New Delhi: Claiming that the preparations of Indian athletes for next year's Olympics have been going on satisfactorily, Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Thursday said the country can win at least 10 medals in the Rio Games.
"Our target is to win more medals in the Rio Olympics. I think we can win 10-plus medals in Rio Games," Sonowal said, addressing a press conference after chairing a meeting with the officials of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and National Sports Federations (NSFs) on the preparation of the country for the Rio Olympics.
"We wanted to know about the preparations and initiatives of the federations for Rio Olympics and about the support they are giving to the athletes. From the statements they made, it is exciting and encouraging and all the federations, including those medal prospect NSFs, have taken several initiatives to bring medals. The Ministry is giving full support to the players and the NSFs," he said.
The Sports Minister said that so far 52 Indian athletes have qualified for the Rio Olympics. "So far, 52 have qualified for the Olympics: 32 from hockey (men's and women's teams), four from archery, seven from athletics, eight from shooting and one from wrestling. More will qualify in the coming months," said Sonowal.
"Whatever support the athletes are asking and the federations are asking, we will give. We are giving adequate budget. If they ask more, even then we are ready to give," he said, giving a break-up of funds allocated to various federations.
Sonowal said that the Sports Ministry, Sports Authority of India (SAI), IOA and the federations are on the same page as far as efforts to bring more medals for the country is concerned.
"The Sports Ministry, SAI, IOA and the NSFs are working together in the same direction. We are like Team India so that the athletes can give their best performance," the minister said.
Asked about the mess in Indian boxing due to the fighting between various factions, Sonowal said, "There is an ad-hoc committee to sort out the issues. There is also the IOA to handle the issue."
SAI Director General Injeti Srinivas later said that the boxing mess was a matter of concern but it was not impacting the Olympic preparations as such.
"We hope the boxing issue will be sorted out before the Olympics so that Indian boxers can take part under the national flag. But this issue as such is not impacting the Olympic preparations. The elite boxers have been identified and they are undergoing training for the Olympics. Of course, it (the boxing mess) may be having impact on the junior level and talent hunting," Srinivas said.
Sonowal was also evasive when asked about Olympic bronze medallist boxer MC Mary Kom's allegation of "regional bias" on the part of national selectors during selection and trails.
"The players should not feel isolated. We are always are ready to support them whenever they approach us," he simply said without elaborating.
He said athletes likes Arpinder Singh and Inderjeet Singh who have expressed frustration about the delay in training under the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme should approach the ministry to resolve their grievances.
"They should approach us. Whatever support we can give, we will give the athletes," Sonowal said.
The minister also said that the government will continue to support promising sprinter Dutee Chand in her training though he remained non-committal on whether she will be included in the TOP Scheme....