Mumbai: India's sporting culture and infrastructure, as well as its attitude towards Olympic disciplines, must change if it hopes to produce world-beaters on a consistent basis, Abhinav Bindra, the country's only individual Olympic gold medallist has said.
In a country obsessed with cricket, India's first individual Olympic gold came in 2008 when baby-faced shooter Bindra won the 10m air rifle event in Beijing.
While some blame a lack of funding for India's dismal record, others find fault with the country's sports infrastructure which they feel is inadequate for a nation of 1.2 billion people.
With cricket eating up the bulk of India's corporate sponsorship, Bindra wants a change of attitude towards Olympic sports.
"There are a variety of reasons why we haven't won gold medals before. I will say it has something to do also with our (sports) culture," Bindra said in an interview.
"In the last many years I don't think many young people got into a (Olympic) sport and stuck with it for a long period of time.”
"One of the reasons is that it is not lucrative enough ... very few people invest in Olympic sports."
While cricket academies mushroom across the country, Olympic sports, barring shooting, are pursued largely by the poorer sections of society.
The 28-year-old marksman, who recently booked his spot for next year's London Games, said changes had to be implemented at grass-roots level for India to become competitive on the international stage.
"To stand up to worldwide competition, we need a very strong set-up at home that produces athletes right from the beginner's level and has the sustained back-up for the same athlete to finally go and win an Olympic medal," he said.
"And over the last many years I think this is perhaps one thing that has been lacking."
Private initiatives have started supplementing government efforts but Bindra does not expect any immediate results.
"I would say things are looking brighter but we still have a very long way to go before we get competitive in the Olympic countries," Bindra, who hails from an affluent family, said.
"In my case it was a sustained effort. I was fortunate to have the backing of my parents to start off with and towards the Beijing Olympics the Mittal Champions Trust came into the picture and they helped me a lot.
"They helped me not just with resources but also found me world class know-how in terms of sports psychologists and physical trainers and to get the best that was available to me."
Bindra, who became the first Indian shooter to win a World Championship gold medal at Zagreb in 2006, dislikes talking about the pressure of being the country's only individual Olympic gold medallist.
"I think this is something which is more of an external burden which I don't necessarily want to lift," Bindra said.
"Externally ... perhaps when everybody keeps asking me this ... I don't really like it but that's something I got to deal with.”
"My having won a gold medal in Beijing is not going to be an extra advantage. It does not have any bearing on how I perform in London in a year's time," he said.
"Beijing was great but its over and I am looking forward to London with a clear mind and a clean slate."
India will bank heavily on shooting to add to their tally of medals in London and eight shooters have already qualified for the 2012 Games.
"The future of the sport in India is very bright. We have a lot of new, young shooters and a lot of them have already qualified for London," he said.
"Shooting is a sport which has got us medals at the highest level in the last five to six years right from 2004. It's a testimony to the talents that we have."
First Published: Saturday, July 02, 2011, 14:26