Some Thoughts On the Olympics

The Olympics take place once every four years. India plays Sri Lanka every four days and yet I care more for that than for the Olympics.

The reason for the simple. Any cricket engagement allows me, an Indian, to be optimistic about our chances. In Olympics, leaving aside hopes of superb individual performances from a few talented athletes or a “May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss” walk d’grace from Madame Madhura, we know, even before we take the stage, that on the list of medal winners, we will be near the bottom.

This happens more or less every time and every time, the reaction is equally predictable.

National humiliation… We are a country of so many crores and yet….

Questions are raised in Parliament, people froth at the mouth, humorists have a field day, ministers announce a committee and life moves on.

Of course, there are some who will say that the Olympics are simply an inspirational exhibition of what the human body and spirit can achieve—it’s all about participation, not about winning and losing.

Yeah right. Tell that to the North Koreans. Tell that to the Chinese. Tell that to the jingoistic commentators on CNN who gleefully announce that the US gymnasts made the Russian girls weep. Tell that to the NBC folks who telecast, more or less, only those sports where the US is likely to win.

The Olympics is all about which nation’s dick is the proudest, and Indians perennially seem as if they stepped out from a cold shower.

In order for us to win the apposite number of medals for our population, or at least enough for our collective Nirupa Roys to beam in “Aaj tumhare peetaji kitne khush hote” delight, there are essentially two ways forward.

The first is, of course, the American way. This means investing a lot of money in sporting infrastructure across schools and universities across the country—Olympics size swimming pools, track and field stadiums, the works and putting in place programs that incentivize athletes through college scholarships.

Here’s the thing. We don’t have that much money. And the Americans have a huge huge time-advantage, which unless we have a time machine we really cannot do much about.

But we are so shining right now, aren’t we? Surely we have money. All this cash we put into cricket and that damn blasted, responsible-for-all-evils IPL—surely, some of this can be diverted for such noble sports?

The problem is “Why should we?” And even more importantly is “How should we?” IPL in particular and cricket in general aren’t like Mayawati’s statues, funded by government fiat on tax-payer’s money that we may argue that be re-distributed to “other” sports. Cricket started off, in penury, like every other sport and whether it be luck (winning the World Cup in 1983) and/or through good management (it’s one of the sports not managed by the government), it has become the behemoth it has become today. Let’s not begrudge its success. Hockey has its chance (there was a time after independence when hockey was the number one sport in the country) but it blew it. Badminton was as neglected as other sports but with Saina emerging as a winner, and her getting endorsement deals (1.5 crores worth of it which she rejected) [Link], a whole generation of youngsters may be inspired to take up badminton. Maybe.

Remember that America too has its pro-sports like NBA, NFL and they are as commercial as the IPL, if not even more. Going into such pro-leagues remain the first choice for most youngsters with an aptitude for sports, because they provide opportunities for more wealth, fame and glamour than track and field, swimming and gymnastics. Kind of how it is with cricket in India.

However in the US, no one blames pro-sports for eating into Olympics performance.

Why? Because it doesn’t. That’ s because there is no real conflict between the two, each having their own niches, with sizes being proportional to demand .

The other model,bizarrely favored by many in India perhaps it is the way China “caught” up with the West, is the USSR/erstwhile Communist country model of total government control, now aggressively adopted by North Korea and China. One of the way totalitarian regimes persist is by promoting an aggressive ideology of nationalism, as a means of engendering a collective “feel good” which compensates, in a way, for the deprivation of basic privileges to its citizens, thus stymieing anti-authority dissent . Pwning the world in competitions like the Olympics has always been considered a vital part of such “Bow to the supreme awesomeness of our country under the glorious leadership of the Great Revolutionary Leader” strategies.

Since they have absolute control over wealth in the country, they don’t need to care about trifles like “market” and “demand”. They just pour in the money (cause hey it’s the “people”‘s money) and so, of course, they get amazing results.

But at what human cost?

A long time ago, I saw an interview of a gymnast (too long ago for there to be an Youtube video to linked to) who had defected from an erstwhile Communist country. In it, she detailed what the system was. Children in schools were subject to a series of physical tests and those that met certain standards (for gymnastics, flexibility and balance were much sought after) were shipped to specialized centers. From there, they went through a winnowing process, from sub-division then to province then to state and then to national, all through being subject to military-training-like regimen with boot-camps and tyrannical coaches and indoctrination sessions. And all this, before they had even gone into their teens.

I remember quite a few things about that interview—-of how she was punished physically (she passed out) for stealing a chocolate bar when she was eleven (they had very strict weight limits and dietary restrictions), of how she was never given a choice of doing anything else (she hated gymnastics but know if she ran away from camp, she would be charged with desertion), and of how petrified she was when she appeared in the Olympics, knowing how valuable the price of success (being assured of state support for life, being held up as an inspirational “hero of the people” for others to emulate) terrible the price of failure would be.

