When it comes to sporting battles, India is not a country many expect to notch up the medal chart. According to Wall Street Journal projections for the London Olympics, India is likely to win a total of four medals, including one gold as compared to China probably raking in 92 (38 yellow). Similar projections have been made in the Pricewater-houseCoopers model, suggesting that “India is a significant underperformer relative to its population and GDP, with a model target of around five to six medals for London after allowing for past performance.”
PwC says, “The most plausible explanation is that, with the exception of hockey, Indian sport tends to focus on events that are not included in the Olympics, notably cricket.”
Indian experts we spoke to enumerate a string of factors that blunt India’s edge in international sports arenas – and a lack of killer instinct is not one of them.
Here’s what they say
No importance to sports: In India’s hyper-competitive education system, sports are seen as ‘timepass,’ a distraction. A drill here and a dribble there are acceptable but society in general places much greater premium on academics. This, however, might change as the success of some Indian sports people at various international games in recent years has inspired many aspirants. “Sports are not a priority for us as a nation,” says Madhuli Kulkarni, a sports psychologist in New Delhi. “We need to bring in a strong sports culture – a sport for every child.”
SL Malik, professor of anthropology, University of Delhi, says that Indians actually have an advantage in the form of a heterogeneous population, from which champs for different sports could be found.
World-class facilities: There are few facilities which provide good, international-level training to sports people, says Kulkarni.
Scientific training and expert assistance: There’s nothing wrong with our genetic make-up, says Jaspal S Sandhu, dean, faculty of sports medicine, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. The missing link is scientific intervention. Inherent talent is a pre-requisite but science, too, plays a critical role in sport. Sandhu says, “We don’t have a national institute of sports medicine yet… Sports persons are not manufactured on the field. Sports persons are manufactured in the lab.” In top-playing nations, every sports person has, he says, a support team including a doctor (sports medicine professional), physiotherapist, nutritionist, psychologist and bio-mechanist.
“What we lack is scientific inputs, bio-mechanical and game plan,” says Malik. Winning is “not just about the killer instinct but overall strategic planning of mental ability and mental fitness, he explains. “We rely more on natural talent. Physios have started to play a part which was earlier not the case.”
Planned development and strategy: There are countries which catch talent young and put them through a planned training cycle, extending up to the post-retirement period, says Kulkarni. “In the US, China and Australia, they are following a model for athlete development with different stages, starting at 6-7. They have a model which gives security and a comparatively easy life (to sports people). They focus on performance,” she elaborates. “Our athlete worries about a lot of things, like whether the equipment will reach or not, about sponsors.”