India’s Olympic gold medal shooter Abhinav Bindra told Global Sports Week Paris today that it would be better for his country to focus on hosting the Youth Olympic Games before pursuing ambitions to hold the Olympics and Paralympics.
Asked by insidethegames founding editor Duncan Mackay what his views were on recent speculation that India might bid for the 2032 Games, Bindra - who became India’s only individual Olympic champion when he won the men’s 10-meter air rifle event at the 2008 Beijing Games - responded: "I think there has been a lot of talk.
"On a personal level I believe India would do really well as a host of the Youth Olympic Games.
"Because I think that would leave a meaningful legacy for sport in India, because what we really need to see investment infiltrating down into grassroots level sport.
"And the Youth Olympic Games will be an opportunity for that investment to happen, when we start focusing on younger athletes.
"Of course the Olympic Games would be a great thing, and I am quite sure it will happen in my lifetime.
"But I think we would make a great start if we can perhaps focus on the Youth Olympic Games."
Indian Olympic Association (IOA) President Narinder Batra claimed last month that the country's potential bid for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games would not be revived until at least the first quarter of next year after it was put on hold because of the coronavirus crisis.
Batra told The New Indian Express the nation was "still keen" on entering the race for the 2032 Games, although he admitted plans remained at a "standstill" due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Asked why he thought he was the only person to have earned an individual Olympic gold given India’s population of 1.3 billion, Bindra, speaking on a live link from India, said more could be done to encourage participation in sport in India.
Bindra responded: "We are a population of 1.3 billion but I think we must ask ourselves the question - 'How many of that 1.3 billion actually play sport?'
"And when you actually look into the numbers of people taking part in sport it will be much less.
"Historically I think sport has not been imbibed in our country.
"When I was young and in my generation for sure, and generations before mine, the academic pursuits of young people took complete precedence and sport was almost looked down upon and not encouraged.
"And I think that has had a big impact on us not getting global success at Olympic level.
"Having said that a lot is changing now, predominantly because we are a very young population - 50 per cent of our population is below the age of 20 - and sport is capturing the imagination of the youth and it’s getting much more important and being given a priority.
"The Government has to assist in sport much more seriously because our population is more involved in it.
"And I do hope and feel that come Tokyo or the Games after that, I will definitely not be the only individual Olympic champion and we will have others coming to the fore.
"But to conclude I think the lack of a sports culture in our history has had a great impact on our sporting performance."
Bindra, who since retiring after finishing fourth at the Rio 2016 Olympics has set up a foundation in India to support grass-roots sport, and has also been a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes' Commission, says he has come to terms now with post-competitive life.
"Beijing 2008 was one of the highlights of my life, one of the biggest moments which I will always cherish," Bindra said.
"I think it is also a case of coming to the understanding and the acceptance that probably nothing will match that sort of adrenaline ever again.
"And I’m all right with that, and I’m at peace with that, so that is an important learning for me."
He added that the uses his sporting mindset to face new challenges in life, particularly in a business career involved in healthcare within India.
On the subject of what sports he thought most likely to produce individual Indian Olympic champions to follow in his wake, Bindra highlighted badminton and shooting.
"Of course shooting remains a sport where I would put my money on if I had to," he said.
"We have had tremendous success in the recent past, with a lot of young people taking part in the sport and having global success.
"And badminton is another one which has got a lot of people interested in that sport."
The question of whether Bindra foresaw another sport accompanied by huge success and interest in India, namely cricket, eventually joining the Olympic programme, produced a measured response.
Bindra pointed out that in the past India’s governing body of the sport, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, had resisted sending teams to events such as the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
But he added: "If everyone values the Olympic status the sport would receive then I think it would be a win-win situation.
"As a cricket fan I would love to see an Indian cricket team at the Olympic Games provided it was the best athletes who were competing."