The interviewer asked her “What would be the price of failure?” She said that would be a board that would review one’s performance once they got home and if the board determined that best efforts were not put in, the price could be terrible—-from being forced to become a janitor at one of the coaching centers to fates even worse. The worst tyrants in the system, she said, were actually the “failed athletes”, those who just missed the Olympics grade because they were not good-enough or developed a serious injury at the wrong time. These then became the coaches, scouts or boot-camp-instructors, taking out their frustrations on generations of little children, creating a fresh batch of damaged children.

All this for the sake of “national” pride.

Things havent changed much today.North Korean winners get fridges and losers get labor camps. And these are some pictures from what Chinese kids go through.

It shocks me when I hear Indians say “This kind of training is exactly what we should we doing.” There is of course an assumption here—-they themselves or their children should not be subject to such “put adult foot on young child’s knees” the training ; after all the assumption always is that someone else should “sacrifice for the nation” for the sake of my patriotic rush. They also do not understand that such draconian training can be done only in totalitarian regimes where people, under fear of terrible state retribution, do not have the right to say “No”.

There is a false analogy often made here to provide a form of moral equivalence-based justification for the “Communist” model. That being that even in the US, there are tyrannical parents that push their children inhumanly, in the same manner that many Indian parents drive their children into nervous breakdown for the sake of academic achievement. So how is the Chinese state model any worse?

First of all, leaving aside a few demented souls, parents will, in general, treat their own children much better than government-apppointed coaches that have strict performance targets to meet and with their own issues to handle. Second, there is also a big difference in expectations between behavior of individuals and the behavior of the state, where the state is held up to a higher standard (as an example, every country witnesses murder, but only the truly dysfunctional witness spate-sponsored murder as a matter of policy). Third, even if we assume that the effect of a totalitarian state and tyrannical parents are exactly the same on the development of a child, once that child becomes an adult, he/she is under no obligation to continue doing that which he/she has been forced to.When someone goes to IIT and drops out to become a stand-up comedian, the worst that can happen is his Dad never speaks to him again. This, I believe, is infinitely better than being forced by the State to break stones in a camp in the Himalayas for deserting the path chosen for him by “the glorious peoples”.

The other essential problem with the sporting system under totalitarian systems is that the system can produce results only in the presence of infinite state sponsorship and the absolute lack of transparency. East Germany was a sporting powerhouse once.In 1988, East Germany won 102 medals and was second in the total medals tally (above USA). (Taking West Germany’s 40, the total tally for the Germanies would be 142). After unification, Germany (East and West together) won 82 medals (becoming third) in 1992. In 1996 their medal tally had become 65. In other words, the so-called infrastructure the Communists imploded spectacularly once the political system was no longer in place. Successful East German athletes, who had been spoilt by infinite government largesse into their training , could not adjust to the leaner market demands of a capitalist economy (basically the same thing that happens to nationalized industries once exposed to the market). In addition, West German sporting authorities were not entirely sure that the training regimens of their erstwhile East German comrades were as “drug-free” as mandated by the IOC. Which is why many of them were not even fielded to avoid embarrassment. Needless to say, performance-enhancing drugs can be administered with much less risk in totalitarian regimes where the government itself may be complicit (as opposed to the athlete himself) and where there is little risk of whistle-blowing or exposure in the press. (In 2000, Germany had become 5th with 56 medals and in 2004, it became 6th with 49).

Our Indian government, of course, likes to assure us that they will, like China and North Korea, plan our success in competitions like Olympics. They know they lack the absolute power of totalitarian regimes to force people into programs and the absolute authority to underwrite these programs to the extent needed to get actual results. This of course does not prevent them from cutting some ribbons, making some speeches and keeping up the facade of “strategy”.

And for good reason.

It enables them to siphon off taxpayer money to the different bureaucrats, association heads, the politicians and the power-brokers. The only difference with totalatarian regimes is that their intent is to give their people a sense of false achievement so that they do not revolt against those deemed responsible for this achievement. In India, the driving force behind governmental sporting initiatives is primarily moving money to dark corners.

Which brings me to the point of the post. Its time to stop thinking of our Olympics performances as national humiliation. There are bigger national humiliations that require our attention, like the woeful condition of the national health system, the state of rural electrification, extreme poverty, and of course I could go on.

Remember this. When you make a noise about the Olympics, the government is only too glad to come up with “solutions” (committees, commisions and recommendations). And Kalmadi and his ilk take home the gold. Literally.

There is the other alternative. Since we claim to be so concerned about the Olympics and national pride, we can, let’s say, watch the National Games. Maybe buy tickets and go to the stadium. Maybe tune in to it when they show it on DD (I presume they still do, they used to a long time ago). And maybe once advertisers see people at stadiums, they can put up billboards and buy advertising slots on TV and athletics would be privately funded, as cricket is. Maybe instead of complaining on social media as to how “Indian media shows only cricket” (Guess why? Du-h), they can pledge to support by buying products from companies that contribute to successful private initiatives like Olympic Gold Quest. And of course act on that pledge.

Maybe that can work.

Am I going to do that? Not likely. Given an hour of leisure, I am going to spend it on cricket. Which is why I believe I have no right to wring my hands and shout “It’s a national humiliation” when we are found hanging to the bottom of the medals tally. And I have even lesser right to expect the government to “deal with it” when I have no sustained (the word “sustained” is crucial, I of course am a Vijender fan when the Olympics come around) interest in the fate of the Olympics sports and those that play them.

