Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Why do our Indian athletes fail to perform in the Olympics?

The faux socialite Shobha De’s tweet where she mocked Indian athletes for their dismissal show in Rio Olympics compelled me to think about how it is always about winning or losing, and why. Winning and losing are crucial. We always play to win the game and when one is representing one’s country on an International platform such as the Olympics, winning becomes all the more significant. With million of eyes gazing at their performances, these athletes face a tough time. Not only they are under pressure to play their chosen sport superlatively, they also have the trepidation of how they will be delivered when they do not perform well, or rather lose. But is it righteous on our part to impugn our sportsperson when they lose? Even though we are fully enlightened of the fact that the reasons for their poor performance ascend innately.

Are we a bunch of nonathletic people? Given the ethical and cultural diversity found in our country, it is obviously an absurd proposition. But then how are we supposed to explain the numbers? Since India first participated in the world’s premier sporting event in 1900, it has won a total of 26 medals less than what powerhouses like the USA and China win in a single Olympics. In 2012, India won just six medals, one for every 200 million Indian making it the country with the worst Olympic record in terms of medals per head of population. In an excellent piece on Firstpost, badminton champion Aparna Popat explained one key difference between India and China. China’s essential aim was to win glory for the nation through sport, she wrote. And to achieve this, the Chinese established centralized elite sports systems. There were government run sports training centers at all levels – national, city, provincial and country sports schools. Children as young as 4 years were identified and put into these training centers. With all the expenses borne by the state, the children were made to train out of their skins so that one day they may excel at the international level. However, in India, Popat writes that in the absence of state support it is the family that steps up.

India’s failure at the Olympics cannot be only attributed to the plausible theories associated with how widely are the opportunities distributed amidst the overall population or how a large population allied to high GDP per capita is the best predictor of Olympic success, but to a number of other factors.

Poor administration plays a major role in this respect. Due to the influence of politics in sports, athletes are elected and not selected. Then, the poor health indications of the children rip some of the best talents in the bud. Poor health leads to inadequate strengths that are required at the highest level. This was made public when the coach of the Indian Hockey Team mentioned in his report that the players were fit to compete only in the first half of the match. The coaching levels are also equally pitiable. Even the psychological strengthening of the players through appropriate coaching and counseling needs an upgradation. Most of the sports glories are an outcome of efforts at an individual level. Take Abhinav Bindra for example, the first and only gold medalist ever from India has his own practicing range. That he is fortunate enough to afford doesn’t mean everyone else is too. Pan Singh Tomar and Milkha Singh were the lucky ones who were groomed by the army who ironically is more responsive towards training and priming the talents while the sports ministry sets up committees after committees to enhance the performance.

Then, comes the general mindset of the people. People are way too uninterested in the games. Maybe that is the reason why the government’s efforts to enthuse the public by organizing a live screening and other events have been futile. There is an abundance of talent in our country, but the sources to harness this richness are scarce. It’s now or never. World class infrastructure, exclusive facilities, prodigious support and recognition is what is needed to be provided to our budding sports enthusiasts so that instead of choosing the more conventional career alternatives due to lack of economic security and stability in the field of sports, they can choose the game they love and make a fulfilling career in that. They need a source of optimism. A suitable ecosystem needs to be nourished beginning with an early detection of talents in even the remotest parts of the country. And yes, success can only be achieved when the efforts of all the stakeholders are in a unified direction.

Perhaps, we would someday see ourselves amongst the top countries in the tally of medals. A far-fetched dream, though, yet achievable.

Written by Chhavi Minhas
“A free spirit, dreamer and admirer of this puzzle called life”

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