Speed, medals, passion: Why the next 57 days may define Indian sport inside, outside arena
The country plays host to MotoGP Indian Grand Prix, competes in the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, and then finally circles back to its greatest love, cricket.
The Indian sports scene is buzzing like never before. But to truly understand whether that buzz is real or manufactured, you will need to keep your eyes open over the next 57 days.
The country plays host to the MotoGP Indian Grand Prix (September 22-24), competes in the Asian Games (September 23-October 8) in Hangzhou, China, and then finally circles back to its greatest love, cricket, for the ODI World Cup at home (October 5-November 19) — and together these events will test India’s organisational capabilities, where the country stands in Olympic sport ahead of Paris 2024, and the true state of Indian cricket at a time when the last ICC trophy victory came 10 years ago.
The MotoGP Indian Grand Prix will be India’s third attempt at becoming a regular fixture on any motorsport circuit. They tried and failed with Formula One, which was held at the Buddh International Circuit from 2011 to 2013. The Formula E dream was even shorter, lasting just one race which was held in Hyderabad in February 2023 before the organisers decided to not include the venue in their provisional calendar for the 2024 season.
MotoGP will hope to be different. Hosting a round of any world championship is prestigious, but at the same time, it is also a test of the ability to pull things off successfully. The key is: will India’s tryst with The MotoGP be more than just a brush? The deal has been struck for seven years, with seven more on the cards. But everything will depend on the inaugural event. There are those that believe that being on the Formula One or MotoGP calendar is a proxy for a country’s appeal — as a market and an economy — and they are not entirely wrong.
Then, in the Asiad, professionalism will be the key as India look to show that their success in Olympic sports isn’t a flash in the pan. Over the last few years, the athletes led by Neeraj Chopra have shown that they are capable of competing against the best. The javelin throwers are making their mark, the jumpers led by M Sreeshankar and Jeswin Aldrin are kicking up some serious dirt, and some of the other athletes — with Avinash Sable leading the way on the track in the steeplechase — are starting to break out as well. To be sure, the number of Indian athletes who can hold their own in an international field is still very small.
India had a great run at the 2018 edition in Jakarta — finishing with a best-ever 70 medals (including 16 gold). But to put things in perspective, China dominated the medals table, ranking first with 289 medals including 132 gold, 92 silver and 65 bronze, followed by Japan with 205 medals and South Korea with 177.
As we head into the 2023 Asian Games, it’ll be interesting to see whether India have managed to close the gap. And if they have, it will set things up for a very interesting year leading up to the Paris Olympics in 2024.
The Asian Games aren’t the Olympics but in certain sports, the level of competition is just as high. Disciplines such as shooting, wrestling, archery, diving, swimming, table tennis and badminton feature some of the best in the world. There are even a few world champions in the athletics competition . These are the sports that India will want to shine in; medals there will affirm the country is on the right track.
There will be hardly any time to soak in the stories that will emerge from Hangzhou as the action will then quickly shift to the ODI World Cup, a tournament that has already had its share of scheduling and administrative concerns.
But that could all melt into the background if India start doing well. The hype machine will kick into overdrive if Rohit Sharma & Co get a win against Australia on October 8 in their campaign opener. On the flip side, if they lose, they won’t be able to shut out the noise no matter how hard they try.
The last three ODI World Cups have been won by hosts (India in 2011, Australia in 2015 and England in 2019) but India haven’t won an ICC trophy, across formats, since 2013. The pressure of expectations has invariably got to them on each occasion and those very same expectations will be around this time as well.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has the financial muscle but it takes more than just money to win the big trophies. A lack of planning has often held the team back but a triumphant run will do much to silence the critics and push Indian sport, as a whole, into a higher stratosphere.
Nothing succeeds like success but it has now also become important to understand the context around that success. Indians are starting to do more than just make up the numbers at big events — and the next two months will tell us where we truly stand from an administrative, infrastructural and sporting point of view.
It is a reality check. And an opportunity to truly take-off.
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