India’s time has arrived in athletics: AFI president Adille Sumariwalla
Mumbai, September 25, 2023
Adille Sumariwalla, a 11-time 100m national champion. an Olympian and a seasoned administrator --- he is the Vice-President of World Athletics, President of the Athletic Federation of India (AFI) and the Maharashtra Athletic Association (MAA) --- believes that the next five to ten years will be the golden era for athletics sport in India.
In an exclusive interview before departing for the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China he said: “I think India is going to do well. India will compete hard with China and Japan. We have a young team in China. The Asian Games in Hangzhou will be the stepping stone for the Summer Olympics in Paris next year. The time for India has arrived. One has to watch for our athletes in the next five to ten years. It will be a golden era for the athletics sport as far as I am concerned. “
Excerpts from the Interview:
Q. India is behind Japan (586 medals) and China (462 medals) with 254 medals including 79 gold from the 1951 Asian Games onwards. What do you make of these numbers? Is it a good number?
A. Historically Japan and China have been the strong countries in Asia. Looking at the medal tally, India is improving step by step. This time India will be better than the last time. One has to remember that when Japan and China were winning all the medals, the Central Asian teams of the former Soviet Union were not there at the Asian Games. And in those days the Arab countries were not buying the African athletes. And still if we can win medals, then I think we are on the way for an upward swing. India is already a dominant player.
Q. Japan dominated from 1951 to 1974 and afterwards it has been China except in 1982 in Delhi?
A. Japan has the tradition of doing well in athletics. China did not focus on athletics earlier; it was very good in racket sports. But keeping a twenty-year horizon, as its economy was growing, it decided to host the Summer Olympics. If you host, the Olympic Games and if you don’t have medal winners, it doesn’t make sense.
So China started preparing. When I was training in Europe in the early 1980s, the Chinese athletics team was training under German coaches and American coaches with a full support staff. China worked with a proper plan and it has paid off. And that’s how they have won so many medals.
Q. Would you say expectations are more this time from India; to better the numbers achieved in Indonesia? Twenty medals then?
A. I am hoping for a little more than twenty. One has to remember that the last time the Asian Games was in Jakarta and this time the Games are in China. And to beat China in China is not easy. To best Indonesia in Jakarta is easy. But the progress our athletes have made, and the performance I see today, makes me believe that we will do very well than the last time.
Q. It’s going to be tough on an athlete like Neeraj Chopra; three important competitions... the World Championships in Budapest, Asian Games in Hangzhou and the Olympics in Paris next year. Will it be tough on him to prepare and sustain form? And also the Diamond League final?
A. I don’t think we should be looking at Paris now. Paris is ten months’ away and let’s look at that animal separately. The preparation for Paris is going to be completely different. It will start with a brand new season for Neeraj. He has had a long season. Is it tough, yes it is tough? Consistency has been his greatest strength though.
Also remember that Neeraj is a human being, he is not a machine. There is no athlete in any sport in India, in the history of Indian sport, who has achieved what he has. He has won everything. Neeraj will always do well; he is a great competitor. It’s going to be tough on him, but it’s going to be tough on all the big performers. They are competing all the time. It gives them experience on many aspects.
Q. There are others like Murali Sreeshankar and Jeswin Aldrin (both long jump), Praveen Chitravel and Abdulla Aboobacker (both triple jump), Avinash Sable (3000m steeplechase and 5000m), Tajinderpal Singh Toor (shot put) and the runners in the 200m 800m1500 m and upwards?
A. One should understand where it is all coming from. No one wants to give credit to the federation. The AFI has been bringing the best coaches in the world; today we have Denis (Kapustin) who is an Olympic medallist (triple jump). So once you create the base, talent will come out it.
Q. The 4x400 did extremely well in Budapest…at the World Championships?
A. I was not surprised, absolutely not because first we got Yuri Ogorodnik and then Galina (Bukharina). And now we have Jason. It is the federation which has looked for these coaches. Naturally there is a strong bench strength in that event.
Q. In all 68 athletes in track and field including 33 women will be at the Asian Games athletics competition. What's your ballpark number for medals?
A. One cannot take 68 because there are three relay teams. So if you take out 18 from the relay, there is a chance of every alternate athlete winning a medal which is great.
Q. Obviously all of them must be better prepared with all help from the AFI and government agencies?
A. The whole world is better prepared. Our athletes are definitely better prepared. I think there two or three important things here. The planning which we did and endured it for the last ten years, the results of which will be seen in the next ten years. It will be fantastic for Indian athletics. Both men and women. I became the AFI president in 2012 and look what we have done…puttying systems and programmes in place.
Q. Hima Das…she is not even at the Asian Games?
A. I look at it very differently. We are looking at individuals; it’s time we don’t look at individuals, instead we look at the events. We should not give too much importance to a name. We should be asking how many can run the 100m below ten seconds. How many can run the 400m in 45 seconds and below. If you look at Japan, it has two 44 second runners, we have four 45 second runners. That’s the beauty of the sport. So the mind set has to change from the individuals to the event. Look at Jamaica, the 100m women, any of those three --- Elaine Thompson Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson --- can win.