Abhinav Bindra Photograph:( AFP )
Abhinav Bindra, who is also India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist, spoke to WION’s Sports Editor Digvijay Singh Deo, in an exclusive interview, as the recipient of prestigious Blue Cross opened up on a lot of things ranging from the decision to postpone the Games, the ramifications of the Olympics, what is the way forward for the athletes from here and much more.
There has been a lot of talks surrounding the Tokyo Olympics, which will now open on July 23, 2021, with the closing ceremony scheduled to be held on August 8, 2021, after the quadrennial event was delayed by a year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many athletes and sporting federations had raised their concerns regarding the Games before they were postponed but the IOC after consulting with the Japanese government and all the relevant stakeholders came to a mutual agreement that it was the best possible decision to delay the event for the safety and welfare of the athletes and everyone associated with the Tokyo Olympics.
Padma Bhushan awardee, Abhinav Bindra, who is also India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist, spoke to WION’s Sports Editor Digvijay Singh Deo, in an exclusive interview, as the recipient of prestigious Blue Cross opened up on a lot of things ranging from the decision to postpone the Games, the ramifications of the Olympics, what is the way forward for the athletes from here and much more.
Digvijay Singh Deo: Abhinav, let’s start by talking about the decision last evening from the International Olympic Committee. We have new dates for the Olympics and that will go a long way in ending the uncertainty among sportspersons.
Abhinav Bindra: I think the decision has been made pretty quickly, only two weeks back there was a lot of uncertainty about the games getting postponed. The International Olympic Committee has taken a very prompt decision. They initially came up with a four-week deadline to make the call and didn't even use all of it and took a decision within 2 days. They have already revealed the new dates for the games in 2021 which is very good for the athletes. The athletes were getting extremely anxious due to the uncertainty surrounding the games. They would have continued to train if the game were not postponed, thereby putting their lives and their families at risk. So it is a very good decision to postpone and I am happy it was taken very quickly.
DSD: A decision to postpone the Olympic Games is not an easy one. There is just so much riding on the games and new logistical nightmares are bound to crop up when you push Games back. Already the IOC has indicated that first priorities are the games village, sports venues and hotel bookings.
AB: The decision cannot just be taken by the IOC, they have to consult all the relevant stakeholders, those are the organising committee, the government, and the many sponsors. Putting together Olympic games are an extremely complex process, keeping that in mind I think the decision to delay the games was taken very quickly. There was a little bit of pressure being built by the media, but given the stakeholders involved and the magnitude of the event, a timely decision was taken.
DSD: The estimated cost of pushing the games back is being pegged at somewhere between $3 Billion to $6 Billion. I think in this entire postponement drama one seems to have forgotten that it is the Japanese taxpayer who will bear the brunt and they deserve to be lauded for agreeing to this postponement.
AB: Japan needs to be lauded for agreeing to bear the cost of the postponement of the games. Do remember that due to the virus the economic outlook is pretty bleak but they have not flinched. It is extremely commendable, especially during these tough economic times for them to do that. The Japanese people are extremely determined and the preparations to the games have probably been the best ever. All the venues were ready well before time and they have done a fantastic job. They remain committed to hosting the best ever Olympics and I hope to come next year that will be the case.
DSD: You have been in the thick of the decision-making process. You are a member of the International Olympic Committee's Athletes Commission and there has been regular interaction between you all and IOC President Thomas Bach. You could say there was a push back by the athletes in these uncertain times as they were not being able to get on with the best possible preparations for the 2020 Olympics?
AB: I think the athletes' view was given due consideration. The IOC always respects the voice of the athletes. In every commission of the IOC, there is always an Athletes' Representative. Even going forward, safeguarding the athletes and their health is of prime importance. All the Olympic Qualifiers have been put on hold currently and the directive given by the IOC to the International Federations is to hold the qualifiers only when they can guarantee fair access to all the players. That it also very important since 43 % of the athletes are yet to secure their place and they need to be given a fair shot at making the games in July 2021. So the athletes' health has been given prime importance in not only the postponement but also the principles laid out for the qualifiers for the 2021 games.
DSD: Abhinav you were known for your meticulous preparation especially heading into the Olympics. Had you been still competing how difficult would it have been for you as a shooter to have the right frame of mind with all the uncertainty around you and the lockdowns.