Of course, I will not say this aloud, on my Facebook status I will say “Ravindra Jadeja earns in a day what Mary Kom will not earn in a life-time. Share this if you believe this is a shame”

Also, I believe, the Olympics is hardly the glorious competition it is marketed to be with medals on sale, and with amazing levels of politicking by countries like the US who stuff the Olympics with games they can win, games that hardly have true global appeal. Thus, short of the streamrolling national investment of the Chinese, it is virtually impossible to break in to the circle of privilege, in a major way.

So I personally have ditched the once-dream of competing with China in the Olympics as a surrogate for national achievement.

The human and financial costs of that, I believe, are something we as a nation can ill-afford.

I will, of course, be happy for those that won medals. It didn’t come easy to any of them.

But I will definitely try not blame those that didn’t.

I was not a witness to how they came to where they are. And so I have no right to feel cheated or humiliated by their failures.

If I want my chest-thumping Hoo Haa India nationalistic hijinks (and we all need that), there is always an India-Sri Lanka cricket match going on.

Or at the very least, IPL.

I hear India always wins that tournament.


73 thoughts on “Some Thoughts On the Olympics

  1. you need to stop using the word “apposite” so frequently.

  2. also china, usa, russia, half the world really, doesn’t play cricket. if they did we’d probably get our asses whooped.

    although interestingly, did you know one of usain bolt’s childhood idols was one sachin tendulkar? (also waqar younis, since he would have otherwise been a fast bowler and been way, way less famous ad bowling in vain for a shitty team)

  3. Saptarashi,

    Actually 96 countries (besides the full members) play cricket. Apposite for me to say this. They many not play it well but then India does not do 400 m sprints well. But it still takes part in it.

  4. GB, you have a type..The Sania turned down 1.5 core deal not 15 core. Check your link.

  5. well written ….. these points often are lost on people….

  6. Post of the year!

  7. Cricket is the second-most viewed sport in the world. Had the Indian subcontinent been split into small countries like Europe, we might have had way, way over half the countries in the world playing cricket.

    China, Russia and USA do play cricket, by the way. It’s just that they’re not good at it. This is probably because the greatest cricketers are the usually the most skilled ones, not the fittest ones. Cricket is one outdoor sport where you can reach to the very top without any kind of physical fitness (Inzamam or Kumble), or can do pretty average with supreme physical fitness (a brief history of the New Zealand cricket team will suffice).

    Cricket requires special talents. You cannot produce quality cricketers at the gym, just like that. Proper cricketing success comes from a culture of the sport in the country for decades, maybe centuries. It’s not about running on a track in ten seconds or less. It’s about being the part of a drama that unfolds itself over the process of five hard-toiled days. It’s not a one-dimensional sport (running flat out is); it has the most fascinating set of laws; it’s a one-on-one contest despite being a team game; it’s nature depends on where it is being played; and a lot more.

    Can you really, really see athletics or fencing producing a Neville Cardus or a Ray Robinson?

  8. Beautiful!!!! and so accurate (loved the facebook status reference)

    BTW you need to stop worrying about comments. There will always be all kinds of people making all kinds of comments. You should continue blogging if you want to blog, I guess that is why you started writing and that’s the why you should continue. Your choice, not theirs.

  9. Awesome post GB. And I agree with Wellwisher. You should continue blogging.

  10. Incredible post Arnabda. Esp after that lame-ass last post, this one has you in vintage form. A full five star!

  11. The Olympics is all about which nation’s dick is the proudest, and Indians perennially seem as if they stepped out from a cold shower – Awesome.

    Yeah, Olympics invariably displays our national sense of misplaced opportunities. Its unbelievable when the best in the media get carried away by the medal tally (or lack thereof). Nobody tries to put sense into it they way you did.

    Tell approx 40% of illiterate in the villages how swimming is sport or running is sport and they will kick your ass so hard that you will want them [and Ass Kicking] to be in Olympics!

  12. @GB — should it not be “Hockey had its chance” in place of “Hockey has its chance”?

    @Saptarishi – Not our fault that not every one plays cricket. why undermine our achievements in the game?

  13. –Story of Lin Dan..
    “Success meant letting him go”.. feel sad for the child and mom 😦

  14. Bhalo. Shokto. But Bhalo.
    Somehow feel… that there is more to be done… roye gachey… how about a part 2 with some stats thrown in… money spent on this for that matter the new Mars thingy – if only in schools and hospitals and roads and sanitation and electricity and food security…
    But Bhalo all the same.

  15. Very Good Article Arnab! And will make some of my friends read it and give their views!!

  16. @GB and Abhishek … You are seriously using statistics to prove that cricket is played all over the world ??? Really ???

  17. the socialist block athlete interview is a bit arundhati’ish. i mean becoming coach and instructor is not like going to concentration camps 🙂 and how would you explain the success of evolved, democratic liberal countries , say kivis ? how come they have among other things, even a better hockey team than our ‘state sponsored icon’ team ? and its not about being affluent either . india has more rich people than population of many countries. you mentioned cricket. how good is it under not-so-home-like conditions ?

