Of the 28 medals won by India in the Olympic Games so far, 11 have come from hockey. Individuals have got only 17 medals in the Olympics, but none has gone to an athlete from Assam. Athletes from the State have won medals in major international sports competitions like the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and World Championships, but somehow, an Olympic medal has eluded them. If athletes from Assam are to win Olympic medals, the State may have to focus on a limited number of sports disciplines in which it has a comparative advantage. This strategy has worked in the case of countries like Kenya which won 13 medals in the Rio Olympic Games in 2016, capturing a decent 15th position in the overall tally. All these medals came from athletics. If sports disciplines for increased focus are not chosen, we may not be able to provide the required support to our athletes with our limited resources.
When we think of sports disciplines for focused attention, athletics, badminton, archery and boxing immediately come to mind. We have a good legacy in these sports and icons are also there. Of our six Arjuna awardees, five come from these sports. Of all these sports, boxing seems to be the pick.
In this sport, Shiva Thapa and Lovlina Borgohain are the two Arjuna awardees from Assam.
In a meeting, held to review India�s preparedness for the Tokyo Olympics, Prime Minister Narendra Modi desired that the principle of �One State One Game� be followed for achieving excellence in sports. The aim of this strategy is to make a state proficient in a single sport in which it possesses special aptitude with a view to working towards an Olympic gold in the sport. Sustained focus on a sport and identification of talented athletes at an early age is essential, as it takes training of eight years or more for an athlete to attain excellence at global level and be in a position to win an Olympic medal.
In pursuance of the Prime Minister�s desire, the Union Sports Ministry wrote to all state governments to indicate three sports disciplines the state would like to adopt under �One State One Game� principle.
The criteria for choosing the sport discipline included existing sport infrastructure, past performance, aptitude and popularity of the sport in the state. After studying the responses, the Central Government finalised the sports disciplines for various states/UTs, keeping in view the potential and recent participation trend. The discipline of boxing has been chosen for Assam under the �One State One Game� principle.
In the chosen discipline, the Central Government would support the state for soft components such as coaching, sports science, sport-related technical assistance and competition/exposure of athletes, among others.
In the Khelo India Youth Games (KIYG), held in Guwahati in January, 2020, maximum medals were achieved by Assam in boxing. The State won a total number of 19 medals including one gold, four silvers and 14 bronzes in this sport. Assam has produced international players like Shiva, Ankushita Boro, Lovlina and Jamuna Boro. This shows that Assam has no dearth of promising players. They need to be identified early and groomed properly. Since the players are mostly from rural areas, they need to have access to basic facilities including boxing rings closer to home.
Competent coaches will also have to be positioned so that the athletes get their basics right. Very promising players among them may be taken to modern academies at selected places in Assam where they may be provided the best of facilities including infrastructure, expert coaches, support staff, sports science support, nutritious diet, supplements and opportunity to take part in top competitions.
Boxing can also be very effective in channelising the aggression of the youth. It can keep them constructively engaged. Also, it has been seen that in Assam, mostly, girls have outperformed boys in boxing. Hence, promotion of boxing can be an instrument of women empowerment in the State.
Lovlina has already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics and she is a very accomplished player who is capable of beating the best. Who knows, she may be the first athlete from Assam to win an Olympic medal. If this happens, the sport in the State will get tremendous boost.
(Author is the Director General of Sports Authority of Assam. Views expressed in the article are personal.)