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Started in the year 2014, the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) has diligently strived towards India's Olympic dream. With India sending its largest-ever contingent and 121 athletes assisted under TOPS, this flagship program under the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS), the Government of India is setting new standards.
In May this year, the ministry added five athletes to the core group of TOPS which include Tennis player Ankita Raina, Wrestlers Sumit Malik & Seema Bisla, and Rowers Arvind Singh & Arjun Lal Jat. They will be provided financial assistance of nearly one crore rupees. However, the scheme which looks like any other monetary assistance program by the government has several depths which has increased its popularity and demand.
The main objective behind the formulation of TOPS was to prepare India for the future i.e 2020 and 2024 Olympics. In order to fulfil this objective, a committee (TOPS Elite Athletes' Identification Committee) was constituted to identify the elite athletes who could bring accolades for India in future Olympics. The Sports ministry appoints TOPS members and an emphasis is on ensuring representation from 'High-Priority' sports such as Archery, Badminton, Boxing Hockey, Shooting, and Wrestling. The first TOPS committee was constituted under the chairmanship of now Sports Minister Anurag Thakur and comprised of eminent athletes like Pulella Gopichand, Rahul Dravid, Abhinav Bindra, and Manisha Malhotra and sports administrators from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the MYAS.
Secondly, The Mission Olympic Cell (MOC) was created under the scheme to assist the athletes who are selected by the identification committee. The MOC is under the Chairmanship of the Director-General, Sports Authority of India and consequent meetings are attended by representatives of respective National Sports Federations (NSFs) and other SAI members. It is the MOC that formulates assistance programs for athletes both developmental and financial. They also conduct routine reviews and communicate regularly with athletes about their progress. Any grievance or problem is communicated to the MOC as well.
While to a layman this TOPS might suggest being yet another monetary assistance scheme, the uniqueness of TOPS lies in its aim for holistic development of the sportsperson. In doing so it goes beyond what is prescribed under the Annual Calendar of Training and Competition (ACTC). The scheme has prided itself on providing customized training to athletes under reputed coaches at institutes having world-class facilities and helping them purchase adequate equipment. It paves the path and encourages athletes to participate in international competitions.
Apart from individual sport-related matters, the well-being of the athletes is also a priority under the scheme. It provides support staff like Physical trainers, Sports psychologists, Mental trainers, and Physiotherapists, etc. Athletes are also provided with monthly incentives.
Is The Country Benefiting From The Scheme?
The effectiveness and efficiency of the scheme can be gauged by the successes in the 2016 Rio Olympics, two years after the establishment of the scheme. P V Sindhu and Sakshi Malik captured silver and bronze in Badminton and Wrestling respectively at the 2016 Rio Olympics. In the 2016 Paralympic Games, the TOPS Athletes won 2 Gold, 1 Silver, and 1 Bronze. In the 2018 Commonwealth Games, 47 of the 70 athletes who won medals were supported under TOPS.
The successes have also led the TOPS committee to launch the scheme for Junior athletes. Around 258 athletes are under it in the development group list. The ministry and SAI are working closely to launch many of them as medal prospects for the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles Games in 2028. A criticism that can be made in relation to the junior athletes' list is the focus on 'high priority' sports like shooting, badminton, and others. Recognition and identification of talents in other fields are also required.
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