We are midway into the Tokyo Olympics 2020 and the promising start for the Indian contingent has kind of turned into the usual despair. A silver medal on the first day of the Olympics marked the best start for team India at the most prestigious sporting event. The biggest Indian contingent of around 125 athletes would have hoped to continue the momentum. But the demons show up to haunt the nation at the clutch moment. We can look at the glass half-full but let’s stop ignoring the half-empty part and creating false expectations.
Please note that I ain’t blaming the athletes in this country who are trying their best. It’s the sad truth that the infrastructure and the system let them down. It’s ironic and hypocritical that we expect medals from a country where schools and institutions would have a single sports period per week, not stop the hype around board exams and wake up their fake inner pride and nationalism every 4 years to count the medals. Well, all of this criticism might be misdirected considering our nation does need to prioritise a few other things compared to the likes of table-toppers at the Olympics. But it’s high time we make some significant changes to be a strong contender in the next few years.
While Mirabai Chanu has definitely made the nation proud, we missed out with a few other heroes. What happened with Manu Bhaker, one of the best prospects for a medal, is just a cruel play from the Gods. It’s unimaginable to see equipment failure at the highest level of competition. Such incidents leave an indelible mark in the history of Indian sports in a bad way. If we cannot help level the playing field for our athletes, let’s not make it any worse. It’s admirable and heartbreaking that she still continued without any excuse when everything was in vain.
When we look at the Olympics, a few countries have a stronghold at certain disciplines. US, China, Great Britain, Russia, Australia, Japan, South Korea can rest assure of medals heading into every Olympics. The main reason for this confidence is the set up which has been years into the making. Not just these powerhouses but the other countries which stack up above us in the medal table. We wonder why Chinese paddlers consistently stack up gold medals in Table Tennis but do not talk about the fact that they are the only country in the world that has set up an institution to teach the sport. USA’s dominance in Athletics, Track and Field, Basketball is owed to the fact that these sports are promoted and the athletes are treated the same way as Indians treat cricketers.
If we leave alone the prodigies, most superstars in any sport are nurtured from the right age which makes them a master at their craft by the time they enter any global competition. Our athletes are appreciated only when they win the medals. If the efforts and preparation are not celebrated, why would anyone bother? Money given while preparing for a medal would reap better rewards compared to the one after accomplishing a medal. But when the entire country is like a middle-class parent who is only concerned with the outcome and not what the child went through, this doesn’t come as a surprise. It’s a shame that the world’s second most populated nation has produced only a single Olympic champion in the last 74 years.
All hope is not lost in the current edition of the Olympics. Not yet. We have a guaranteed medal from an unexpected avenue, Lovlina Borgohain. PV Sindhu is in contention for a Bronze medal. Men and Women Hockey Team have done surprisingly well to progress from the group stages. Kamalpreet Kaur became the first Indian to qualify for an athletic event final in this edition of the Olympics. A few events still remain which could be a saving grace for the nation. Overall, while we could not make it a historic campaign, there’s a good chance we end it all on a good note.
While there have been some signs of progress, no matter how feeble, we still are far behind. In my personal opinion, we can focus and invest heavily in a few disciplines where we have a successful track record. Wrestling, Boxing, Weightlifting, Shooting. No way this should be interpreted as losing sight of other sports. But something similar to the US and China where the kids and teenagers are incentivized to pick these up as a viable career option. India recently has made a change to include Arts as a mainstream career option. Why not Sports too? Let Physical Education no longer be just an optional choice for those who are interested.
Guess what, we aren’t even the champions in the lone sport the country is fanatic about. But we are still in the position to be a champion in every competition. Not the perfect analogy but it proves a point that if other sports are promoted and developed like Cricket there is a better chance. The right steps seem to have been taken by the likes of Virat Kohli Foundation, Reliance Foundation Young Champs to provide the necessary platform to budding players. We do not want to be one and done with someone like Sharath Kamal, Mary Kom, PV Sindhu and be on the lookout for the next batch.
We have more and more athletes winning at World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. However, it’s the Olympics that truly tests the mettle of an athlete. The future does look bright. It has been slow and steady progress in this race and we are currently the tortoise who has to catch up to the hare. The only difference is that the hare isn’t slowing any time soon. So the tortoise better buckles up and put some wheels on. It’s an uphill task but a much-needed one for India to be a powerhouse at Olympics.