Why are we such a poor sporting nation? This is a question that crops up every four years when athletes from across the world parade their talent on a stage known as the Olympic Games. All of a sudden, we discover that apart from hockey, where we have won eight gold medals, India has never won a gold in any other discipline and the all-time tally of individual medals is just four. It is time to introspect and feel embarrassed.
Decades ago, when I was finding my way around the world and discovering new meaning to life and living, anyone who had participated in the Olympic Games was someone special. India was a poor country, a far cry from the global superpower it thinks it has become now. The endemic poverty around and the struggle for survival had left little time for the middle classes to think of pursuits other than studies. Sport was more of an indulgence and less of a profession to be pursued.
Living in a society, which discourages the celebration of the physical self and considers the body an impediment to spiritual attainment, sport had to be very low in priority. So, even those who could afford to play were averse to it for fear of annoying their peers.
Times have changed now. India, or at least a part of it, is flush with money and life is no longer meant to be lived in denial of the physical self. Sport in an environment like this should thrive, but sadly, it hasn't. We are just a one-sport nation, and even in cricket we're not world champions.
Wherever you go these days, you are asked how many medals India will win in the Beijing Games. The consensus is that we might do better than we have ever done before and that means, may be, we will win more than just one medal and, who knows, it could even be a gold. But just compare this with what other nations, with whom we believe we're at par, have achieved? China is now among the top sporting countries of the world and even much smaller and far poorer nations like Ethiopia and Kenya win more medals than us.
Why? That is the question that has been repeatedly asked.
The answers range from lack of funds, poor infrastructure, no coaching facilities at the grassroots, nepotism, corrupt administrators, wrong priorities and even lack of will of sportsmen.
In the many debates I participated in last week to discuss the root cause of the problem, one thing that clearly emerged was that people were against the Indian government spending thousands of crores in hosting mega-events like the Commonwealth Games when the same money could be utilized in building grassroots infrastructure around the country. It is a shame that India, which is not even a footnote in the history of the Olympics, wants to bid for hosting the Games in the near future. The argument given is that since we're a global power now we must do what global powers do. It enhances our prestige in the comity of nations, not winning any medal notwithstanding!
Look at the paradox. On one hand we have no money to spend on the development of sport and on the other we don't mind spending a fortune on organizing these huge events. And who benefits from these extravagant exercises?
The general consensus is that they're organized by administrators to make a killing by hosting them.
Let us hope that our archers, shooters and boxers return with a handful of medals from Beijing in August. Let us all start a campaign to prevent India from bidding for the Olympics, and instead force the government to spend that money in developing training facilities around the country.