He is perhaps the only Indian star who says stars must know when to leave the stage so new stars can blossom and shine. He is perhaps the only Indian athlete who says Indians must learn how to lose if they want to win and not just in sports. He is the only Indian to have won an individual gold medal at the Olympics - shooting (men's 10-metre air rifle) at the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing. While athletes around the world prepare feverishly for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, he is almost certain India will wake up to the games under the glare of the opening ceremony lights. Most Indians would agree.
Ace shooter Abhinav Bindra missed the podium at the recently concluded Rio games by a hair’s breadth, but that’s all the edge accorded to fierce competition at that level. “It’s than nth of a second or a millimetre that separates a winner from those who lost – to get there it can take anything between eight to ten years of steady work,” says Bindra. When shuttler PV Sindhu won the silver medal at Rio he tweeted “What a player…I’m waiting for you to join me in the club. You have no idea how lonely it’s been.”
Add unimaginable stress to loneliness and the ridiculous expectations of a nation of over 1.2 billion people who discover the Olympics for a few weeks every 48 months and then swiftly forget it. “Rio is forgotten and we will remember the Olympics at the opening ceremony before Tokyo – this attitude must change and change now,” says Bindra. “The change has to come at the grass roots – when families take to weekends sports as a social activity then we are talking,” he adds. It is no longer about just winning. It's about ensuring boundaries, pushing them constantly and competing with the best.
Can sports be a builder of national character? Yes, says this humble gentleman from Chandigarh. “Every Indian should be exposed to sports – it teaches you to integrity, to play fair, work hard, and above all the capacity to absorb success and failure without giving up.” These are life lessons unparalleled in any other discipline. Think leadership not just in sports but across disciplines. No grit, no passion, no hard work and you are in the category of an also ran.
Olympics is the greatest platform for sports says Bindra adding that the aggression a winner shows on the field is also the result of an internal discipline. “You have one shot to execute the skills you have been training for, for years – there is no room for error and you have to be perfect on an imperfect day,” Bindra says. That means huge internal expectations and that also means dealing with the vagaries that life serves up everyday. This is not philosophy - it is high-level competition which is meditation with a difference. Bindra calls it the “channelising of all the energies” to ensure success. Listen India listen. This is a mâitre sharing insights into discipline and perseverance.
What are the three things he would do to transform India into a sporting nation in the next two decades? Bindra shoots straight here. Grassroots is where it has to start and give people the right foundation, knowledge and infrastructure. There is support but it is not filtering down to the ground. “We need to increase depth in our performance and that depth can only come from the grassroots,” says Bindra. “In my own sport what is missing is the quality of domestic competition – getting into a final at the national level has to be at world standard,” he adds. Looking for natural talent among sections of people (running or swimming for example) remains an untapped pool in India. Spot the talent, get the training right and move.
Secondo Bindra asks for root and branch changes in training and coaching facilities beginning with training for coaches who are not exposed to the latest knowledge in their disciplines. In addition to sportspeople the canvas includes doctors, nutritionists, physiotherapists and other expertise which is what all world-class athletes get in their countries. “You can hire foreign coaches but only a few can have that. The real value for India will come when you build expertise with your own people,” he says.
Terzo is a call to invest in sports science, sports medicine and allied areas which. Bindra refers to a model in the United Kingdom (UK) in particular their successful cycling teams where the entire effort is to improve performance to get that one percent which is the defining factor between a medal and its absence.
All of the above will work only by building accountability in the system through a clear plan, constant monitoring and evaluation is the only way to move forward for says Bindra. Asked who should do all this, pat comes the reply “That’s a million dollar question – we as a nation have to decide what our aspirations are,” he says. And there is that steeple chase cum decathlon cum the Produnova vaults to find funding for talented people. "Cricket is blessed, but not sports - funding has to come in in a major way and the pool has to be a mixture of the public and private sector," he stresses.
The only Indian who held a world and Olympic record at the same time says he would be happy to assist with his vision and expertise but hastens to add that experts from various fields have to pull together in the right direction. “I see a new generation in India, extremely competitive people who have self-belief and that is very positive. We are developing, growing, people have more exposure – these are all important signs,” he says.
As our conversation ends I am struck by Bindra’s humility. Not a word is out of place and there is no exaggeration – just a genuine devotion to excellence. My head swoons. I am thinking of the committees, sub committees, large committees, larger committees, travel and tourism to 'check out' global facilities and India’s clueless spelling drone of a sports minister. Now we have PR and event management companies adding to the drag. If we are serious about cutting to chase, there is no time for patience anymore.