NOW that the Asian Games held at Guangzhou in China are over, it is time to give some thought to India’s stand in the world of sports. There has been a lot of tub-thumping over the alleged successful performance of India which barely managed to win 14 golds, 17 silvers and 33 bronzes for a measly total of 64. China, now unquestionably a sports Super Power, won 199 golds, more than all the medals won by India in all three categories put together. India’s so-called successful performance, in the circumstances, cannot possibly be a matter for celebration.
What is more hurting is that a small state like South Korea won 76 golds, 65 silvers and 91 bronzes for a grand total of 232. Even Iran (20 golds) and Kazakhistan (18 golds) fared better than India. What is there, then, for India to be proud of? If a nation with a population of 1.2 billion can be beaten hollow by nations like South Korea, Kazakhistan (with a medal total of 79) and even little Taipeh (67 medals), Indians, as a sports people, have much to worry about. The argument is made that at the Commonwealth Games, India showed its capabilities by ranking second in medal tally after Australia (population 22 million). In terms of sheer numbers India should have won six times more medals than Australia – a fact that does not go down well in patriotic throats. To Guangzhou India sent a contingent of 626 competitors, the biggest, in terms of numbers ever dispatched abroad.
At the first Olympics held in 1900, India had sent just one athlete (Norman Pritchard) who, however, managed to win two medals. In later Olympics India distinguished itself in only one sports: hockey. From the 1928 Olympics held in Amsterdam, to the 1980 event held in Moscow it was in hockey, and, alas, only in hockey, that India excelled in. Since then, India has fallen back even in that game. During those fifty years the one name associated with Olympics was that of Major Dhyan Chand. We don’t have the likes of him any more. Interestingly, as one commentator pointed out, among India’s winners at Guangzhou a substantial percentage came from the Armed Forces, which speaks for itself.
The reasons for India’s pride for ranking sixth among the Asian Games winners can briefly be summed up as follows: One, from ranking eighth in the past, India has climbed two more places to rank sixth. Two, the medal tally has been the best since the 1952 games. Three, India has shown a welcome change in competing in events hitherto treated marginally and four, the mental blocks are gone and Indians have begun really to treat sports event in combative and not ritualistic terms. India’s apologists for past poor shows at Olympics have attributed it to poverty, malnutrition, neglected infrastructure, lack of sponsorship, political corruption, institutional disorganisation, social immobility and above all, reluctance among the young to enter competitive games at the individual level. The explanation is that they would rather prefer to play cricket in their spare time than train to run the 100 meter dash.
The presumption is that for the young in India, cricket has almost become a religion. True, in recent years badminton has gained in attraction but that is attributed more to the remarkable success achieved by Prakash Padukone and Pullala Gopichand, the former in the distant past, than to the intrinsic attraction of the game. The tremendous success achieved by the Chinese – at the Asian Games they won in all 416 medals, almost twice the number won by S Korea, its nearest rival, is attributed to the determined efforts made by the state to train likely winners on a regular and continuous basis, right from a tender age. The Chinese take everything seriously and nothing is left chance. This is only possible in a dictatorship and not in the kind of messy democracy India is practicing.
True, India had set up the National Institute of Sports as early as in 1961 and, especially after the IX Asian Games in New Delhi in 1982, some more sports facilities had been set up in the Capital. It was then that the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports became a permanent institution, but few had heard of it. It was there, but it seldom made news. Come the Commonwealth Games and suddenly as it were, the Government woke up and allotted Rs 678 crore to the Ministry to spend on training athletes. Compared to the measly Rs 30 crore to Rs 40 crore a year budget in earlier years, that was a substantial investment and it has since paid reasonable dividends. A core group of athletes was formed and each athlete was given training specific to individual talent. That, certainly was a wise step and it enabled small-town girls like AC Ashwini, Kavitha, Preeja or Mamtha Poojary to hone their talents.
If India wants to give a better account at the next Olympics to be held in London in 2012 it has to improve its training methods as well as lengthen the duration of training. Modern techniques have to be introduced and pursued with relentless intent. One, surely, can learn a great deal from China, South Korea and Japan and, for that matter, even from Kazakhistan. Importantly the vast public must determinedly give its moral support to athletes to raise their morale to new heights. Apart, may be, from PT Usha, or, in recent times Abhinav Bindra, how many of the young in India would be able to name one athlete of standing in the field of sports who brought credit to India at Guangzhou? But one can be sure that millions among the young will easily recognise a Sachin Tendulkar, a Saurav Ganguly, a Dravid, a Kumble or a Dhoni. That is the saddest part of it all.
If we remember that of the 1.2 billion Indian population about half of them are under the age of 25, one will realise the sheer wealth of youth we have which is waiting to be exploited. If we fail to exploit the available talent it is the government alone that would deserve to be blamed. And let it be remembered that women were the big reason behind India’s success at Guangzhou, who fought through poverty and poor facilities to make it to the top, like Kavitha who won a bronze and came from a tribal belt near Nashik and took to running only because it could be done barefoot without spending a paise. Guangzhou has shown what India can do, given the will. The world must be taught to understand that when India decides to win, it is moved by only one slogan: We can and we will. And may London show it in ample measure.