How Indian Olympians invested in the future of sports in the country
While some Indian athletes settled with their achievements and their medals, a handful of others created avenues for prospects to follow in their footsteps.
Former Olympians and champion athletes of the country, who have competed and won at the highest level, have been giving back to the society by either strengthening grassroots or polishing talents.
From Pullela Gopichand to Abhinav Bindra, India’s future generations have some of the brightest sporting minds to learn from. These are the athletes who have put their heart and soul to forge up academies that have only enriched the talent pool.
Pullela Gopichand - Gopichand Badminton Academy
The dream of establishing the Gopichand Badminton Academy, which has churned out shuttlers like PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Parupalli Kashyap, Kidambi Srikanth and more, was planned long before Pullela Gopichand hung up his boots in 2003.
The former top-ranked Indian badminton player was gifted a 5 acres land by the Andhra Pradesh government for winning the 2001 All England Open. And although the dream was set, paving the rest of the way was a herculean task.
Unable to find much monetary support, the Pullela Gopichand had to mortgage his house in Hyderabad to fund part of the academy.
“I said I can't do this running [ask people for money] anymore. I said the building is half done but we need the courts. We need to do something,” Pullela Gopichand, who competed in Sydney 2000, had told India Today.
Today, the academy located at the Outer Ring Road of Gachibowli, Hyderabad, boasts of two Olympic medallists, multiple BWF World Championships medallists and numerous Superseries title winners.
The academy focuses on rating talent over commercial interests and offers total scholarships for over 50-60 per cent of its players.
Yogeshwar Dutt - Yogeshwar Dutt Wrestling Academy
Before he moved to Delhi, the lack of proper indoor facilities during his formative years severely compromised Yogeshwar Dutt’s during monsoons and winters.
It’s not something that the Haryana grappler wanted future generations to endure.
“Athletes get all the things when they attend the national camp but not when they are growing up,” Yogeshwar Dutt observed.
So, the 2012 Olympic-bronze medallist used all his recognition to take a five-year lease on the campus of a defunct engineering college in Gohana, Sonipat, to start his academy.
A believer in nurturing youngsters to recognize talents, Yogeshwar Dutt did not get many enthusiasts investing in his vision.
It’s why he decided to put all money following his 2014 Asiad and Commonwealth Games gold medal feat into refurbishing the hall and hostel rooms of the college.
“Every time I got a cash incentive for winning laurels at the international level, I made it a point to save some of the money for my dream project,” Yogeshwar Dutt had told Hindustan Times.
The Yogeshwar Dutt Wrestling Academy was finally opened in 2017, which trains hundreds of talents at the grassroots level today.
Gagan Narang - Gun for Glory Academy
Gagan Narang is familiar with struggle all too well. His father had to sell his house to fund his air rifle so that he could forge a career in the sport.
And even before the rifle shooter went on to win the bronze medal at London 2012, he had set the ball rolling to make shooting as accessible and affordable as possible in the country.
“During the 2010 Games, (shooting) ranges were built and the government had invested in building a formidable team as well, and that investment yielded the best results of the Indian shooting team in any Olympics. There were good foreign coaches, plenty of ammunition, and I can proudly say that I am a product of the system,” Gagan Narang told Olympic Channel.
“There was always an urge to give back to the system that made me. So, I put in all the prize money that I had earned from the 2010 Commonwealth Games towards making this foundation,” he added.
The Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation (GNSPF) consequently went on to form the Gun for Glory Academy - India’s first privately managed shooting facility.
One of GNSPF’s biggest successes has been ‘Project Leap,’ which aims to identify and improve exceptional talents from a selected pool of shooters.
Launched in 2017, the project has churned out talents like Elavenil Valarivan, India’s current top-ranked women’s 10m Air Rifle shooter. The academy also boasts of numerous junior international medals through multiple shooters over the last three years.
It has only got bigger since a hefty government fund in 2019.
Spread across 13 cities now, the academy has been conducting talent hunts across the country, including in tribal parts, to select and train shooters.
Abhinav Bindra - Abhinav Bindra Foundation
Born into an affluent Punjabi family, Abhinav Bindra never struggled for facilities while pursuing his dream. But, his overseas training made him realize that India was always his first choice.
"Training in India was always a Plan B for me, but to progress, we need to make the facilities at home the Plan A for our athletes," Abhinav Bindra had told Olympic.org.
Independent India’s sole Olympic gold medallist, Abhinav Bindra has taken massive steps towards facilitating Indian athletes with high-quality training facilities.
Established in 2009, the Abhinav Bindra Foundation has since opened five Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance (ABTP) centres in Mohali, Delhi, Bengaluru, Bhubaneswar and Pune.
The Sports Authority of India – Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance Centre, located at Bengaluru's Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence, is one of the elite sports centres in the nation.
It boasts of an Olympic standard swimming pool, an international size football pitch, 16 badminton courts and a cricket ground amongst many other things.
The ABTP in Bhubaneswar is known for its elite machines like Walker View, D Wall, Iso Move and more, which reads aspects of an athlete's body and uses data to correct training methods.
MC Mary Kom - Mary Kom-SAI Boxing Academy
MC Mary Kom faced hardships in her early days to come up the ranks. So, the Indian boxer has taken steps to ensure no other budding pugilist from Manipur has to face the same.
The 2012 Olympics bronze medallist was given 3.3 acres of land by the state government at Imphal’s National Games Village for her achievements, and the pugilist has since started crowd-funding to build and consequently run an elite boxing academy.
“I want to build sufficient infrastructure for my boxing academy including separate hostels for men and women, boxing rings, free food, tracksuits, etc,” Mary Kom had detailed to The Quint in 2014.
The Mary Kom-SAI Boxing Academy, founded in 2015, incurs coaching, lodging, food and other costs during tournaments and has boxers sharing space in the premises.
Aiming to identify boxing talents between ages 12-18, the academy focuses on physical and psychological developments.
Mary Kom has always valued education enormously and her academy bears school expenses of the athletes as well. The Mary Kom Regional Boxing Foundation also negotiates with schools based on a kids’ boxing credentials.
“I have a dream—a dream to create many, many more Mary Koms," she says.