EXCLUSIVE: AFI President Adille Sumariwalla foresees bright future for India on the global stage similar to Asian Games

Adille Sumariwalla reflects on India's athletic transformation and envisions a promising future.


EXCLUSIVE: AFI President Adille Sumariwalla foresees bright future for India on the global stage  similar to Asian Games

(From L-R) Tajinder Pal Singh Toor, Adille Sumariwalla and Avinash Sable (Via SAI Media/X/ user generated content)

Call it a revolution, call it a miracle, or, call it sheer delight. The way Indian athletes have been scorching the track and field at the Asian Games in Hangzhou has become the talk of the town.

Images of Avinash Sable, Tajinder Pal Toor and company ripping the field on Sunday has been sensational. More medals came and more will come in the next few days.

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In a chat with this writer, Adille Sumariwalla, President of the Athletics Federation of India and now elected as Vice President to World Athletics, poured his heart out on the revolution.

“Hang on, what you have seen is just the beginning. If we can continue in the same vein, India will become a bigger force in world athletics,” said Adille on Monday.

Tajinder Pal Singh Toor won consecutive Gold Medal at the Asian Games in the Shot Put (Via SAI Media/X)

A former runner himself and having represented India in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the Indian commands huge respect. He and the planning head of the AFI, Lalit Bhanot, have brain-stormed for weeks, months and years to bring in the revolution.

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“Let me tell you, nothing happened overnight. People talk of planning, execution and so on. We had to start from scratch a few years ago. We had to change our whole athletics calendar. There was resistance to the change but it had to be done the hard way and today we can see the results,” said an emotional Adille.

“When the world athletics program was on, we were in off-season mode in India. We had to do drastic changes. Kerala cribbed there was four months rain and training or competition was not possible. Now everyone has understood the importance of the calendar change. It has worked. We have over 25 national competitions and a few where we also invite athletes from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives to up our level,” explained Adille.

Neeraj Chopra
Neeraj getting ready for his throw (Image Credits: G.Rajaraman)

Athletics in India was synonymous with PT Usha, the Asian queen, Milkha Singh and later Anju Bobby George. Yet, it needed a certain Neeraj Chopra to win a gold in the Tokyo Olympics to see a sea change. ”Neeraj did not happen overnight. No, we planned and then the execution. Lalit Bhanot is himself an ex-javelin guy. We identified events where India could do well, 400m, throws, jumps and javelin and shot put. The identification of disciplines and then working hard on it has been the key,” said Adille.

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Asked to draw a rough comparison, the AFI President, who is at the helm of affairs in his 12th year said the progression has been smooth “If you look at the number of athletes we (India) had in London 2012 and then in Tokyo, it has tripled. I will not make predictions about medals in the Paris Olympics and the color, we will have more medals,” said Adille in a confident note.

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If the Asian Games process continues India will rock, says Adille Sumariwalla

India loves champions and Adille feels the growth of the sport has begun in two ways, producing big champions as well as nurturing grass-root talent. “We have over 600 districts and our inter-district and inter-state competitions have grown in shape and size. India is able to tap rural talent as well. We have athletes from all states now with potential and being groomed,” he explained.

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So, who grooms them? “Ah, good question. Today we have foreign coaches plus quality coaches at home and well qualified technical officials. Earlier, we could send two coaches to Jakarta for getting them equipped. I requested Lord Seb Coe (World Athletics) boss to send trainers her. Now we a have an international workshop with classes and practicals for our coaches, maximum 24 in one batch.”

Subedar Avinash Sable clinches created the new Asian Games record in the 3000 meters Steeple chase event
Avinash Sable clinches gold and creates the new Asian Games record in the 3000 meters Steeplechase event (Via Open Source/X)

“Level 1, 2 and 3, the growth of coaches is also important. That’s the way we can reach the districts and unearth the prodigies. I must thank the Government of India and the Sports Authority of India for all their help. We have national camps and so many athletes like Neeraj and Sable training abroad. This is how we can become big,” Adille stressed.

Adille’s elevation as World Athletics Vice President is a huge honor. “Before I entered the world body committees, there was hardly any Indian representation. If you are asking me what good it is for India that I am in the body, all I can say is the best for athletics will happen in India. We have better coaches, more athletes and also well qualified technical officials. They are certified. As we run so many competitions at various levels with the states playing a role, growth has been manifold,” is Adille’s mantra.

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Will India be a force to reckon with in the coming years? “If this process can continue, India will rock. Even now, if you see, so many African nation athletes are representing Asia where we lost. We have done our scientific research and got the blueprint ready. The work needs to be carried forward. I am sure the government will support us. We needed one Olympic medal. My wish is we have more Olympic medalists from India. Wait for Paris!” concluded Adille.

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