  18. @Prasun, saptarishi – I guess by your definition there is only one team sport worth talking about and that is soccer. Because there is no other team sport that is played by all the world competitively well. So, I guess everybody should stop playing hackey, ice hockey, baseball, american football, basketball, volleyball, rugby etc. etc. and just stick to soccer. Great Idea!

  19. Loved reading it! At it’s simplest, all this misplaced jingoism and sense of humiliation at our medal tally at the Olympics stems from a misplaced sense of ‘what is perceived to be right/in national interest’ vs ‘what I enjoy/am willing to pay for.’

    The country gets the sport it deserves. If they’re good at it, celebrate!

  20. Frankly, I disagree with GB. We should take olympics seriously. Ofcourse, not for jingoism purposes but what it underlies. Countries who perform superbly have high human development index. The children who grow up to become good athletes, say like Phelps, dont get to face issues like malnutrition etc. Our HDI is deplorable. Plus our mentality that a child should ONLY go for IIT / MBA / IAS.

    One thing which we should understand is that a country which is good in sports overall, is always viewed with respect (save for “communist” regimes..but thats a different story) . I dont care that whether we finish 1st on the medal tally or last, but we should be competing SERIOUSLY.

  21. I remember my childhood where I could see playing fields literally as far as my eyes could see. That was also the time, when the hours of days weren’t filled with Facebook, internet or saas-bahu commercials. To spend time, one had to go out and muddy oneself.

    This is now depressingly changed.

    Either kids lunge around with coolie-load of books from school to home to tuitions for that elusive score (Mr Sibal, please bring in ‘One nation, one syllabus’ first; then let us talk about ‘One nation, one test’.). Or, they are fixated on n-inch (n directly proportional to income) hand-helds peering through some more inches of glass due to prematurely tired eyes.

    Contrast this with Australia. I lived there for sometime and the kind of attachment they have for sports or just outdoorsy life is, at the minimum, just infectious ! Of course, we are a huge nation and we simply do not have the luxury of vast playing grounds or vast minds to accommodate sport/games.

    My point is, we are losing out on ‘sport’; but aiming for ‘game’. You play a sport to rejuvenate yourself, bond with others and so on. Then, once some level of excellence is reached, you talk about games, matches, tournaments, trophies, medals and so on.

    So, regardless of ‘elusive medal Olympics’ or ‘India wins in (evil) IPL’, I am just concerned that ‘sport’ is dwindling …

  22. A excellent analysis. Communism sucks big time and so does their sports model.

  23. Good to see a post from you on this. But the difference that u fail to mention about US sports is that they have a better sporting culture than what we have. Schools and colleges have better sporting infrastructure than the indian counterparts. Moreover those which do have better infrastructure are out of reach for talented young athletes.

    about cricket being well managed. It is all about talent management in cricket. In a country where atleast 50pc of the popln play cricket, there is a bigger pool of talent available to pick from. Maybe when the performance on the pitch begins to wean, then we’ll probably see the public losing their adulation for the game. The idea is to create a sporting culture, athletes and olympians shall bloom out of it. Going China-crazy for a medal only depletes the whole idea behind the olympics

  24. The lack of sustained interest amongst the “olympic patriots” is what irks me the most. How is it lost on them? They dont follow most of those sports between the olympics, but as soon as the event starts, they would be engaged in the updating medal tally and start dissing indian sports.

  25. For once, I’ll say I don’t agree with you, GB.

    Forget Olympic glory, if sports was encouraged, at least lots of youngsters would find an alternative career to medicine, engineering and teaching. Most youngsters in rural areas like physical activities and would actually enjoy pursuing a career that is rewarding, financially as well as with self esteem. I am from Orissa and I know how the stories of Tirkey has inspired hundreds of youngsters to take up the hockey stick.

    Sports is more than just Olympic glory and corrupt politicians.

  26. one of the things which surprise me is way the china beating US in medal tally.
    it sort of shows ruthless training can beat training done with true inspiration and love for the sport
    and fear of gov[China] can beat freedom of choice provided by gov[US]

    kind of dilemma isnt it?

  27. I feel that there is no urgent need to follow or develop either a US model or a China model. You’re right when you say that we cannot afford the human cost or the financial cost incurred if we were to follow these models. However that shouldn’t snatch away the bullishness of Indian people towards Olympic sports. If there is a decent chance of victory or a podium finish in any of these sports, Indian people will surely buy tickets to watch them, and will actively follow these sports on TV and so on(Indian people are so much in need of National Heroes). So the private sponsorship will automatically come to these sports. This is the best way for Indian sports to go forward. And this has been happening slowly but surely.
    The point is that its not necessary for us to catch up with China or US, but we can surely be as good as Kazakhstan. This country participates only in selected events at olympics but does extremely well in those sports (weightlifting, boxing and Wrestling). India can surely try to be as good as anyone in Shooting, Wrestling, Boxing and Archery.

  28. It has been a trend for a while that those sports that are promoted in the Armed forces, produce relatively better quality of participants.

