By Vijay Darda | 01-08-2016
With 120 athletes participating in 16 Olympic events at the two week long Rio Games that get underway on August 5th this is India’s biggest contingent in this four yearly event that tests the sporting prowess of nations. Indians would participate in archery, athletics, badminton, boxing, golf, hockey, gymnastics, judo, rowing, shooting, swimming, table tennis, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling. Right now without being either overtly optimistic or pessimistic about the chances of the individual athletes or team performances we should just wish them well and hope for the best.
But we would only be deluding ourselves by restricting our concerns to these two weeks of Olympics games and lamenting our poor performance in comparison with other countries. Without sporting greatness at the international level, we cannot really hope to be counted among the powerful nations on the globe. It would always be rubbed into our psyche that we, a nation of 1.22 billion people, have captured only 0.16 percent of the medals on offer in the 116 year long history of the Olympic games. China with whom we always seek to compare ourselves emerged as the highest medal grabbing country when it staged the 2008 Beijing Olympics. We can cite the examples of tiny countries like the Bahamas with just 500,000 people winning gold medals.
It is not that the subject of India going medal-less in Olympics has not been discussed or debated. But the problem is that in spite of all the lung and word power that has been expended on the subject we have not been able to the cut the syndrome of ‘so-many-people-yet-so few-Olympic-medals.” It has been discussed in terms of the restrictions placed in implementing strict regimen that is demanded for nurturing quality athletes. Poverty is also cited as one of the contributing factors, and we have of course that attitude of the Indian middle class parents to blame that is summed-up in this catchy cliché-padhoge likhoge banoge nawab, kheloge kudoge hoge kharab ( roughly rendered it means if you read and write you will prosper, and if play and jump you will go waste.) While this debate is not easy to settle, suffice it to say that numerous post mortems after the medal less Olympic games have not resulted in changing the situation.
The answer actually is self-evident. To become a sporting power has to be a national mission, just like acquiring military strength or economic power. As a nation, we are simply not enthused enough to be a sporting power. This is the key problem. Our easy global domination in cricket, a game played by just the former colonial countries has actually lulled us into sporting inaction. We just enjoy the success of a Saina Nehwal or a Sania Mirza, and few successes in boxing or wrestling or shooting. This actually is the limit of our Olympic expectations. Our prime minister can make cleanliness as a national passion, but sporting excellence does not seem to figure anywhere on his mindscape. There is hardly any plan that would nurture the available sporting talent pool after taking into consideration, the physical attributes, the mental tenacity and competitive spirit of a person. On the contrary, we have controversies galore about poorly administered sports bodies, woeful lack of world class infrastructure, lack of resources and personnel, and petty rivalries. For some time there was a dearth of funds, but then individual corporate houses have adopted players and teams, and to some extent this problem has been tackled.
But we still need a mission mode programme to become a sporting power that is guided directly by the prime minister. This is not to say that he has to do everything personally. But both the strategy and its implementation has to be a programme that begins with the prime minister and is regularly monitored by him. In this context, I also wish to add that I have personally discussed this aspect with him along with the need to focus on tourism that could be a big game changer in so far as our international image and economy is concerned. Both deserve his personal attention and drive.
The talent hunt for the sports programme should begin at an early stage, perhaps in the first years at school and progression should be strictly on merit. It should have graded systems of rewards so that the notion that sports is a wastage of time is banished once and for all. Participation and success at every stage should bring commensurate rewards. Nepotism and favouritism has to be strictly rooted out. This would avoid the kind of controversy that is now surrounding the doping episode related to Narsingh Yadav. If cliques start calling the shots, then we can kiss good bye to any real chances of sustained success.
Of course, states can also become partners in such a national mission for excellence in sports as we know that some regions have always produced excellent talent in different games. There could be specific sports assigned to the states, and then the best talent from all over the country could be pooled there to achieve optimal results. But the need is to cast the net wider. We shall be participating in only 16 of the 28 sports, and the fact is that there are 306 events, which makes it clear that there are at least 900 medals to be won. We may not bridge the difference between ourselves and other democratic nations, but we have to move up the ladder from our dismal 50th ranking in 2012 to be at least among the top ten. To be satisfied with a lesser performance, speaks volumes for our attitude or lack of it towards excellence.
It is true that the real Olympic spirit pertains to participation and is not all about winning, but then our attitude has been one of resignation towards losing. This must cease. Besides, it is not impossible for us to find at least 100 medal winners who can make their mark among the best in the world, once they set their sights on such goals. This is a goal that shall have bipartisan support and would do wonders in lifting the morale of the country. After all if Indians can become CEOs of multi-national companies in globally competitive business environment, then there is nothing that prevents them from winning medals. The absence of the killer-instinct is at best a lame alibi. Before, we start lamenting the poor show at Rio, and let us hope it would be better than the 2012 London performance, prime minister Narendra Modi needs to announce from the ramparts of Red Fort this I-Day that we are on a path to become a global sporting power.
Before I conclude…
Whatever be dispute between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, there is one thing that has to be asserted with all the power at one’s command. This is the need to end violence on the pretext of this dispute. Both countries have a moral obligation to let the Kashmiris live in peace. Encouraging or glorifying violence in any form is not acceptable. It also needs to be said that both sides need to change their approach to the problem. If not for any other reason, then because of the obvious fact that the approach so long has been unsuccessful over the last 68 years.