Every four years, the world conspires successfully to make a laughing stock out of India.
It’s called the Olympics.
It is not an exaggeration to say that India has got the most shameful record in the Olympics compared to every other nation on earth. Looks like we find building an intercontinental ballistic missile, and putting a satellite in a geostationary orbit much easier than developing an athlete who can make it to the track and field final in any event.
To be fair to India; it has only participated in a few disciplines like hockey, until very recently, so being a multiple medal winner was a far cry. Even today India has one of the smallest contingent (83 athletes in London 2012, its largest yet) from major nations and has participated in only half of the sporting disciplines in the Olympics. Contrast that with the United States of America which always has a strong contingent (more than 500 athletes at least) in all the sporting disciplines. China too has close to 400 athletes and a nation as tiny as Netherlands too has a contingent of more than 200 athletes, in any of the Olympics.
But then, isn’t it unnerving that countries which are only a fraction bigger than India are sending a bigger contingent of quality athletes and being more successful?
They get a medal for every five to six athletes they send. India traditionally got one per twenty or thirty. The most shameful part were the three Olympics of 1984,1988 and 1992 when India’s medal tally was zero. One of the clichéd reasons given for our pathetic track record is that Cricket has more money and hence no one wants to take up other sports.
Cash rich cricket, as we know, is a very recent phenomenon, stretching back only to the last three decades. But blaming cricket for this debacle is very unfair. Cricket has sustained itself admirably in India, with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) now generating 80 percent of the total cricket revenue in the world.
It does not depend on any misfortune as far as sponsorships are concerned; which is great considering that big money invested in cricket is a fairly recent phenomenon while other big sports have got there millionaires for as long as one can remember.
And if one looks further back to the golden days of Indian hockey, the pay was more pitiful; but that did not stop them from dominating and beating teams of much richer nations.
In every country or continent, there are just two or three sports which tower above the rest monetarily.
None of the American swimmers, track or field athletes, or gymnasts can earn even a tenth of what any player in Major Leage Baseball, NFL or NBA earns during three or four seasons, in their entire career.
None of the swimmers, track or field athletes or gymnasts in any European country can earn even a tenth of what any footballer in EPL, Primera Liga, Serie A or Bundesliga earns in two or three seasons, in their entire career.
But there is no dearth of young sportspersons there; both quality and quantity who want to be athletes. In the poorer African nations of Kenya and Ethiopia or the Carribbean, the odds are against people taking up any kind of sport, which doesnt pay as well as basketball or baseball.
If we go by this logic then the Carribbean young guns should all be going to America to join the Major League or the NBA.
But they don’t. Jamaica is an equal competitor to mighty America in sprinting.
Another reason that is given is that there is dearth of facilities and funds in India, however the problem is not the dearth of funds but their use. More money is generated from an ODI cricket series than what is allocated for the Olympics and coaches for athletes.
The ninth largest economy in the world has got its priorities wrong, in all fields, from public amenities to national security, and now we are in a shameful condition where even public sanitation is not available in most places.
How can sports escape any apathy then?
We are more interested in engaging in scams during the Commonwealth Games than building good sporting culture.
P.T. Usha reached the finals of the Womens 400m hurdles in Los Angeles in 1984 and missed the bronze by 1/100th of a second thanks to training in facilities which would make today’s equipments look like science fiction. The same thing happened with with Milkha Singh who came fourth in the Men’s 400m in Rome in 1960.
These two and only four other Indians have even made it to the finals of any track and field event.
Does this mean that Kenya, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Iran, Azebaijan etc. are wealthy and have unlimited funds to train their medal winners?
What excuse can we give when Olympic medal winners are made in the Carribbean nations of Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad &Tobago which have lesser populations than any locality of any Indian metro?
Sportsmen, except in sports like tennis, golf or swimming come mostly from the working class or poor backgrounds. They face the same difficulty in their lives that their counterparts face here, sometimes much more, if we take the African and central Asian republics into consideration (Haile Gibreselassie, one of the best long distance greats used to run 10km back and forth from his school everyday, as a child, with schoolbooks in his left hand, which gave his left arm a typical stance while running).
