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NEW DELHI: Beijing Games gold medalist Abhinav Bindra believes that India hasn’t reached the stage where it can host Olympics and the country should only think about it when we are confident if winning at least 40 gold medals.
Speaking at the 2017 Times Lit Fest in the national capital on Sunday, India’s only individual Olympic gold medalist said that he is personally against the idea of hosting the quadrennial event at this point. “I am quite against having an Olympic game at this stage in India, Bindra said during the interaction. “Our system is not ready to absorb that. It can have some positive benefit in terms of creating infrastructure for the city but frankly if we need to build an airport or metro we can do that without the games.”
Bindra, who called time on his shooting career after coming close to winning an Olympic bronze at the Rio Games in 2016, feels that the priority should be to nurturing and investing in our athletes instead. “We need to invest in our people, youth, on our athletes. That should be our priority. Once we are in the position of winning 40 gold medals at the Olympics, for me personally that would be the right time,” he said.
Bindra didn’t mince words when expressing his views on the role of sports in the country. He said while our expectations are sky high from our athletes during Olympics where we magically expect them to return home with a bunch of medals but we forget about them till the next Games.
“I think we are a confused society and a confused nation,” was his blunt assessment when questioned about where, as a society our outlooks is towards sports. “Every four years we want a bunch of gold medals to somehow come in and then we forget about everything. We are in a country with tremendous amount of problems. We need to clearly spell out what role sport has in this country. If we think yes sport is something that we need to invest into, it is something that can portray our nation in a positive way at the global stage then we should do that for a longer term, be patient and persistent. I think that clarity of thought is a little bit confused. As a society, we have a long way to go to make sport a part of our culture.
Bindra talked about building a positive environment around athletes that will help excel. Giving his own example, he said, “I always had a buffer between me and the administration. My father took the lead and became that buffer. Excellence, high performance in sports just doesn’t require excellence from the athlete. It requires excellence from the entire environment that surrounds the athlete. Unfortunately, that wasn’t there that time in India.”
Shedding light on his own career, Bindra recalled how he had to fight demons of his own and how he overcame them by sheer hard work and determination. Before the 2016 Rio Games, Bindra was diagnosed with epilepsy and instead of backing down, he took it as a challenge. “Between 2014-16, I was diagnosed with epilepsy and that caused me to have trembling hands. Shooting is a sport where you need stable hands. But I found a way through it. I worked hard and I did not give up, took it up as a challenge, consulted with the best doctors in the world and when I went to Rio, I was good enough finishing fourth.
He further elaborated on his struggle revealing he had lost confidence in himself but took refuge in shooting, focusing all his attention on overcoming the phase. “It was a lonely battle. I had lost complete confidence in my own self. I did not know how my body was going to react the next moment. In a funny way, shooting became a refuge for me, it gave me focus, a way to not think about my problems, not think about my disease and to channelize all my energies into finding a way through. My fingers were shaking all the time, I had to have a lot of medications for a long period of time which had a lot of side effects like blurred vision.”
“I remember competing in a competition where I could barely see. Funnily, I won that event. I couldn’t see well but I focused on the balance of my body. I wasn’t even sure of making the trip to Glasgow. I was in hospital weeks before the 2014 CWG when I went to Glasgow. But I managed. I was fortunate enough to have a lot of positive people around myself,” he said.
On why he decided to quit the sport, Bindra was honest in his response. “I recognised my fading talent. I was getting old. In my last Olympic (Rio 2016), I did not perform well and didn’t win any medal. Sport in India needs accountability from athletes, officials, from everybody involved. I spent 23 years of my life fully devoted to shooting. Then there came a day when I had to move on. The last time I touched a rifle was in Rio. I have simply moved on,” he said.