With less than a month to go to the 37th National Games, Goa, the host, is running against time to have the infrastructure for the much-postponed games completed in all respects. It may still achieve that after the innumerable setbacks that forced the games to be rescheduled and even the mascot changed.
The mascot change is an entire story in itself and reflective of Goa’s unpreparedness for the games.
The National Games were awarded to Goa in 2008. They are finally happening in 2023, a good 15 years later, and Goa has struggled to get ready for them. Every government since 2008 has displayed a willingness to host the games, and that is when even the mascot was selected and unveiled.
This establishes just how unprepared Goa has been to host the games, how it dragged its feet over the years on the games and is now finally just weeks away from the big day.
So, the games will begin. But, this is sports, and just what sort of performance can be expected from the state in the games?
Given that the Indian contingent at the Asian Games currently going on in Hangzhou, China, has just two Goans, does not inspire confidence that Goa will collect a bagful of medals at the National Games.
The two Goans in the Indian contingent at the Asian Games are Bryce Miranda, a midfielder in the football team, and Tanisha Crasto, who will play in the badminton doubles. One Goan in the football team is a far cry from just a few years ago, when there could be up to five Goans in the Indian football team, including the captain.
At the 36th National Games held in Gujarat last year, Goa stood 30 in the medals tally with five bronze medals. There is hope that the state will improve upon its performance, and even a couple of gold medals will take it higher up in the medals tally.
But given that at the last games, host state Gujarat got 13 gold medals and still ended up at the 12th spot, Goa really can’t expect to break into the top ten as host state.
Some of the gold medals that Goa could hope to win are in some martial arts contests and beach volleyball. That is a good trend, as these are new sports that have been introduced in Goa.
But what about the traditional sports that Goans are known to play and have shown their prowess in? Where does Goa stand in football, and in hockey where once many Goans, albeit residents of Bombay, excelled and made it to the national teams?
Football is the state sport of Goa. There are tournaments from the school level to the university level, from inter-ward tournaments at the village level to inter-village, going right up to the ISL.
How come Goa cannot produce the class of footballers that it did just a few years ago? What happened to the Goa Football Development Council? Has it failed to produce and groom young footballers who can make it to the national team?
Goa hasn’t ever proved itself on the sports field, except for football, where the state, or its many clubs, have won most of the premier trophies and championships in the country.
In order to compete with other states that send several athletes to the Asian Games and the Olympics, it has a long way to go and much to achieve. It requires a lot of vision, planning and execution, which is currently missing.
If Goa was indeed serious about sports, it would not have been tardy in organising the National Games, which led to several postponements. But now the games will be held and will soon end too.
So let us not expect anything much from the upcoming games in terms of performance and medals. It will be time to look at the future, with a vision to improve Goa’s performance on the sports field.
Whether Goa gets medals aplenty or not, there will be one outcome of the National Games, which will be that Goa will have high-quality infrastructure.
That is an asset, on which hundreds of crores have been spent. How Goa manages these assets and utilises them to promote sports talent will determine whether the games will give back something to Goa.