No amount of medals or accolades is going to cause a sporting revolution in the Indian middle class or in Indian metros.
The next batch of athletes will come from the backwaters and not the suburbs. It’s not glittering Gurgaon but the non descript town of Bhiwani in the same state that has seen the rise of Olympic boxers.
South Africa, a country rife in violent crimes, with a population less than Gujarat, produces excellent sportspersons in every field, cricket included. This, even after being banned from the Olympics, for thirty years, due to apartheid. China had no medals before the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles. They had not participated in the previous eight Olympic games.
Since then, slowly but steadily, they have replaced erstwhile Soviet Union in the medals tally. The Chinese sporting model has taken the world, strong and cruel as it may be, it is giving results and a better life for the young people that it is training. The
The Chinese are already masters in badminton, gymnastics, weightlifting, table tennis and diving. They now have excellent swimmers second to none. The only field that they are left wanting is in athletics but knowing what they are, one is assured that they will bridge this gap pretty soon.
The point here is that China had a non-existent sporting culture and facilities to speak of four decades ago, and today they have left that period of history far behind.
Another reason for why India can’t produce Olympic medal-winning sportspersons is the myth that talent is not being tapped.
This argument assumes that there is no effort being made to find new talent, and that even a television viewing layman is more intelligent than a coach in this regard.
However third rate the sports infrastructure in India may be, one has to understand that the coaches are no fools. They painstakingly detect sporting talent in places which us urban animals don’t even know exist. Yet the results have been far from satisfactory.
True sporting talent cannot be stopped by poverty or remoteness of the place, countless examples exist all around the world to vouch for this. It’s not enough just to ponder how a country of billion and a quarter can’t win even a dozen medals.
Just population isn’t important. Quantity has to be converted into quality. China has managed that; we haven’t.
Every state in India has a wrestling tradition. Every village in India has at least ten pehelwaans or wrestlers, and India has close to six hundred thousand villages. So there are about sixty million wrestlers to choose from in India. Yet, there is a difference of sixty years between the success of Khashaba Jadhav and Sushil Kumar.
If you cannot be a world leader in a sport where the talent pool available exceeds the population of most of the countries on earth, then something is seriously wrong.
Not to mention, the age old argument of poor Infrastructure has long been the said obstacle that prevents sportspersons from achieving greater heights.
India indeed has a poor and non-existent infrastructure in sports. But infrastructure is not so impressive in the African nations, Carribbean nations and the Central Asian republics either, or even in south east Asian nations till almost two to three decades ago.
Most of the medal winners from these countries have had only the most basic facilities. But that doesn’t stop them from getting their well deserved glory. Why can’t our people do that knowing that succeeding will bring them riches beyond their dreams and will bring golden days for their sport in India?
It is not just poor infrastucture, it is more to do with poor quality; our best not being there with the world’s best. As it was said by a former tennis player from India on India’s dismal performance in Olympics “If being on the biggest stage does not spur you to go for the maximum, then probably you shouldnt be here”.
It’s high time now that we stop harping about India’s eight Olympic gold medals in hockey after each dismal performance by the hockey team.
Hockey in India began its demise when the country failed to adapt to the fast play due to the astroturf surface which was introduced in the mid 1970s. The last gold medal in Moscow in 1980 holds doesn’t hold any special value as the entire NATO block had boycotted it, making it a truncated competition. It only prolonged the demise.
If after four decades, we still are struggling to cope with the changes, then it is noone else’s fault but ours.
Indian hockey is the perfect example of what the state’s corrupt system can do to a thriving sport.
There are enough economic incentives now for any medal winner in the Olympics (even national level players have jobs on sports quota in the railways and other PSUs) so the argument of poor monetary rewards does not stand any ground. Things are much brighter than the dark old socialist days.
It was the last event of the Rome 1960 Olympics, the marathon, Abebe Bikila did not find any shoes that fit him perfectly from the event’s sponsor, Adidas. Two hours before the event, he decided to run barefoot, just like he had trained.
