What is TOPS program? How does it support elite Indian athletes?

Sahaj Nair

April 12 2023

The scheme is a flagship program of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in an attempt to provide assistance to India’s top athletes.

In India, athletes often face the challenge of finding sponsorship. This makes it difficult for them to get the best training facilities and coaching. The Indian government launched the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) in September 2014.

Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS)

The scheme is a flagship program of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in an attempt to provide assistance to India’s top athletes. The program is aimed at providing the required support to the athletes in their preparation and training, so that they can win medals for the country at international events (with the main focus being on the Olympics). The scheme currently supports 105 TOPS Core Group Athletes across 13 sporting disciplines. This includes Hockey- both men’s and women’s teams and 269 TOPS Development Group athletes across 12 sports disciplines. Under this scheme, certain sports have been categorized as “High Priority” which are Archery, Badminton, Boxing, Hockey, Shooting and Wrestling.

The scheme was first introduced in 2014. It was revamped in April 2018 to setup a technical support team for providing holistic support. The scheme is fully functional and has been extending all the necessary support to athletes who have been identified to be potential medal winners at the Olympics, Paralympics or other world events like the Commonwealth Games. The support includes foreign training, International competition, equipment and coaching camps,. beside a monthly stipend of ₹50,000 for each athlete.

TOPS has helped improve India’s performance in the world events

The TOPS program has seen successes in the form of PV Sindhu (badminton) and Sakshi Malik (wrestling), who won silver and bronze medals respectively at the 2016 Rio Olympics. TOPS athletes also won four medals, including two gold medals at the Paralympic Games of 2016. At the Commonwealth Games in 2018, 47 out of the 70 medal-winning athletes were supported by the TOPS scheme.

The Tokyo Olympics 2020 saw India better its previous performance by securing seven medals in total, which included the historic gold medal by Neeraj Chopra. The recently concluded Commonwealth Games 2022 saw India nearly emulating its 2018 Gold Coast performance, winning 61 medals in total. The tally could’ve been higher if shooting (a sport where India secured 16 medals last time) wasn’t excluded from this edition of the CWG.

Instances where TOPS has come to the athletes’ rescue

The scheme has come to the help of the athletes many times. For instance, TOPS stepped in when Mirabai Chanu needed to travel to St. Louis in the United States at short notice before the Olympic Games in 2020. It was managed inside a day, so that she could leave before the U.S. stopped flights originating from India. Another example is Neeraj Chopra being flown to Chula Vista, so that he could return to training and prepare for the World Athletics Championships 2022.

The most recent instance of the scheme helping Indian athletes is the funding of Bajrang Punia. Further, CWG gold winner Deepak Punia’s 19 day travel and training plan in Michigan, USA ahead of the World Wrestling Championships in Belgrade, Serbia next month. Deepak and Bajrang will be flying out to Michigan on Tuesday.

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