By Hardev Sanotra
As India's chances of getting a medal recede at the Rio Olympics, with only the shuttlers holding out a promise, are the men and women behind the athletes equally responsible for the poor showing?
How far are the coaches responsible for the lack of medals at the 31st Olympic Games?
"I have no problem in taking responsibility for the loss, and I don't care about my position. In the end only one thing is important, my team," said Roelant Oltmans, chief coach of the Indian men's hockey team.
"But the players also have to show initiative and energy. Without that, as we saw here in Rio, the team gets the bad end of the equation," Oltmans told IANS.
India lost 3-1 to Belgium in the quarter-finals.
The London Olympics in 2012 had yielded six medals -- two silvers and four bronzes. The lack of a medal in Rio is likely to result in a lot of soul searching in India as the athletes start returning home empty-handed.
In general, coaches have a larger than life role in the performance of the athletes. They act like friends, philosophers and guides to the youngsters, steering them away from problems and pointing them towards possible greatness. Often they have to act tough, giving a dressing down to those who step out of line.
"I do have to shout at a boxer or two. But that depends on the person. Some people take well to strong criticism. But others wilt. So I have to use different tactics for different people," says chief boxing coach Gurbux Singh Sandhu, who also often dominates the interaction boxers have with the media.
"A coach's role is very important, from the first day of training to the ring. In the ring between bouts I just tell them what mistakes they are making and how to use things to their advantage," Sandhu told IANS.
Theirs is a reflected glory. Although they remain largely behind the scenes, the role of a coach gets a lot of attention if a player wins a medal. "It's a great feeling when your ward wins," says chief archery coach Dharmendra Kumar.
"You sleep well that night."
But if he or she does badly, it affects the coach as much as the athlete, he said adding that all coaches feel responsible for the loss.
Many athletes give high marks to their coaches for their success, although sometimes the nationality of the coach too comes into play. "Indian coaches should be given enough recognition. No one can say they cannot do anything. The contingent in Rio had many foreign coaches, but their teams could not reach the finals. We did. For gymnastics, that's a great achievement," Dipa Karmakar told reporters after having come fourth in the vault event, missing the bronze narrowly.
Expectations of the people and the media too weighs heavily on athletes and coaches. "This is the problem of the media. They are not interested in the performance. They just ask why we didn't get gold. You send athletes from a country which doesn't have good training facilities, as they have in Europe and China, and you want a gold?" Abhinav Bindra's coach Heinz Reinkemeier told reporters after the shooter came fourth in the 10m Air Rifle event shootout.
Good performance, he added, was a value on its own and people have to understand that.
But shouldn't the athletes be held responsible for the performance? "No point in demoralising them. In shooting I feel responsible and take responsibility. I don't want to take it out on the boys as they have to go for world championships and other competition," National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) President Raninder Singh told reporters after the shooters came out blank.
"I think we have to give more attention to the mental aspect of the athletes. I think they were getting overawed by the whole scenario of global champions being their opponents, not only in shooting but most of the other disciplines. We need good psychologists who can talk to them and raise their morale," Raninder told IANS.
Coaches, psychologists, physiotherapists and support staff may all be required. But in the end, if athletes fail to click, the age-old question crops up with only the number changing. A country of 1.2 billion and such poor performance at the Olympics?
(Hardev Sanotra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)