Today, at exactly 20:00 Greenwich time the biggest multi-sport spectacle shall begin not just across London, but possibly in every country in the world. I am sure most of the earth’s human population would be glued to televisions, or the Internet to watch the Opening Ceremony.
2012 is London’s time to host the 30th Games and preparations were on since the time they won the bid way back in 2005. It seems a long time ago, I was still an engineering student then and now all those years of work put by the London Organising Committee will be witnessed by a lot of people. They get their praise, will have share of criticisms but that’s life — you can never be in the limelight without accompanied by share of praises and controversies.
Amid many issues and triumphs, here we are hours before the start of the 30th edition of the Modern Olympics. Being an Indian, I am pumped up for these games than ever before. This is the best chance we have to improve our record and evolve as a sporting nation.
For a moment, let us forget there are better countries in the world who have been consistently winning from years. No other country measure to the size and ambiguity as India does. Sports, let’s face it, isn’t a top priority in our country. There are larger issues at stake, but doesn’t mean sports must be ignored. I have heard people saying sports doesn’t fill a poor man’s stomach. The issue isn’t with sports; it is the other departments that are supposed to be looking into that. Honestly, it is sad that sports have been overlooked in our country for so many reasons in the name of reasons given aplenty.
Even while sanctions have been made from the government, there weren’t and aren’t enough skilled and visionary people working for the federations to make the best use of facilities given. You don’t need to have the best facilities, but we have been poor in optimising the resources. Be it the way money spent sporadically in the name of sports or the lack of enthusiasm in non-cricketing games, all what people associated with sports in India do is look at it one of the ways to get to power. This isn’t abnormal by any standards; the whole world operates this way and sporting world isn’t different. But not at the cost of overlooking the basics. Developed countries (sports or politics) play power games at a higher level where as it starts from the low level here: a reality check.
So next time, before we compare India to any other sporting nation, let’s take a moment to reflect if that actually makes sense. Mere comparison with other countries exposes our shortcomings in the lack of understanding as to how our country operates.
India, the sporting country, passed the baton from hockey to cricket after the success of the Indian cricket team (World Cup 1983) which coincided with the downfall of hockey. From 1984, it has been a steady downward slide for Indian hockey at the Olympics. History speaks about us being the eight-time Olympic champions. The last time was a good 32 years ago. Now, history is anything but forgotten, as we live in those moments and try to pacify ourselves than trying to correct the present mess hockey is in.
Post Independence, there has been only handful of people to have won medals for India. Barring hockey, we have had seven athletes who have won the medals for India. K.D. Jadhav won the bronze medalin wrestling at Helsinki (1952 Games) and it took a 44 years and a gap of 10 Olympics before we had another individual winning the medal.
Leander Paes did it in 1996 and all the countrymen were over the moon. I was 12 years then and it was my second Olympics after having watched the 1992 Barcelona Games for the first time on TV. It took me time to understand the meaning of it, but I was thrilled because he won. Putting some historic perspective here, sports was either winning or losing back then, and not much emphasis was given to the process of either. Personally, it is different now, and I don’t have that innocence anymore. Leander Paes winning was also the first Indian medal since the hockey gold at the Moscow Olympics. In a way, the bronze tennis medal was a turning point and made Olympics as a focal point in Indian sports.
Karnam Malleshwari became the first woman to win an Olympic medal for India (weightlifting 69 kg category) at Sydney 2000 and so there were some celebrations. It also coincided with a transition phase in India where you had a lot of women taking up jobs. Malleshwari’s medal gave a boost to the future of Indian women in sports. In the last decade we have seen some good improved performances by Indian women athletes, but none went on to win the Olympic medal. But we are getting there.
Though we had tasted Gold medals, it was only at the team sport level. Silver medals individually were previously won by Norman Pritchard (1900 Games — two silvers, a Brit representing British India), none came post Independence. It was the double-trap shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who went a step ahead and took the silver medal in 2004. Indian sports seemed to have evolved, slowly and steadily. Three Olympics, three individual medals; it was high time wasn’t it, especially when looked from an Indian context?
India is compared to China in terms of economy and population. But the ideologies remain different and more often the foundation plays an important role in sustaining and giving any projects some effectiveness. To demonstrate as the next super power, China took the opportunity as hosts to showcase that they are to be seen as world leaders in sports as well. The greatest example one can give is demonstration.
China did just that, as they ended up winning 51 gold medals at the 2008 Games where as India celebrated similarly for winning the first individual gold. We can safely say, more money was spent in India for that one gold medal than what China did for celebrating 51 golds. That’s difference in culture, isn’t it?
Irrespective of our situations, I was happy to note that, progress was happening and 2008 Games ended up being the most successful ones for India — three medals (one gold and two bronzes).
Abhinav Bindra became the toast of the country whereas Sushil Kumar and Vijender Singh too weren’t left behind. I was delighted to see more than one medal in the medals tally. That was a first for me and those eyes still retained that innocence in 2008. In a way, 2008 was the year when I took a serious decision to study sports and make that as a career option. And here I am four years later, working in the sports industry having different perspectives about it than what I had and for the first time hoping, expecting medals from India.
Losing my innocence? Or is this a process of discovering Indian sports?
It isn’t just being patriotic and being blindly supportive, but it is now looking from a broader perspective. While I am not expecting miracles (that’s better left when not expecting), I am looking at some serious performances in the coming two weeks at London. Shooting, boxing, wrestling, badminton, archery and tennis are the sports I and the entire nation will be looking at. As an Indian, I am expecting at least five medals from this edition. After having seen a lot of work going through in the last four years, five medals is not an unfair expectation. Five or more medals would do for me keeping the reality of our sporting situation in the country.
On an end note I just wanted to highlight — sporting triumphs doesn’t fill our stomachs, but ask any fan or a follower/watcher of sports — it provides a moment of joy to celebrate success as if it was our own. That is the power of sports and in Olympics the joy gets bigger as it’s on a world stage. It isn’t just about the medals overall but it is the way you play and as an addition, for going the distance he/she will be remembered for that particular moment, the moment where words fail to explain the feeling.
Joy, tears, pain, agony and disappointment becomes the five symbolic human expressions through we understand the reason why Olympics exist.
Like I said, I am looking at the Olympics only from a sporting perspective as the other issues should remain backstage for the next two weeks and when the Paralympics begin at the conclusion of Olympics. There is a time for every discussion and the time currently is just about the Olympics. It is about 10,500 athletes coming from 204 countries (few playing under the Olympic Flag), taking part in 26 sports over 302 events. For a first in the history of Olympics — female athletes from all those 204 countries will be participating.
Now isn’t this world coming to one place?