One of India’s most celebrated shotgun shooters, Mansher Singh, believes the government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) has given the country’s sport a whole different spin – one where athletes need only focus on the task of achieving glory , without worrying about logistics or sweating about the cost.
Mansher, a two-time Commonwealth Games medalist in trap shooting, including an individual gold medal at Victoria in 1994, adds that athletes once had to wait months to get approval for international training and exposure trips under the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF). received ), but it is currently a no-brainer as TOPS ensures that all of the athlete’s requirements are met.
Here are excerpts from an interview with the four-time Olympic champion and winner of four medals at the Asian Games, including three silvers:
Q: How has TOPS changed the Indian sports ecosystem?
A: When I was involved with the team it was called NSDF (National Sports Development Fund) and they (athletes) had a cap on how much money they could use in a year. I think TOPS has improved that now. It has gone into another dimension in the sense that there is no such limit. It now depends on the athlete’s requirements and profile in terms of Olympic winability, past performances, etc.
Q: Is the government really committed to making India a sporting powerhouse through TOPS?
A: There are two things I’m really positive about when I talk about TOPS. The first is the government’s intention. The government has become really proactive for sport, not only in the sense that they train athletes but even reward them for their achievements. This has had an enormous impact in connection with TOPS.
Now cash prizes are given away as soon as you win in big competitions. In our time it took 1-2 years before we could get our rewards. That bureaucracy, or what you call bureaucracy, is gone. And it (the initiative) came from the very top… from the Prime Minister, who held direct congratulatory ceremonies for each multidisciplinary event. So the impact has been solid and has impacted the functionality of organizations like the Sports Authority of India and the Ministry of Sport. You are very active now.
Q: You also addressed the second aspect…
A: The second aspect, if you look at the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) in my day, is that sports federations nominated their athletes and they (nominated athletes) were funded on an ad hoc basis. Now there is proper data analysis.
There is a team in TOPS that constantly reviews and reviews the performances of athletes of all disciplines with priority for Commonwealth, Asian and Olympic Games.
Q: So do you think there is a suitable setup for an aspiring athlete to use TOPS to chart his/her course to the top?
A: With TOPS I suppose the whole system is coming together now… scouting, development, training and getting into the national team. In a way, if an athlete really wants to win the Olympic medal, they know their course is set. You know very well that TOPS can open the window to continental and Olympic glory.
Q: I think TOPS isn’t just for elite athletes, it’s also for development teams…
A: There are two rungs in TOPS. The development squad is one category where they find potential for the future, while the other is the elite athlete category. Those with the likelihood or potential of reaching the Olympic finals or winning a medal at the highest level and those knocking on the selection door are both included in TOPS.
Q: How does TOPS shortlist athletes for the program? Is it scientific?
A: It is a very professional process now. Predictions are made, results are analyzed and historical patterns are observed to see how athletes are performing. Renowned analysts and professionals are constantly busy analyzing athletes’ parameters.
The good thing about them (the scheme) is that they don’t work under anyone. They (TOPS analysts) operate outside of anyone’s control. This is the greatest characteristic of an analysis team, a data collection team or a specialist team because they are not influenced by anyone. You choose the best. They did their research, so they have the numbers.
Q: Is TOPS changing the sporting landscape of the country?
A. Yes. You see more and more athletes who deserve it and want to get into TOPS. It is now a matter of prestige to be included in TOPS because it is the ultimate for an athlete. For two to three years you get the best support and the best coaching.
There used to be major limitations on the amount of money you could spend during my days of competition. I think a lot of bureaucracy has gone from the NSDF days and now it’s mostly based on what it takes for this athlete to win.
Q: What do you think was the trigger for the government to start TOPS in the first place?
A: I think it was about putting Indian athletes on par with the best in the world. The thought was, “Our funding shouldn’t be less than anyone else going to the Olympics. We don’t want our athletes to be second rate.” And again, that directive comes from above (government) and there’s no denying that.