The exorbitant cost of equipment is a hindrance but cycling can flourish in India once the country starts winning medals at international events like the Asian Games, national federation Secretary General Onkar Singh said on Thursday.
Onkar said cycling’s profile in the country has improved in the last few years but it still needs government support through big spending before it reaches the stage of self sustenance like any other sport.
“A cycle costs Rs 5 lakh, a wheel will cost you Rs 1 lakh and 20 thousand and even a tyre will cost you Rs 20,000. So, it is very difficult for a common man to take up cycling. There has to be some support from the government, state governments specifically,” Onkar told PTI in an interview.
“They must have centres where there are enough equipment. Otherwise, it will be difficult for us to sustain and produce world-class cyclists,” he added.
“Until and unless we go to the rural areas and hold championships there, cycling cannot be a mass sport. The question is from where the funds will come. This is a very expensive sport, it can’t progress without the help of government,” he said.
Cycling has been a struggling sport in India and has won just three medals at the Asian Games and a couple of medals in the Asian Championships so far. No Indian has qualified for the Olympics after the 1964 Games in Tokyo.
Onkar is optimistic about India turning the corner and making its presence felt once the country’s cyclists start winning medals in international events like the Asian Games.
But interestingly, he said the route to develop cycling was not through building country-wide infrastructure and grooming talent first but by winning medals and trigger an interest in the sport.
“We have about 16 velodromes in different states of the country. They are all outdoor facilities with concrete tracks. IGI velodrome is the only indoor facility in the country with wooden tracks. This is one of rare facilities not just in Asia but in the whole world.
“That is why we are coming up so fast in the international scene because we have this kind of facility. Asia has three or four and in the world around 10 or 12 wooden track.
“But obviously, we need more indoor facilities, better tracks, preferably of wooden tracks, across the country. It is not easy to do that because of the cost and lack of sponsors. Unfortunately, we are not getting much support and investment from the public sector in such an eco-friendly sport,” Onkar said on the sidelines of the 37th Asian Track Cycling Championships.
Onkar said a 2020 Olympic qualification is the target and doing that could herald a new era in Indian cycling. CFI is pinning hopes on top cyclist Deborah Herold from Andaman and Nicobar to make the Olympic breakthrough in 2020 Tokyo Games.
“We want to reach the Olympic level, qualify for the Olympics, win medals at the Asian level and in the Asian Games. Our first aim is to win medals at the Asian Games in 2018 and then qualify for the 2020 Olympics. I hope that will trigger a new beginning for cycling,” said Onkar.
The Secretary General is hoping for better performance with the arrival of half a dozen quality cycles to be imported from England.
These cycles will be used by top cyclists like Deborah and Aleena Reji of Kerala, who are taking part in the upcoming two World Cups (in Colombia and USA this month) and World Championships (in Hong Kong in April).
“These cycles are extremely costly, double the price (Rs 10 lakh) of what we are using now. The top cyclists in the world like those of Korea, China and Japan have been using these and this is the first time our cyclists are going to use them. Naturally, the performance of our cyclists will be better,” he said.
Talking about the growth of cycling since he took over as Secretary General, Onkar said, “When I took over, the highest ranking of our cyclists in one of the events was 149 out of 185 countries but now some of our cyclists are in top 10. Deborah was 4th, then 6th and now 11th (in women’s elite 500m time trial).
“Our junior boys were top ranked in team sprint (in 2014). It’s a collective effort with the government and the UCI helping us in setting up this centre and the academy. All helped to come up to this level.”