    As Arnab rightly pointed out, civilian sports structure is just another place for the likes of Kalmadis to make money. Also, people in India do not have the physical abilities or rigor to excel in endurance or power sports.

    A 15 year old schoolgirl who lives in my zipcode won a gold medal in 800 mts swimming for the US.

  29. Love this post. The other day I was feeling all riled up with India’s relative non-performance in the Olympics and feeling all jealous about China’s success. This post puts China’s “success” in perspective. However, the fact remains that India is an underachiever of gigantic proportions even after adjusting for attenuating factors of corruption, poverty, and apathy. There are plenty of poorer, democratic, violence-ridden and much much smaller countries in the world who do much better than India on a per-capita basis. The lack of success in the Olympics is a mirror which gives us an opportunity to look at ourselves every 4 years and reminds us that despite all our “achievements” in various spheres in the recent years, India still is nowhere near where it could be and should be as a nation. We remain an underachieving nation and will perhaps remain so for the forseeable future.

  30. Agree with Ramrajvi. We should aim to have pockets of excellence. We will never have Olympic level fencers, sprinters, swimmers and gymnasts, but we certainly can concentrate on amateur boxing, shooting, wrestling, badminton, tennis (doubles) and archery.

  31. Prasun, cricket is INDEED played all over the world. Believe me, it’s played quite passionately in countries like, say, Argentina. I kid you not.

  32. Awesome thought-provoking article.

    “I have no sustain (ed ?)”… The typo just looks bad because it sits next to “the word “sustained” is crucial”.

  33. Sportsmen/women should take up a sport because they themselves are interested in it. All funding for sports should come from private sponsors. I’d rather the govt spend money on better infrastructure (military and civilian) than build swimming pools – boxing rings etc

  34. Great post. One of your best.

  35. I Dont remember August 7, 2012 — 9:07 pm

    Too many typos and grammatical errors.

  36. Pretty cynical post I must say. You may not, but many of us do care for Olympics. I pull out the list of events in which india is participating and closely follow those. Sure, we don’t even qualify for the finals in most events. But I do not feel humiliated, I still feel proud. While China, US and other developed countries are running a 100 m sprint towards the medals, India is running a 110 m with hurdles of poverty, lack of infrastructure, corruption, etc etc etc…
    Despite these hurdles, there are few exceptional individuals who are able to give everyone a stiff competition. For a long long time, an individual medal for India was a rare phenomena. But our showing has been improving and we are considered serious contenders in some of the sports. Obviously, I do not see India finishing in the top 10 in the next 20 years, nevertheless, we are going to get better and better on each occasion.
    Please also watch the following video (about indian athlete Kavita Raut), I hope it will do a better job of putting my point across.

    As far as a country of 1.2 billion people is concerned, that argument really applies to cricket. 1.2 billion people, most of them self proclaimed cricket experts, no dearth of money in the game, no dearth of facilities, this is pretty much the only game we truly play…still we suck at it. We still cannot play the short ball, and are now struggling as much as ever, to win a single test match in Australia or England. I would rather not care for them…

  37. I don’t understand the hoopla about the Olympics. Comparisons to the US or China are futile. The US puts extreme emphasis on sports – college scholarships are awarded on the basis of how far you can kick a football. Education suffers in the process. These are kids – they should be studying, building a career that can last a lifetime. And we now know how China is getting its medals.

    The world needs better doctors, engineers, architects, lawyers, writers. Not people trained to spend 4 yrs trying to shave one second off their time.

  38. Awesome article, GB – I totally agree with your POV.

  39. I am a bit surprised about how you “malign” China for abusing its athletes right from childhood while attribute US’s success to well funded schools and universities.

    While there might be an element of truth in how China trains it athletes, there can be a certain media bias in those reports, IMO. Perhaps an anti-communist bias of USA. China and US stand neck to neck in medal rankings. This report implies that if it wasn’t for government of China intrusion, there would be no way Chinese athletes would be able to compete with Americans. Don’t you think such reports belittles Chinese athlete’s achievements to a certain extent.

    P.S. – Above statement in no way indicates my pro-China stance. I am just being cynical.

  40. Don Ayan de Marco August 8, 2012 — 3:17 am

    The last line was super!!

  41. Argumentative Indian August 8, 2012 — 4:40 am

    @ GB,
    Excellent write up.
    Please keep up the good work! I find your blogs very engaging.

    Also, hats off to your ability to juggle so many hats together, a professional working at a stratospheric level of technology, a family man, an author (of books) and a commentator.

    You wrote:
    “The human and financial costs of that, I believe, are something we as a nation can ill-afford.
    I will, of course, be happy for those that won medals. It didn’t come easy to any of them.
    But I will definitely try not blame those that didn’t.”

    I couldn’t agree more & IMHO, the above is also the view of many Indians across the country.
    No doubt there is great joy, when a Mary Kom wins a medal, but when large numbers of the rest of the contingent do not win medals, there is really no sense of shame as a nation. We are better at other things & sports is not yet high on our list of priorities.

    We have individual greats ranging from Vishawanathan Anand to Sachin Tendulkar. With growing prosperity we have Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, Vijendar Singh, Gagan Narang etc. Their numbers are likely to grow in future.

