Golden dreams, silver reality
for India Siddharth Srivastava
DELHI - Six medals - four bronze and two silvers -
at the London Olympics maybe a pittance, given the
size of India's 1.2 billion-strong population. For
a country that scores abysmal levels at almost
everything else - corruption, road accidents,
infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, and
government red tape - it marks a reason to hope
for a new era in Indian sport.
Until London, the best medal haul
for India was at the 2008 Beijing Olympics with
three medals, including the first ever individual
gold by shooter Abhinav Bindra. There is talk now
of 15 medals in 2016 and 50 in 2020, though such a
leap could be over-stretching matters a bit.
Yet the results from London
hold the promise of a turnaround for
India's sporting performance.
This is not to say the country will suddenly start
winning medals like efficient America or clinical
China. However, one can be reasonably certain that
India is going to be counted among nations
competing at the highest levels in some sporting
disciplines, to rival the likes the South Koreans
in archery or the American in swimming and
athletics, or to challenge the dominance of
Central Asian countries in wrestling and
Indian contingents in
shooting, archery, boxing, wrestling, badminton
and even athletics have been competing well over
the last few years at international levels. It
certainly showed in London. The archery team might
have had a bad run and suffered last minute
jitters, but there is considerable talent still.
The rest did well with many qualifying for final
events or were just one bout away from a medal,
which itself is no mean achievement given the
strength of competition. There was a bit of bad
luck and perhaps some dodgy refereeing in boxing
as well. India's medal tally could easily have
India's sporting environment
has changed. Achievement has translated to social
and economic progress for the winners. Successful
athletes are rewarded handsomely. They are offered
stable jobs by both private and state-owned
entities even as they are picked as brand
ambassadors for multiple products (see Tycoons join India's Olympic
gold quest, Asia Times Online, July 18, 2012).
Large sections of youth today
link sports with sustainable livelihoods and
fruitful profession. London medal winners Mary
Kom, Vijay Kumar, Sushil Kumar, Saina Nehwal,
Gagan Narang and Yogeshwar Dutt have been
deservedly lavished money, land and more by the
federal government, states, sports associations,
corporate, wealthy individuals and more.
will certainly serve as benchmarks for future
generations. It is unlikely that one will hear
stories of penury and sorrowful existence of
today's winners the way it became of many of
India's hockey and athletics legends of the past.
However, the fact also
remains that India's sporting champions still need
to grapple against odds that need a quite a bit of
brilliance, personal passion, some dedicated
coaches and talent create occasional heroes. If
India is to be consistently counted among the top
sporting nations an institutional mechanism that
continually produces world champions will need to
be created. This sadly is still missing.
is good to recognize a champion when there is one,
but the process of creating generations of world
beaters involves investment, vision, strategy and
honesty of purpose. Invariably, coaches in schools
and the few good private clubs lament that Indian
kids are as talented as anybody in the world.
only high sporting spirits are not enough in the
tough grind of competitive sports. It is the
transition from boys to men, from the amateur
stuff to the professionalism of international
sport that we falter, the coaches say.
high success rates, talent needs to be spotted
early, honed, exposed and offered world class
coaching, training, facilities, opportunity,
physical conditioning, right diet, scholarships,
sponsors and more.
In India this, unfortunately,
still happens at isolated levels by dedicated
individuals such as P Gopichand in badminton or PT
Usha in athletics.
Infrastructure creation, in
which the government has to play a very important
role due to the finances needed, is poor. Like the
roads it builds, India's sports facilities
continue to be potholed and corrupted.
was well underlined during the countdown to the
Commonwealth Games that turned into an occasion of
organized loot by the coordinators led by Suresh
Kalmadi and his cronies cutting across political
parties and the bureaucracy.
whole process reeked of corruption as contracts at
every level from air conditioners to food catering
were inked at prices that were massively inflated.
Huge funds were spent on junkets by officials and
politicians traveling abroad to supposedly
acquaint themselves of sports facilities abroad.
Indian sports bodies,
meanwhile, have turned into hubs of power politics
wherein the office bearers play games that promote
their own cause rather than sportsmen.
Though there has been
progress, India has a long and arduous way up on
the medals tally table at the Olympic Games. Given
such unsavory contexts, the six medals at London
deserve every cheer.
Siddharth Srivastava is a
New Delhi-based journalist. He can be reached
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