India’s Quest for Olympic Golds – Geet Sethi @ In’dialogues’ – India’s TED

Geet Sethi, eight time world billiards champion - founder OGQ
Geet Sethi, eight time world billiards champion - founder OGQ

Born in Delhi on April 17, 1961, Sethi’s precocious talent blossomed when he shifted to Ahmedabad at a young age. Geet Sethi startled billiards aficionados when he defeated the mercurial Michael Ferreira to win the National senior title in 1982. Carrying on the good work, he won the IBSF World Billiards Championship in 1985 by defeating Bob Marshal in a marathon 8-hour long final. He went on to win an amazing nine world titles – five World Professional, three IBSF World Billiards Championships and one IBSF World Team Snooker Championship. In a tribute to his achievements, the nation has conferred on him some of its most prestigious awards – Padma Shri (1986), Arjuna Award (1986) and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award (1992-93).

The Indian sporting legends Geeth Sethi and Prakash Padukone, and their belief in India’s Sport potential, gave rise to the program called Olympic Gold Quest. Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) is a program of the Foundation for Promotion of Sports and Games which is committed to bridging the gap between the best athletes in India and the best athletes in the world thus helping Indian athletes to win Olympic Gold medals. OGQ endeavors to create a level playing field for Indian athletes to enable them to be competitive at the highest level of sport.

Geet Sethi is also author of Success vs. Joy, an Inspirational book on Mind Control.

I wonder why I have been called to address Indialogues. I see most of the speakers here have been to an IIT, IIM or NID. The nearest I went to IIT was when I played national billiard championship organized in IITD a couple of decades ago and to NID when I was dating a girl, Kiranbir, who was a student then and now my partner in life.

I will talk about, Olympic gold quest (OGQ) – an endeavour to get support from Indians all over to support talent that can get India gold at Olympics.

In 1998, or the first time Billiards was included in Asian Games. Till then as a professional, I was playing for myself. For the first time I got an opportunity to represent the nation. I was delighted. As part of Indian contingent I headed to Bangkok – 435 strong contingent to Bangkok of which 262 were officials only 180 odd athletes!! That is the skew!

For the first time, I witnessed from very close quarters, complete lack of any kind of involvement by the federations and government. Athletes were treated with no dignity. Imagine the youngsters with dream in their eyes, pride to be nation’s flag bearers!!

I came back from Bangkok, disappointed and disillusioned, about the way sportsmen treated in our nation. Wrote a lot, came on TV, lashed out at IOA and Kalmadi. In 2000, I went to Sydney Olympics. I saw despair in every eyes except for a few like Leander, Mahesh, Karnam Malleswari etc who have done well in their life; rest of the athletes were treated shabbily and had no confidence. They have not practiced, nor built up for the occasion, have no shoes, no kit. What did the federation and government do?

I thought – “am I going to write more articles, however emotional or articulate?” In the flight, the idea of OGQ was sown. I must do something rather than shout, I thought. I took immediate flight to Bangalore and met one of India’s greatest athlete, Prakash Padukone, 1981 all England champion. Prakash was delighted at the Idea and bought over the idea. Kept on meeting every six months, but nothing happened. Not aware of how to go about. Where to get money? How?

Then met two gentlemen one day, entrepreneurs, Shitin Desai and Ramnath, and shared my idea of OGQ and told them that I want to raise funds from Indians around the world. Within three seconds of my sharing, these two people wrote cheques of 25 lakhs each!! Soon Neeraj Bajaj, Neeraj Bharadwaj and many more gave the much needed push with their contributions

Then we pulled in Viren Rasquinha as CEO. Viren was the captain of Indian Olympic Hockey team. While he was captain, and young, he went to Indian School of Business (ISB). Now we have 4-5 people team, like Vaibhav Tandon, working fully.

Over 200 athletes, monitored daily from all sports. Whenever we find consistent performance and growth, we pick them up to mentor and facilitatate.

I have seen a shift in the government as a run up to CWG. They gave huge money to athletes to train to perform. I hope the trend continues. But there is a dire need to invest intelligently and efficiency.

Saina Nehwal, latest Badminton star, after every match needs a physiotherapist, to relax her. She trains with Gopichand (Another All England champion). We hired a personal physiotherapist, who travels all the time. Costs may be $10000 every year, but that gives the immense push to Saina.

Similarly, a 20 year old, promising Nanao Singh, Boxer broke his thumb while practicing at SAI, Patiala. His coaches told him to go to ‘nature healers’. We would have completely lost him, but for the timely medical intervention we were able to provide. Now he is back and has qualified for London Olympics.

We need to support and have mental trainers for Luka, a very promising athlete at PT Usha school. She gets trained overseas and funds provided for that

We have short listed six sports – Shooting, Athletics, Boxing, Baddy, Wrestling, Archery – for supporting in the first phase of OGQ, looking at the potential we as a nation have to gain medals.

A few of the medal hopefuls that we have under our wings are –

Mary Kom – 5 Time world boxing champ
– After two world boxing championships under her belt, she took a break for marriage
– After delivering twins, within a couple of months she started to gear up again
– In seven years, she has not lost a single bout

Gagan Narang – 4 golds in CWG
– 10 meter world rifle world champion

Saina Nehwal –
– Joke in the baddy circles is that it is Saina Vs China

Usha School of Athletics –
– 19 athletes in her school – Tintoo Luka (800)

Many more including Tejaswni, Annu raj singh, Sagun chowdhary, Rakesh Manpat, Sanjeev Rajput, Vijay kumar, Omkar…

We want to support 100 olympic medal potential athletes by 2016.

For example, young 16 year old PV Sindhu in baddy – If you look at her progression – ranked 240 in the world in March 2011 and has reached 46th by October, since our involvement in the last six months.

It takes just 6 grams of Gold to lift the worth of a Nation. Only prime minister or President can do what a GOLD Winning athlete can do – Get the national flag hoisted in an alien land!!

Why only cricket gets that attention – money and exposure happened only recently…

Sportsmen do not have anything against cricket.

In every country a team sport has a manic following. It brings the public together as a nation. Cricket in India is managed and market it effectively. They have done a great job.

The alarming part of the skew – 99.9 to .1 that is the skew.. Only way is to get Indians perform in other sports. Anand has done a remarkable contribution to chess. Sania, Leander and Mahesh have done to tennis. If we have consistence performance then we will change the skew..

Riding on success, why not have a cricketer on the board to get greater attention?

We have been brainstorming about it for a few years now. You will see it happen very soon

Not govt, but private enterprise can bring the change. What are the challenges?
Viren works closely with federations, ministry. We are making an attempt to work with them. Compliment their efforts. Bureaucracy by nature is slow and inefficient. When Gagan does not get a ticket in hand till 5pm for a 10pm flight, we step in and get him on air.

We go out of our way to work with federations and SAI. I raise about Rs 2.5 crores every year. I will need about Rs 40 crores for supporting 100 athletes. I was surprised to find there are many people who are obsessed with sports. There are many people who are making it happen. People like Rakesh Jhunjhunwala is always ready!

I want to make this into a movement. I want people to give just 10 rupees a month. Reaching out to masses is the challenge.

You see partially developed talent and take them under your wings. What way do you go about identifying talent.

We keep talking about it. Three years into operations. Young organization. We want to go to grassroot level. We need more partners. Tie-up at organizational level and also fund is needed. We will head there.

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