lovlina: Lovlina Borgohain’s labor lost: Curious case of an Indian sporting bout

It seemed almost inevitable. Olympic bronze medalist boxer Lovlina Borgohain crashed out of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) quarterfinals losing to Rosie Eccles of Wales in a split decision on Thursday. It all started with her impassioned social media post stating that she was unable to focus on her training as her coach Sandhya Gurung was not in the Games Village and her other coach had been sent home to India.

Given her status as a star athlete and a bona fide medal hope, the powers-that-be in the sports ministry prevailed upon the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to rejig its accommodation list. Team doctor Karanjit Chib’s accreditation was changed and the women’s boxing head coach Bhaskar Bhatt voluntarily moved out of the village. Inevitably, all this definitely played a significant part in Lovlina’s shock quarter-final exit.

This is a situation that has played out scores of times in every Indian sporting contingent abroad. The basic issue is that there are very different forces at play in selecting the balance of athletes, officials and support staff who travel to any international sporting event. The circus starts more than six months before CWG starts, when IOA gets in touch with the individual sporting federations to give in a list of all players, officials and staff who would be going.

While this list is obviously not accurate given that athletes have to qualify, the federations put in their ‘first list’ based on their estimates. To this, IOA adds their own officials and creates a ‘long list’. The real games start, as negotiations begin with each individual federation about the size of their staff and contingent.

A lot depends on the clout of the federation in IOA and its medal-winning capacity. The long list, which in this CWG started at over 400, ended at 322 – 215 athletes and 107 officials and support staff. However, there is another wrinkle.

Many top event organizers are now aware that a lot of countries limit the number of officials and staff allowed to a ratio of the athletes participating. This CWG, it is 33% – which means, with 12 Indian boxers in the fray, only four support staff would be allowed in the Games Village. Given there are three athletes for every support staff member, there is no way every single boxer can have their personal coach at the Village. And Lovlina was by no means the only medal prospect in India’s list of 12.

So, what happened? It was not that Lovlina could demand her own personal coach and sports psychologist. The fact is that Lovlina was repeatedly assured that they would be in the Games Village even when the restrictions made it next to impossible. Nobody in the CWG contingent or the Boxing Federation wanted to be the one saying no to an Olympic medallist.

For the past few years, most federations have played a very small part in the preparation of elite athletes. That part has been played by GoI’s TOPS – Target Olympic Podium Scheme – and a host of private players like GoSports Foundation, JSW Sports and Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ). These organizations are ensuring these athletes have the best run-in to the Games and the best possible event support. But once the actual Games approach, it is the federations who have the right to put forward the names to event organizers. And the two are often at cross-purposes.

This is not to say that things have not improved greatly for athletes. TOPS and the others have worked in tandem to give athletes the best possible support. The horror stories of the 70s-80s with officials on shopping expeditions while their events were underway are thankfully in the past.

But the convoluted structure of Indian sport — where money and support for athletes comes from TOPS and private bodies, while the decisions are taken by federations — is still an issue. This is one Gordian Knot that needs to be cut.


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