Plate half full, Indian athlete loses out to rising prices

Saurabh Duggal

New Delhi, Feb. 5 -- India's preparations for the 2016 Rio Olympics are running on empty. The price monster has forced athletes training at the country's premier sports facility on a crash diet and it is bound to affect their performance. With daily food money of Rs. 400 per athlete, authorities at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala are struggling to provide the country's top sportspersons a diet that would enable them to take on the world's best.

Juice intake has been halved, meat - a source of protein, an essential for any athlete - has made a hasty exit from the breakfast menu, quantity of milk and dry fruits, too, has been reduced.

At present, six camps - for boxing, wrestling, athletics, table tennis, weight-lifting and hockey - are on at the facility that provides training for individual as well as team sports.

"We had no option but to drop some items from the menu. There should at least be a hike of Rs. 100 in the food money, only then can we provide the diet we were giving while preparing for the London Games," said an NIS official on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to talk to the media.

In contrast, a peek at the US Olympic committee's website shows the emphasis it lays on a rounded diet. ". we also accompany athletes to their training and competition venues, at times through mobile applications, to monitor nutrition-related parameters and reinforce sport nutrition practices at home and on the road," it says.

When it sends athletes to train abroad, the Indian government pays each of them a daily allowance of $175-250 ( Rs. 9,300-13,300) for food and boarding - depending on the country of visit.

Last year's London Olympics saw India bag its best-ever haul of six medals. High on the success, then sports minister Ajay Maken set a goal of 25 medals for the 2020 Olympics. Maken, now the housing and poverty alleviation minister, had said no effort would be spared to equip athletes to perform well at the world stage.

In January, the NIS authorities raised the problem with the Sports Authority of India director general Gopal Krishna. "The issue is being looked into," Krishna told HT.

A similar problem cropped up in 2011, in the build-up to the London Olympics. The sports ministry then increased the diet money to Rs. 400 from Rs. 350. But ever since, the allowance has been losing out to rising food prices. For a fair race to be run, there is a need for course correction.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.