    However, making winnig large tallies of medals at international sporting events our mission as a nation with the attendant costs may not be worth our time at this point in our journey.

  42. Exactly… We have bigger fish to fry. Lets get our nation to an acceptable state in basic necessities & infrastructure. Maybe then we can start splurging on getting more medals.

    However I do want more public & private support for our athletes who perform as they do despite all the struggles.

    I can see some improvements in our boxing & shooting , maybe we should try to focus on a few events & be the best in them.

  43. Too cynical Arnabda..We maynot be anyway near the top but inspite of this i am proud of all our guys/gals who went that far..struggling at all steps..We are an emerging SuperPower (atleast we believe so) but our athletes dont get the facility that even sub-affrican countries can afford..I am proud of all of them and i want us to do well..Atleast be in the top 10 within next couple of olympics..Wishful thinking but thats the optimist me 🙂

  44. I agree. Chinese way is not the way forward. We should follow the american way.As our economy gets better we should expect for medals in future. Afterall 08/12 have produced more medals without govt intervension.

  45. Thanks for this lovely point of view on Olympics and its impact in our life. It was quiet informative esp for people like me who think China is doing so well in Olympics just by sheer infrastructure investment. The fact remains that ever since China opened itself to the world, it sees Olympics as one signature that they must have to prove their authority aside from those Chinese made products which have found its way into every country in the world sans Europe which still believes in buying home grown goods and not the cheap imported ones.

    The Chinese way of grooming Olympics talent is also very visible in the way their winners celebrate victory which is very manufactured and not from heart. Its almost the feeling when we finish a day’s work at office and get ready to go back home. And the reason US is still one of the best country to be in when it comes to represent a country in Olympics or even to train for any sport (half of the world still goes to US to get trained) is because they have evolved by almost 10 years in terms of mindset seeing Sports as a way of living and not another source to earn monies or even express national pride.

    I don’t also think that either of the models followed by China or US will work in India. We are a nation which has people who are basically followers. The fact that Bollywood and Cricket are the two biggest success stories is coz we believe in idol worship, something similar to our religious approach. And no infrastructure development or winning another 10 medals in Olympics will help us become a Sporting Nation unless we sort out the rationale of why we want to play any particular sport. I play in the CWG Badminton court atleast 3 times a week. And even when people have known about the facility located right at the centre of the city, I have not come across young Saina’s really leaving their TV closets to come out and play.

    To sum up, the biggest issue in our country is the feeling of being an Indian. Our Indianess is limited to an Olympics, a Cricket WC, a mass killing in Gurudwara in US, a Mittal buying factories in Europe..But in a day to day basis, we have stopped feeling like an Indian. Very few kids are grown with the pride and drive to do something for the country the way probably Saina or Mary Kom would do. I am digging my own grave by saying this but I didn’t see that Indianess in even Abhinav Bindra or Vijendra Singh.

    For us to win more Olympic medals, we need to make more Proud Indians and not just the infrastructure or monies around it. If we can still make people get moist eyes when National Anthem is played, we will continue to improve at any stage in the world.

  46. Get your development indexes right and sports would follow suit.

    More the income of people, more they will encourage their kids to participate in sports. because they are not worried about what their kids will do if they don’t make it big time, which 99% won’t. So nowadays you see the recruitment in Tennis coaching and badminton coaching increasing every year because people have more disposable income to indulge in such luxuries (and yes sport is a luxury). And there are a few who are actually good who can afford to take the sport full time.

    This will cause a modest year on year increase in sporting achievements from the country. But the point of inflexion is reached when there is enough money in sport when it can act like a full time job if you are decent in it. That’s when a person can think at age of 12 that the sport is going to be my life. Cricket has reached there. I am guessing Tennis, Boxing, Badminton and Shooting will be next.

    No way can India have the China model it is brutal and unsustainable. If a coach stood on my kid’s knees, he will be visiting the police station in two hours.

    We will go the German way. In 20 years we will be winning 30 or so medals in Olympics, no more no less.

  47. @Sreekanth … i never said people should stop playing a game since its not globally popular.

    @Abhishek … Is cricket played as passionately in Argentina as football is in India ? Still we are outside the top 100 in football and get excited about every 1 rank betterment that we do.

  48. @Piyush
    Totally disagree about your assessment. Have seen things change here in the UK and i can guarantee these people are as (un)nationalistic as indians. Not to mention the issues some Scots and Welsh have with GB.
    The reason why you wont see the next Saina in Siri Fort is because of how the huge middle class indian parents see sports. These are the people who in a sense have something to lose as a lifestyle. The parents wont want children to try their hands in sports because if you do dedicate your life to it, not make it, you are essentially f***ed. there is nothing that the state or any other association would do to take care of you. You will be left with a skill that you cant use anymore and with no other skills to make a living.
    You will see most of the atheletes in india come from the reasonably well to do families or from the poor. or middle class families who take a huge, huge gamble. (something that saina herself attested) We are a nation of savers. we play it safe. We dont like risk
    i believe patriotism comes later. you dont start playing a sport to make your country proud. you play it because you love it and want to win. you want to be the best at it. nationalism helps but that wont explain 23 players of chinese origin playing TT for various countries.