He won the marathon in record time, becoming the first ever gold medal winner from a sub-saharan nation. He won the marathon four years later, in the Olympic games held in Tokyo in 1964 as well. When asked why he decided to run barefoot, he replied “I wanted the world to know that my country Ethiopia has always won with determination and heroism”.
Sports they say, reveals character. What could be a more apt example than this? And how many Indian sportspersons can come even remotely close to the above example?
This win laid the foundation of athletics in Ethiopia which saw the country become the king of long distance running (only Kenya being the other equal) which produced great names from Haile Gebreselassie to the likes of Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba to name the latest. On the other side, Khashaba Jadhav’s bronze in Helsinki 1952 couldn’t bring golden days for wrestling, nor did PT Usha’s four golds in the 1986 Asian games in Seoul bring any bright future for athletics in India.
The writer is no way is undermining India’s medal winners, may it be in Olympics or any other tournament. Each and everyone of them is a hero who has dared to rise above the third rate lethargic system that surrounds them, knowing all the risks involved. They must be cheered and cherished.
We can always hope that however limited our successes are, they will ignite some spark among the kids who have the potential.
It isn’t about having a state run inefficient infrastructure for everything other than cricket. State run infrastructure gave brilliant results in the erstwhile Soviet Union and the Communist bloc and is giving great results in China. Similarly, private run sponsorships are giving great results in USA and entire Europe now. However, even a merger between the two in India will not give the desired results.
It is about having abysmally low benchmarks.We gloat over our acheivements in the Commonwealth games and the Asian games, forgetting that the contending nations like China or South Korea don’t even send their best in such tournaments.
It is about the nonsense of “participation is more important than winning” and “padhoge likhoge to hoge nawab, kheloge koodoge to hoge kharab” (if you study, you will be a king, if you spend time in playing you will be a waste).
There is no importance given to physical development in India. In most schools, there are just 45 minutes allotted out of 8 and a half hours of school time for games and sports. Fifteen minutes of those are spent in searching for the sports teacher’s cabinet as to what is available to play with, and so only half an hour remains to make the most of it.
Many a times, this “wasteful period” is substituted with extra classes as exams are so very important.
Lets face it, we are a sporting midget except where cricket is concerned. And we don’t care for watching any other sport except cricket.
The percentage of people who know about track and field events, swimming, gymnastics etc. and watch them can be counted in decimals. Except for cricket statistics, people do not want to know anything about any other sport. And we don’t want to change it either.
In the recent London Olympics telecast in India, there were only three major sponsors whose ads played again and again. Tedious as it was to see, it reflected the apathy very conspicuously. Other sports simply don’t exist for us and hence we see the pitiful scenes of former athletes living a life or penury or in tha case of Paan Singh Tomar, turning into a dacoit after being the national champion in steeplechase.
Other nations give full support to their retiring athletes by giving them an option of resuming their education and having a shot at a decent life after their playing days are over.
It is amazing then how we expect India to win any medals in the Olympics when we’re doing absolutely nothing to make that happen. We are neither building the training facilities nor athletes and most importantly we’re not building an environment that will nurture sports.
It is like expecting a child from one’s wife without doing the needful.
The fastest runner, the longest and the highest jumper, the farthest discus and javelin thrower, the strongest weightlifter and wrestler have zero value in the eyes of the great children of Bharat Maata.
What excites them most is third rate Bollywood fare, good marks, a substandard cricket tournament (copied from the English Premier League) and medical and engineering seats in dubious institutes.
As long as this remains unchanged, India will only be able to win six medals, like it did this year, and be sixtieth in the medal tally.
I write this as the London 2012 games close with India winning six medals, not exactly great but still a glimmer of hope.
I hope that in the next four years, everything that I have written right now will be proved redundant, and that I will have to eat every word that I have put here.
Sadly, I know that we are notorious for relapsing to our old ways.
Image Source [http://english.globalgujaratnews.com/article/sushil-kumar-named-india's-flag-bearer-at-london-olympics/]