we fail. In the case of swimming, this is due to the fact that Indian swimmers are deprived of proper coaching and adequate facilities. The swimmers practice swimming in rivers and tanks and unprofessional swimming pools. This makes a huge difference when they participate in events like the Olympics. The need of the hour is to look into these loopholes and take immediate and effective remedial measures such as providing worthwhile incentives. Talented swimmers should be spotted at a young age and nurtured to make them capable of competing at the international level. Youngsters too ought to dedicate themselves to the sport; they should not see it as a ‘pass time’ alone. Instead they should possess the power and self belief to reach the zenith of success.


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