  49. Arnab, sorry for being snarky. But I still think you are using the same rhetoric to characterize the nature of sports participation in China, as the US does, to insinuate that China is the world’s anus. They do this with anyone they find threatening on any level (it used to be Japan and Russia, now it’s China and Iran/Af-Pak). I’m sure sports in China is very regimented and whatnot, but is it really that boot campy? I agree with the guy above who said you were being A little Arundhati-ish.

    Life in the US is no picinic if you want to be an Olympic level athlete either. You can either be a privileged white suburban male like Michael Phelps or you have to mortgage your house, pay through your nose and train as if you were in the army –

    “Then again, the most promising athletes begin training at that level when they’re 12 or 13 years old, says Karla Grimes, the general manager at the Gage Center training facility in Missouri. That means six years, at least, of 30-hour gym days and, at Gage, $600-a-month training costs.”

    This means, not only does America’s institutional framework leave you out in the cold, you have to pay an exorbitant amount to put your kid through a militaristic and fundamentally inhuman training regimen on the slender hope that they become an Olympian.

    I mean you can do your whole grateful immigrant syndrome shtick all you want Arnab, but life in America is no cakewalk unless you’re born with some fundamental privileges.

    As far as the Indian reality goes, you’re right. We simply don’t have the money for it. I mean state funded sporting associations just won’t cut it at this point in athletic history. I mean I can only imagine Indian athletes starting out in training facilities the equivalent of Rabindra Sarovar Stadium, all over the country. It’s cruel to laugh, since it’s so very unfortunate and iniquitous. That is life, however.

  50. wooh, the neighborhood profile for where phelps grew up –

    i mean i thought his parents had to be kinda loaded, but not this loaded!

  51. Or we could do what some rich Arab states do — import athletes from other countries. The Gulf countries seem to do this with African athletes, maybe we could do the same? Tirunesh Dibaba could win medals for India in the long distance running!

    More seriously (and this bit is about women’s sports), given that public place harassment of women is so rampant all over India, it must be difficult for women to find the space to train. Maybe I’m wrong, and things have changed significantly from the 80’s, but I remember how astonishing it was to see PT Usha and Shiny Abraham wearing shorts for their races, when we girls were forbidden to wear ‘pant’ by our parents. But as I said, things must have changed in this area, since now we have so many more sportswomen than before.

    When I was little and watched Olympics coverage on Doordarshan, I used to feel bad about India not winning anything. But on the bright side, at least our TV coverage could then afford to be impartial. Now I live in the UK and the TV coverage is SO biased! It is always ‘Team GB’ this and ‘Team GB’ that.

  52. A good post after a long time.

  53. Saptarshi
    Towson (where phelps grew) is not that rich an area. The area some very rich people there, but in general there are many more expensive areas to live in a 50 mile radius.
    Greatbong lives just an hours drive from Towson 🙂

  54. Thanks for the on ground info, Saptarshi. 🙂

    Yeah I imagined he’d know it better. I’ve very little idea about College Park and its suburbs, and I’ve never visited MD.

    Although my point still stands, the average income is pretty upper middle class. Gabby Douglas’s mom was almost homeless for a while. Virginia Beach where she grew up has a median income of $35k for males and less for females. She grew up in a single parent household.

  55. not the right place for a comment.. but I must say, just read your book, The Mine and really liked it.

    But I have some unanswered questions… would you care to answer?
    why spend so much money to punish criminals?
    who is Lilith Adams?
    how does she get the videos?
    What was the mine built for ?
    what is that ancient structure?

    Phew! There… It would be great if you could reply…

  56. Rajarshi Guhaniyogi August 9, 2012 — 6:39 pm

    Brilliant Arnabda…I loved it…Great to see a notable writer like you sharing the similar point of view on olympic..

    An article in Indian express detailing chinese boarding sports schools, but written by a chinese professor in an american university, so some people here might call it american propaganda.

  58. Monu, Some things are better left unsaid. Multiple explanations are provided for in the book. Choose any one.

  59. Who cares..India sucks.. Please don’t even dare to compare India with China..or even with a tiny country like South Korea.. They are far far far far developed and many many many many generations ahead of India..Cricket is a game for the lazy and we Indians are so good at it..Gentleman’s ass..As long as we stuck in this so called cricketmania, we will always be losers when it comes to top level competition like Olympics..Its a shame that India has just managed 25 medals till now..See Micheal Phelps, he has 23 medals alone..So you think we, a country of 1.2 billion, is not capable of producing some good talent worthy of competing with the top athletes of the world. I doubt. It’s just that we are not giving proper attention to other sports. And the hard toiled and call it lucky ones manage to snatch some medals at the Olympics just to make sure that we are atleast ahead of Pakistan.

  60. GB, admittedly, the ‘national shame’ type of comments are a load of rubbish, we have a lot of other things that we can be truly ashamed of. Considering the interest in Olympic sport (at the grassroots level), our performance this time has been quite okay. Six medals from six different individuals is quite good when you look at where we were, waiting for a Paes or Malleswari to get us on the tally.

