There is a strong belief among many that we can make a mark in Tokyo 2020, especially as our players are doing exceptionally well in various sports at the global level. Now cricket is not the only one in limelight. I think a lot of great changes have happened in India in the last decade. This is most important for good results.
I have to admit that I have been very busy as a player. Because of this, there was no time to look at the system from any other point of view. But in the last few years, we have seen a lot of positive changes. We have always received financial support from the government for our trips to play. The introduction of the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) in 2014-15 was a great move.
There was a time when we needed something, we had to take the help of NGOs. Now it's easier for more and more athletes to get TOP help. The out-of-pocket allowance given to the players every month is also a good step. This is helping them with training, supplementation, and competition.
Another good thing is that more and more efforts are being made to keep in touch with the players and motivate them to focus on their game, work hard and prepare themselves well. I can say that the system is getting better every year. So players don't need to think too much now.
We are fortunate that India has had a good group of players in the last 10-15 years, but I must admit that when people see me as a leader, it is a very special experience. The standard of Indian badminton has also gone up a lot in the last few years and many of our players are among the top 50 players in the world.
To be honest, I was not a big sports fan, I didn't even know the importance of the Olympic Games when I started playing. But when I was selected to represent India at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I realized how big a deal it was. I was very excited because even though I was a teenager, I got an opportunity to do something for the country.
I could have won a medal in Beijing. I still can't believe I lost the match after taking an 11-3 lead in the quarterfinals against Maria Yulianti of Indonesia. Expectations were not very high in 2008. When I won a bronze medal at my second Olympic Games in London in 2012, I understood the importance of standing on the podium and watching the tricolor wave from there. I felt that I had played a lot of tournaments and was much better prepared for London than for Beijing. Before the London Olympics, I also tasted success in the Super Series events. In 2009, Indonesia won the Super Series for the first time. Then won three titles in 2010. I was increasingly confident that I could challenge the dominance of the Chinese players.
I am told that 133 badminton players have been selected as Khelo India Scholars. After good performances, some of them made it to the tops. First the development group and then the core group. Had such steps been taken earlier, even more, spectacular results would have emerged. But now the players know that if they do well, they will continue to get support to move forward.