AB: Athletes have 15 months to go for the games, which is a big relief. It would have been a disaster in terms of preparation for the athletes if the games had only been postponed for 3 or 4 months, that is much tougher to deal with. Athletes plan their schedule in a way that they can peak just before the Olympics, so now that they have 15 months, they can go back to the drawing board. The priority of the athletes must be their health, whenever they get back to the training they can start afresh and work on a plan for 2021. It is not the ideal scenario, but performing at the highest level is all about adapting and I think that is a skill that athletes do have and they have to put that to good use at the moment. This is an unprecedented situation and not in our control. So the fact that they have 15 months to go for the games will be a big relief for them. But some athletes might be approaching the twilight of their careers, and 15 months is a long time for them. But it is out of our control and life isn't always fair so you have to just get on with it.
DSD: As it stands we have a new date for the Games but what about those who have won Olympic quota places a long time back. Take the case of your sport. Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela won quota places in September 2018 and it will be close to 3 years by the time they compete at the Games. Chandela admitted that constantly having to perform and give trials was extremely stressful. What would you advise quota holders like her and also national federations as the prevailing Olympic selection policies are currently in limbo?
AB: The Olympic Quota places belong to the National Olympic Committees and they can rejig their policy ahead of the delayed games if they like.
There could be two Scenarios- One would be that the NOCs would want to be fair to the athletes and they retain the same team as if the games were to be held in 2020.
Another point of view would be to change the team for the 2021 games as 15 months is a long period of time. But now that there is clarity on the dates, all federations, especially in India, should go back to the drawing board and come up with modified selection policies for the 2021 games at the earliest. We don't now when training will resume in most countries, so it will help the athletes to have clarity on the policies. I think in most countries there will be changes to the selection policy, When it comes to the Indian shooters I think they are very young so it shouldn't be much of a challenge for them and they will be able to adapt quite well.
DSD: We need to divide Olympic hopefuls into two categories. One should those who have qualified for the games and the IOC has announced they or their NOC will retain the quota if it is for a team event. My immediate concern is for those who are yet to qualify. They still are not sure of when the qualification tournaments will resume and most are currently under lockdown across the world. Do you see the process resuming before October 2020?
AB: It doesn't seem like there will be any qualifiers soon. The directive that has been given to the International federations is that appropriate preparation must be allowed for the athletes, which is already being taken into consideration. We don't know when this lockdown will end, there are some countries which have issued advisories and travel restrictions for six months. At the moment all Olympic qualifiers have been suspended. As of now, the way things stand I do not see qualifiers resuming before the end of the year or early next year. But the good thing is that there are 15 months still left, so that gives ample time for scheduling also. The qualifiers would have been a challenge to organise if the games had gone ahead this year. So hopefully things will settle down and return to normalcy over the coming months and the sporting calendar can resume.
DSD: You mentioned the Indian shooting team some time back. There were a lot of expectations from them ahead of the 2020 Games. They dominated the world stage last year by winning 16 gold medals in the ISSF World Cups and three of them also won titles at the season ending World Cup Finals. What would you advise the likes of Saurabh Chaudhary, Manu Bhaker and Divyansh Singh Panwar who are all under 18 and may not have the experience to deal with the situation we are now facing.
AB: I think a lot of responsibility will rest with the coaches and India has some excellent champions who are now coaching the national teams. I agree that for a very young athlete this kind of a scenario will be tough to handle. They need to be in constant touch with the coaches and I am sure our coaches will be up for the challenge. We have had exceptional success with our coaches in the last few years, and they will need to draw up a fresh plan for preparing for the games. Immediate training is obviously not possible given the situation. Coaches have a huge role to play now as mentors. I would tell the athletes to listen to their coaches. 2019 was obviously an unprecedented year for Indian shooting and it is unheard of for shooters to have back to back golden runs in our sport. Who knows maybe the postponement could be a blessing in disguise for India's shooters.
DSD: On one hand you have shooting and then you have other sports like Badminton. Our star players like Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth and Parupalli Kashyap were all struggling to qualify for the Olympics as tournaments were being cancelled all over. This one year delay gives them an opportunity to regain full fitness and go full throttle at the qualifiers when they finally begin.
AB: The athletes who accept the prevailing situation and adapt to it quickly are the ones who will succeed. There should be no resistance to the postponement. I have spoken to the athletes all over the world as part of my role with the IOC and there is an immense amount of relief. The uncertainty around the games was causing a lot of pressure and stress. Given the situation, people are able to deal with bad news, but they are not able to deal with not knowing. They are more at ease now and they can get back to training as soon as things settle down, but more importantly, they can start re-calibrating their minds and their goals since the dates have been announced. I think the athletes will be able to deal with that.