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It’s time yoga became an Olympic sport

analysis Updated: Sep 13, 2016 22:08 IST
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi with nearly 37,000 fellow participants at Rajpath, on International Day of Yoga (Ajay Aggarwal/HT File Photo)

India’s grim performance at the Rio Olympics had me wondering why a nation of 1.3 billion only manages to procure two medals. Poor infrastructure and lack of government funding support are obvious reasons, but we can’t blame it all on the government. We are simply not a very physically active nation, and sport is not an important part of Indian culture. The truth is that our only real physical heritage, apart from morning walks, is yoga. If there were to be a national sport, then it would most likely be yoga. Given this, can yoga be included in the Olympics?

Some obscure sports included in the Olympics are: Race walking, synchronised swimming and the modern pentathlon which consists of four different competitions, comprising five very different disciplines. If these sports can find a place, then yoga, given its popularity worldwide, surely can.

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By most of the criteria that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) uses to measure prospective sports, yoga appears to have a strong case. Yoga has a long history. It has genuine global appeal. Logistically, yoga would also be an easy fit for the games; it could be practised just as gymnastics is, and would be equally appealing to TV viewers. According to the IOC guidelines, there are eight general themes that are considered for a sport to be brought within the Olympic fold. These are: Value addition, governance, history and tradition, universality, popularity, athletes, development of the sport and finance. Yoga meets the criteria for all these themes.

The Indian Olympic Committee has already recognised yoga as a sport. India hosts a yearly National Yoga Championship, which includes six categories: Yoga asana, artistic yoga, artistic pair yoga, rhythmic yoga, free flow yoga dance and a professional yoga asana competition. There is also a little known International Yoga Federation that holds a world championship title, unfortunately though, Indian yogis have not yet figured as champions here. Whether it is a lack of awareness or lack of talent is unclear.

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Perhaps some yoga gurus would argue that competition is against the nature of yoga and that the goal of yoga is not to win medals but to achieve unity of body, mind and soul. I disagree. The world over, hatha yoga is seen as rigorous physical activity, so why not awarding the finest yogis? According to late yoga guru BKS Iyengar: “Out of the eight petals of yoga, the only petal that is exhibitive is the yoga asanas whereas the other petals are very individual and personal. As such there is nothing wrong with holding a competition on the qualitative presentation of yoga asanas.”

The prime minister has established a World Yoga Day and has also been a part of the largest yoga class in history held on the 1st International day of yoga on June 21st 2015. Perhaps now is it time to target the Olympic Gold, which seems well within yoga’s reach.

Ira Trivedi is an author and yoga expert. The views expressed are personal.