It’s about 2 weeks that London Olympic flames dissolved into the darkness. Athletes by now have returned to their countries. Those who won medals got treated like superstars, facing umpteen interviews, not just the winner, but his whole family, all his relatives, neighbours and even the dog who had watched him train. If Michael Phelps was Indian, I bet they would have even started constructing a temple of him by now!
As things stand today, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and their ilk who win multiple gold medals in consecutive Olympics appear like a totally different species from a different planet all together. Consider this: Indians are 1.2 billion strong & make up almost 20% of world population, have been participating in Olympics since 1900 have till date won just 9 gold medals, 8 of which came from hockey, all of them won almost a century ago when hockey was not that popular world-wide. Since then Indian hockey has declined and in London Olympics we got the wooden spoon for coming last. Compare this Michael Phelps & Usain Bolt who have individually won 18 and 6 Olympic gold medals respectively! So what exactly is wrong with us?
Have I just stirred up a hornet’s nest?
It’s a question that gets debated in every Indian home, especially during the 2 weeks that Olympic Games are on and takes over our TV’s at home. Here are 7 top reasons usually dished out:
1. CLIMATE: In India, the hot tropical climate is not conducive to go out and play sports, unlike some of the countries on top of the Olympic medal table.
2. GENES: We Indians are not physically as strong a race as others. We are generally known to be skinny and spindly
3. HISTORICAL: Unlike Greek, Roman and other civilizations, stories of Indian mythology is bereft of mention of any sports. Ancient Indians focused on yoga for fitness instead of sport. So we lack the kind of competitive spirit that sports have bought to others. (Of the two games that do find mention in our mythology, archery is one – so is it just a coincidence that the sole gold medal for India, apart from hockey, came from archery? The other game mentioned in mythology is gambling – and we all know how infamously good Indians are with this!)
4. CULTURAL: It’s said that we are just not “sporty” enough. We may be intellectual and spiritual, but generally despise physical exertion, don’t like to compete and don’t have ” killer instinct”.
5. GDP: Study of medal table shows a direct co-relation between countries with high GDP being on top of the medal table (China being the only exception)
5. DEMOCRACY: World’s largest democracy have priorities where development of sports is not on top of it’s priorities. In contrast, China – and most other communist countries having authoritarian governments are able to disproportionately allocate resources towards sports.
6. SOCIOLOGICAL: This relates to our attitudes to the kinds of sports in general ( remember the popular Hindi saying “‘Kheloge kudoge to honge kharab, padhoge likhoge to banoge nawab’ meaning that your life will be a waste if you play but if you study you can become a king) . To top this up are the kind of games played in Olympics that we don’t play and so don’t respect.
7. POLITICS: Indians are always complaining about political interference in sports. Corruption in sports administration does not allow us to select the best sportsmen because they are obsessed with the proper caste, ethnic, religious and regional balance in our teams.
Problem is closer look at medal table reveals that many other countries with tropical –like climate (Iran, Jamaica, Ethiopia for example). Some had lower GDP. Others like Uganda, Kenya, Algeria, Tunisia etc) all are as skinny , spindly as Indians. As far as “killer instinct” is and competitiveness is concerned – we only have to watch Indian business at work or Indian students competing in exam to show the extent of competiveness in us. As far as general attitude t sports is concerned – look at what we have done with cricket, when as a country we got behind this game. Regarding politics and corruption many of the developing countries higher on medal table have no better – even though a typical Indians will find it hard to believe that.
So where does that leave us? I guess, exhausted and frustrated as every debate of this kind ends up without one valid reason to salvage our pride.
In Paralympics games, that are taking place now, the 78 million disabled Indians have at least statistically done better (however slightly that may be) than their able bodied counterparts in Olympics. India started participating only since 1965 – and so far have bagged two gold medals so far (Petkar for 50m freestyle swimming in 1972 and Devendra Jhajaria for javelin throw in 2004). Does that mean that in India does it mean that losing your limb is what it cost to realise the gold? That is not true as well, as we have seen in the case of Deepa Malik. Deepa is Asian champion in discuss, javelin and discuss. In a reality show she beat able bodied contestants despite being paralysed chest down. In spite of all this, she did not make to the Paralympic team – just like no other women did in a small 10 member squad that is all we could muster. Such a shame.
But there is hope in future. In India, as they say things take a long time to change – but they do eventually. Look at Indian economy. And so it may be the same with sports as well. So while China may have set up to produce soul-less sports factories that produce gold at every Olympics today, demographics is against them – since one in four Chinese by 2050 –will be over 65. Globally ass well, there is a strong trend of growing share of medals by emerging market and India is bound to ride this wave. Fareed Zakaria, a leading thinker and CNN anchor predicts that by 2040 – India would reach at least the 2nd on the Olympic medal table. Then may be Michael Phelps kids can watch with envy as an Indian dude heads back home from Olympics laden heavily with all those gold medals.