Manisha Malhotra says 'If athlete quality be improved, medals will follow'

Olympian Manisha Malhotra knows what it takes to shine against the best in the business and the former tennis star has now joined JSW Sports to lead the company's flagship Sports Excellence Program (SEP) which currently supports over 30 elite Indian athletes across five Olympic disciplines.

Manisha Malhotra says 'If athlete quality be improved, medals will follow'
Manisha Malhotra

Olympian Manisha Malhotra knows what it takes to shine against the best in the business and the former tennis star has now joined JSW Sports to lead the company's flagship Sports Excellence Program (SEP) which currently supports over 30 elite Indian athletes across five Olympic disciplines.

Speaking to IANS, Manisha made it clear that while the primary focus would be in driving initiatives for all SEP athletes leading up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the bigger goal is to create a pool of world-class athletes so that India can be known as a sporting nation.

"I don't think we are result driven, to be fair. The assessment of how well we have done our job won't come with a medal. The idea is to produce world-class athletes in large numbers. I am not saying we have to win three medals in Tokyo, six medals in Paris, etc. 

"We want to create a great pool of Indian athletes and that will take time. Medals will help and keep everyone motivated. But we need depth at the top level to be a sporting nation," she said.

A major support in the whole endeavour is the Inspire Institute of Sports (IIS) in Bellary, Karnataka. Spread over 42 acres, IIS is an initiative led by the JSW Group. It brings together 20 corporate donors who are collectively funding the operations of the institute through CSR funding. 

Manisha says that the idea is to provide the athletes with all the required facilities in the country itself.

"Spending more time at our institute is important rather than going abroad just for the sake of it. If it isn't necessary, then why travel? The more support we can give the better, but adding value is also just as important. 

"The athletes and the coaches take the call with the travel being planned with a goal in mind. Going abroad is just not the answer. Focus is important and that has to serve a specific purpose and that is assessed by the coach," the olympian said.

"IIS was formed with the idea of providing facilities to athletes that was not available in India and the athletes had to travel abroad. If they go out, it has to be something that is really out of the box. 

"The focus has to be skill creation and giving a good exposure. Sports has evolved, but have we? -- Is the question we must ask. 

"A good system and framework will help in all of us joining hands and moving forward together. IIS is a movement and we want a lot of people involved with corporates coming in and it is not just a JSW thing. The idea is to build Indian athletes," she explained.

Making the athletes self-sufficient is another area that Manisha wants to focus on. She believes that questioning the coaches and being more aware of the road ahead is what makes one succeed in achieving dreams.

"Humans in the building make the difference, not beautiful buildings. The Indian athletes don't know what to do. We wish to take them to that level wherein they are self-sufficient. 

"We are looking to educate the young athletes on the road ahead. You cannot be like a sheep -- where you have to be told what to do. 

"The current athletes follow what they are told. They need to think and question. They need to learn how to fight, strategise and find the way forward. They need to start giving logical answers. The young athletes in IIS are being made to be independent," the 2002 Busan Asian Games silver medalist said.

Manisha, who is the head of Sports Excellence and Scouting, the company's flagship programme, feels that the government has also played an integral part, and is trying to boost the position of sportsperson in the country.

"The current regime has done really well in professionalizing the act of monitoring the athletes and researching what they need. We work in conjunction with them. 

"Where we see that the athlete needs help, we step in. It is almost a half-half share between the government and us. In today's day and age where we stand with an athlete is important. 

"A holistic approach is needed. We are investing, but making it a sustainable project is important. In our list of 27 athletes only 9-10 are from Target Olympic Podium Scheme of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. We are funding others as well, and they are managed by our coaches," she pointed.

"The government is looking to invest and they have to get everyone on the table and they are trying that. A transparent and fair system is on the cards. 

"The idea where the government said they weren't looking at corporates is gone. They are also looking to collaborate. Holding the federations accountable is also important and that is being done now."


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