A country of 1.4 billion people and precious little to show for: it’s a taunt every Indian expat dreads after each Olympic Games.
It’s also a shame, although in these times of rabid nationalism many in the public sphere would think twice about using that word for the fear of being labelled non-patriotic or getting trolled viciously on social media.
But 70 years after becoming an independent nation that now has global aspirations in all fields of human endeavour, the question needs to be asked: Is India serious about sports?
While shuttler P V Sindhu’s silver and wrestler Sakshi Malik’s bronze medals are celebrated with enthusiasm, and rightly so, it’s imperative for the government to conduct a serious post mortem to find out what went wrong so that in four years’ time the same mistakes are not repeated.
The build-up to the Games was itself shambolic with officials and athletes making news for all the wrong reasons. In tennis and men’s wrestling, sports in which India had genuine medal chances, squabbles left a bitter taste in the mouth, and that will not go away any time soon.
After the Games, marathon runner O P Jaisha accused the Indian officials of not making arrangements for water during the route in the tropical heat of Rio. She collapsed on finishing and had to be hospitalised. “I could have died,” she told journalists. According to reports, she has even accused her coach of forcing her to run the marathon, which is not her pet event.
The doctor sent with the Indian contingent was a radiologist who reportedly had only one solution to every problem – a painkiller called Combiflam. The Sports Minister was threatened with expulsion from the Games because he was rude and would demand entry to venues with his entourage who didn’t have proper passes.
There are also reports that several officials were busy checking out the famous beaches of Rio and its nightlife instead of cheering and motivating the athletes when they were involved in competitions.
Celebrated Olympian and hockey great Aslam Sher Khan hinted at exactly this when he was asked for his reactions on the Indian showing at the Games.
“Officials do not have the welfare of the athletes on their mind. All they are bothered about is having a good time,” Khan said.
India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist, shooter Abhinav Bindra, said he was fed up with apathetic officials, some of whom were unqualified for the job and were not being held accountable for a lack of success on the field.
“I won’t get angry and spoil my own health. It happens every time and that is the way it is,” the shooter, who won gold in Beijing in 2008 and finished fourth in Rio, said.
“We need a complete overhaul of the system. We need more experts coming in...”
Things, however, have to trickle down from the top. Special funding for sports should be made available and responsibility fixed. The UK did wonders to its fortunes at the Games with cash pumped in from its National Lottery. A similar scheme could well work for India.
But for that to happen there needs to be a national will. That, however, seems lacking.
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