The wealthy Fok family from Hong Kong has been in newspapers lately. Apart from being influential patrons of sport, the family has a tradition of awarding a kilogram of gold to local Olympians who win the gold medal.
There was a time when gold winners got a nice dinner. Now, they are likely to be showered with cash and apartments besides an opportunity to get into top Chinese universities.
The fever has triggered a new debate about what does the Olympic motto of faster, higher, stronger mean for China? Only gold? What happens to those with a little less mettle but still are some of the best worldwide?
Two Chinese women badminton players Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli, for one, wanted the gold so desperately they were willing to lose a match; ironically, the backlash at home was sharp.
Commented a citizen in Chinese on Weibo, China’s twitter-like website: “Two Chinese athletes differ only by their medals: Yi Siling won gold and Yu Dan won bronze. But their treatment by the media couldn’t have been more different. A congratulatory message from the State Council didn’t even mention Yu Dan. CCTV didn’t air a single shot of Yu’s face.”
Then there was the case of weight lifter Zhou Jun. After failing three times to complete a lift, Zhou’s defeat was labelled as “disgraceful” by a local paper. (The paper later apologised.)
China’s has made steady strides on the gold tally since 1984 when it won its first. At the 1996 Games in Atlanta, China won 50 medals. In Beijing, China took 100 medals including 51 gold. The US took 36 golds.
So, the hunger is still young. So, probably is the urge to top the US. And so, in state media, and probably among millions of sports fans, the shine of gold is the glow of patriotism. “Patriotism cannot be denied. It is not denied in any country. It is one of the core values of China, helping sustain its civilization for thousands of years. Patriotic feeling is strong and authoritative,” Global Times said about the value of gold medals. The winners of silver and bronze are less patriotic and could be treated indifferently; is that the tone of the official narrative?
Luckily, India doesn’t need to resolve this dilemma over medals and mettle; participation is key for us.