Why does India fare miserably in the Olympics ?

Why does India fare miserably in the Olympics ?
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It is not possible for someone to comprehensively answer such a question in an article of 500-1000 words. To answer this question, one must carry out an extensive research, a research in which one not only dissects the root causes of the problem but also comes up with solutions that, in the long run, help the country to match the Olympic superpowers viz. USA, Great Britain , China and the others.

It’s difficult to digest the fact that a country with a population of more than 1.25 billion has not been able to excel in a single major world sport, let alone the Olympics.

The problem lies at two levels: the first is society, of which I consider the education system to be very much a part; the second is the government.

We shouldn’t always needlessly blame the government for the evils that plague our society. The government is but a representative of society’s collective will and wish. And if something is out of order then the people in that society are as much responsible as the government that represents that society.

First, I will discuss the problems that we have in our society:

The arrival of the British and the establishment of the administrative bureaucracy led to the rise of the middle class. The establishment of socialist economic system created a number of government jobs, leading to a further rise in the number of people that belonged to the urban middle class. The prestige of being a government servant, a fact as true today as it was decades  ago, or of being an employee in a multinational company is so deeply rooted in the Indian middle and lower middle class psyche that having good secure job is the highest aspiration that an Indian parent has for his child, so much so that even before the child reaches the age of 10, the educated elite start thinking of IIT, and the uneducated mass, if at all they have any awareness, start thinking of a clerical job in a good PSU bank. The reason behind giving overwhelmingly disproportionate importance to academics is precisely this: good academics means a passport to good job. Despite almost six decades of independence, and two and half decades of economic liberalization, we as a nation and as people, have barely moved ahead—we are yet to free our minds of our deep-rooted irrational beliefs, regressive conventions, and blind trends.

Despite almost six decades of independence, and two and half decades of economic liberalization, we as a nation and as people, have barely moved ahead—we are yet to free our minds of our deep-rooted irrational beliefs, regressive conventions, and blind trends.

The root cause of this widespread malaise is that deep within our people are pathologically insecure; to them a job that guarantees life-long security is far more valuable than a career—read here sports— that is uncertain and apparently has no tangibility whatsoever. And, these are the very people who constitute 90 percent of our population. Their fear, their insecurity and their timidity have become the hallmark of our national character, making majority of youngsters so docile and submissive that most of them are unfit for professions that demand aggression and fighting spirit. As a result of all this, even if the child is born with some talent for a particular sport, that talent goes entirely unnoticed or is wasted due to lack of encouragement and guidance.

In India, people always look down on physical labor; therefore, as a nation we have become averse to it [have you ever wondered why we always produce better batsmen than bowlers?].  Parents are so indulgent that they would spare no effort to ensure that their children do not take the slightest physical effort. How often do we see such basic sports as cycling, swimming, and running being encouraged by Indian families or Indian schools?

It would be absurd to say that racially Indians are not physically strong. The martial races have always been there in India: the strong Defense Force that we have suggests that if we can have enough strong men to fight on our borders, and on the peaks of Siachen Glacier, then we certainly can find men strong enough to win medals at the Olympics. But strength alone won’t suffice. They must be trained; they must be made competitive to put up a brave front at the highest level.

We must have sports academies. Here the government has a very important role to play; the second part of the discussion is about the government’s role.

Just as we have five year plans (now “neeti ayog”) that focuses on economic developments, so we can have five year plans that exclusively focuses on sports development. If the Jawahar Navovidyalaya can be an alternate system of schools for the bright students of India, then a similar alternate system of schools can be set up for the physically gifted students of India. After all, the Jawahar Navovidyalaya has been a success!

Sports infrastructure needs massive capital investment.  We must replicate the China model, a model that spots talent at a very young age, and then takes up the responsibility of grooming that talent without expecting any financial incentives in return.

A scheme such as this might be an overwhelmingly additional burden on the exchequer, but that is how things work; after all, we don’t expect financial returns by allocating a huge share of general budget to the Defense expenses. So if national security is such a concern, then shouldn’t national glory be just as grave a concern! Picking talent at a young age, grooming them, training them, and securing them financially all can be done if the government shows the willingness, and the people show the enthusiasm. The same principle is at work in the armed forces.  You pick, you train, and you pay, irrespective of whether we have wars or not.

To improve the state of sports in society, the people, the government and the rich private organizations must come together; the government’s effort alone won’t suffice, and the people’s enthusiasm without appropriate awareness won’t be enough. To change society everyone must take a share of the responsibility.

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