    Anyhow, on the issue of the Chinese investment of public money and alleged ‘torture’ techniques, I think it is seriously exaggerated (North Korea may be a different story). It’s not like you have 25-year olds competing in women’s gymnastics from the USA or Great Britain. Or in diving. A 15-yr old Lithuanian girl won a gold in swimming. The average age in these sports has been plummeting over the last two decades. The west was a bit slow to latch on to this, but they did. Mary Lou Retton was 16 in ’84, wasn’t she? How old was Carly Patterson? You don’t have a chance unless you start early and training is no picnic regardless of whether you are in democratic USA or tyrannical China. As for public money, at least half of British athletes mentioned Lottery funding as one of the factors for improved British performances overall. Lottery funding is public money. All Olympic programmes are supported by public money, directly or otherwise.

  61. I dont remember August 12, 2012 — 6:33 pm

    So, finally we have India’s best showing in the Olympics.

    Another point to note:

    While your observation about the decline in the number of medals of athletes from East Germany does hold true, its not true for the other ex-Communist countries i.e the Soviet bloc. If you add up all the medals of the countries from Soviet bloc and add them to Russia’s tally they beat the US by a long and wide margin. So the ex Soviet countries put together are still number 1 even without Communism.

  62. Look at the medals tally. There are countries with respectable number of medals. And not all of them goad athletes or pump money. And how exactly do you propose to feed the poor? Give them a monthly allowance? Creating sporting infrastructure creates jobs, athletes earn money, the support staff earn money. In the IPL is it only the players who earn? Even the cheerleaders do. Sports unify a country, gives us an identity and respect. Any sport. Even cricket. No one watched the world’s athletic meet untill Bolt happened. He had to happen first. Spectators wont just come for anything.

  63. If I look at the top 10 countries in terms of golds, only China and Russian Federation are “authoritarian” regimes (Russia not technically, but practically). To me that simply says that India is not good enough – the excuse in this article was well made putting the primary focus on China but let’s not forget South Korea and Japan (in 11th place) are also Asian countries who have done well.

  64. kazakhstan has 7 golds. and ethiopia has 3.even if we assume the “authoritarian” china argument(which i dont),whats the excuse for this?we are 12th in hockey,our national sport.
    btw,our performance this tym is far better than previous years,still we are not to be taken seriously.shameful or not shameful is upto you,but we must strive to improve.
    this article makes it valid points,but i think its too polarising,too black n white.its a good read though.

  65. India just proved that it is in top 3 (or 4) in the world in six global sporting events. On many occasions this is not true for Indian cricket. So if it is the anticipation of victory then 2012 Olympics gave us far more than what following cricket does. If there was an Olympic event for cricket then we might easily miss a medal in all 3 forms of the game.

  66. @greatbong: Not many people go and watch Ranji trophy cricket and cricket in India is still popular and financially successful (and this was true even in the pre-IPL days). So, your analogy of watching the “National games” to boost popularity can work but cricket became popular in spite of that (probably has to do with winning a world cup at the time tv became more omnipresent in India like you alluded). Some of the commenters on the article have pointed to a lack of a sporting culture as a potential problem. Another issue is a genuine lack of international sporting icons across different disciplines. Having those sporting icons helps encourage kids to take up the sport. A Prakash Padukone and a Saina can encourage the next generation. And then there is the question of resources. If that next generation takes up the sport, it has to be nurtured and in a resource starved country, that is hard.

  67. I find is article a bit too skeptical…
    Despite the lack of any concrete plans or sporting culture, we have seen gradual improvement in Olympic performance over the last decade or so…

    We have six medals… we had none from 84 to 92… that was a real shame and almost every Indian believed that Olympics are not for Indians till Leander Paes showed that miracles do happen… On a similar note, Indian sports reached its nadir in 1990 Asiad with only 1 Gold (in Kabaddi)… this time we had 14…

    If you find Six Olympic medals embarrassing and prefer to watch done to death India-SL matches that is unfortunate… This is the type to show some enthusiasm and support if possible rather than expressing pessimism…

  68. Typo
    * This is the time instead of type

  69. Good post ! The torture stories sent down some shivers and reading more articles made me feel pretty lucky to have spent time in India and USA 🙂

    Am a bit disappointed towards some articles about a corporate favoritism shown towards Saina (in comparison with Mary Kom).

    Btw: if you watched the olympics, watch some of too.. There are many more people like Oscar Pistorius who deserve appreciation 🙂

  70. Brilliant article. I applaud you for such a n in-depth analysis. ofcourse everyone at some point or the other would have said “Why can’t Indian be more like ….”.
    you covered details of what totalitarian regimes do be part of the olympics family. I
    one thing that is missing is a paragraph about what the capitalist countries do in order to host olympics. An obscene amount of money goes into the whole process. I guess the host country bribes the Olympics committe members like crazy. Remember the Salt Lake City scandal when they hosted the winter olympics.

  71. “So, regardless of ‘elusive medal Olympics’ or ‘India wins in (evil) IPL’, I am just concerned that ‘sport’ is dwindling! ”

    Well said. First india should develop a healthy respect for sports and then dream about training for the olympics.

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