At the moment of writing , India has won exactly six medals at the Olympics , two silver and four bronze . It is a very poor showing particularly when compared to China which is comparable in terms of population and is battling the U.S for the overall lead in the medals table . Naturally , our armchair experts and sportswriters have seized upon this fact and lost no time in slighting India. One writer sneered that Michael Phelps alone has won as many medals as India has in its Olympic history. Another chortled that India won only .00000055 medals per capita.
There is no denying that India should have done better at the Olympics than it has , but such comparisons are unfair and only point up the ignorance and stupidity of the writers .
To begin with , 80-90 % of India’s 1+ billion population lack the nutrition and / or the means to even think of sports . They are too busy thinking of their next meal and how they are going to survive ( something our well -fed scribes fail to comprehend). In India there is no safety net , no social security. People have to earn their own living and if they don’t have their own resources , they starve .
In India , cricket is king and the top cricketers make fabulous sums of money . India’s cricket captain , M. S. Dhoni , earned $ 26.5 million and ranked 31 st on the list of the world’s highest paid athletes. He ranked ahead of British soccer star Wayne Rooney ( 37th) , tennis player Novak Djokovic( 62nd) and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt (63rd). Meanwhile, stars in other sports find it difficult to make a living.
Lavy Pinto , an Indian sprinter , won gold medals in both the 100 meters and 200 meters at the 1951 Asian Games and competed in the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. He was famous as ” The Fastest Man In Asia”. A few years later , my father returned from an office party at the Taj Hotel, visibly upset . He himself had been a notable sprinter in his college days and Lavy Pinto had been one of his idols . He was saddened to see Mr. Pinto working as a waiter and, in fact ,serving at their table .
I myself knew a one-time Olympic soccer goalkeeper who was eking out a living as a clerk. Granted this was many years ago . Things have improved in recent years but , even today , Indian sportsmen ( except cricketers) cannot count on earning even a modest living once their glory days are over.
It is no surprise then that Indian kids gravitate towards cricket. Few of them try their hand at other sports .Sports , after all , is the stepping stone to making money and lots of it . In India cricket is the way , the only way , to riches. The situation is no different from the U.S , where the best athletes go where the money is – basketball, baseball & football Few try soccer which is why , in spite of all the money the USAF has poured into the game , U.S soccer is barely competitive at the world level.
If some of the hundreds of millions that cricket brings in had been used to develop other sports in India , the picture might have been different . This hasn’t happened, as much of the money has been pocketed by the corrupt politicians who double as the heads of sports organizations . As a result , India lags far , far behind even other Asian countries in terms of sports facilities , coaching and developmental programs . Two exceptions are wrestling and boxing which are strongly supported by state associations in the north .It is notable that half of India’s six medals at the London Olympics came in these two sports .
In other sports , athletic achievements are the result of individual effort, earned with precious little government support. Abhinav Bhindra , who won a gold in the 10m air rifle event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics , had the advantage of belonging to an affluent family . His parents built a private shooting range for him and were able to buy expensive ammunition for him to practice with.
For me , the most notable Indian achievement at the London Olympics was the bronze medal earned by Saina Nehwal in the women’s badminton singles. Some will scoff she was lucky because her Chinese opponent won a close first game before retiring with an injury. I don’t see it that way . She has often climbed back after a first game loss and won the match . She did it repeatedly while winning two Super Slam tournaments this year and I feel she would have done it again in London.The 22 year old Nehwal is among the top five players in the world , once having climbed as high as Number 2. She is the only non- Chinese in the top 6. The two Chinese girls who took gold and silver are both Wangs , as was the one who defaulted to Saina in the semi -final. How disheartening it must be for Saina to defeat one or even two of them , only to find a third waiting to take her on . The Chinese badminton players also have the advantage of being able to practice against each other ; Saina has no credible competition in India .
Considering all these factors ( lack of money and coaches, poor training facilities , substandard nutrition and diet, lack of international competition ), I feel India did well to get as many medals as they did . India’s neighbors , Pakistan ( population 190 million) and Bangladesh ( 165 million) have many of the same handicaps and I note that they failed to collect a single medal between them. I am heartened that a much larger number of Indian athletes qualified for the Games and one of them narrowly missed a medal , and a couple of others turned in creditable performances.
This is not to excuse India’s poor showing in London . In spite of everything , Indians should have done better than they did . There is no denying that, just as it has to be admitted that Indians do not have a sports culture as many other countries do. In India , sports and physical fitness are lower on the totem pole than they should be . That can only change if sports become more high-profile .
In a TV interview last week , the Indian sports minister pledged to increase government spending on sports . Such promises have been made before but many of the steps he proposes to take have real merit. If he is able to back up his words with action , perhaps India will be able to meet his target , 20 medals at the 2020 Olympics.