Five medals — India’s best showing at the Olympics so far — has given us cause to celebrate, but we must take it with a pinch of salt. While the growing economic might of many nations is reflected in their medal tally at the Olympics, the same doesn’t hold true for India.
Take the example of China, which rejoined the Olympics in 1984 after a gap of three decades. Between then and the 2008 Olympics, its medal tally tripled to 100 — a reflection of its economic ascent.
The US, the world’s largest economy, is also the only nation ahead of China at the current London Olympics. Countries such as Britain, France and Australia, which spend a considerable sum on their athletes and sports infrastructure, have also stood their ground. South Korea has used economic growth to boost its medal tally, constantly figuring in the top 10 since 1988.
Then there’s India. In spite of being an economic powerhouse that figures in the world’s top 10, India has constantly struggled to break into the top 50 at the Olympics.
Boxer Dingko Singh, who won the gold medal at 1998 Asian Games, says it takes proper investment to train world-class athletes. “We have shown during these Olympics that we are not short of talent. We are at par, but lack scientific back-up,” he says.
The boxer adds, “Punch-weighing machines, recovery monitoring gadgets — we need such equipment to help a boxer reach full potential.”
Sports minister Ajay Maken concedes that India needs facilities to hone talent. “Unless we have a well-developed sports science support, talent can only come up to a certain level,” he says. “There should be transparency and efficiency in the functioning of federations.”
Between 1980 and today, several other countries, like Bulgaria and Hungary, have slipped in rankings. But they also suffered a hit economically —an excuse India cannot use. To make a mark at the Olympics, we need to emulate countries at par with us economically, not the ones we've left behind.