A country of more than 1.2 billion people and the 7th largest economy: seems like a recipe for sporting success doesn’t it? Plenty of money to invest in scouting and training systems, and certainly plenty of people to choose from. Doesn’t seem like that’s the case for India though. As I write, my country have no medals to show for in the Rio Olympics, and it’s no one-off either. The past two Summer Olympics (excluding this year) have actually been two of India’s best: a grand haul of six medals in London four years ago (two silvers and four bronzes), and three in Beijing in 2008 (one gold, two bronzes). Compared to the rest of the world, this record isn’t bad, with my home country finishing 55th and 50th in the medal standings in the London and Beijing Olympics respectively. However, considering the size of our nation in terms of economy and population, this medal tally is a very, very poor return. So this brings up the question: why do India fare so poorly in the Olympics?
The finger is often pointed at the Indian government for a lack of investment in sports other than cricket. This accusation in understandable considering that many Indian athletes have to go to incredible extremes to find a place to train. One such example is Indian luger Shiva Keshavan. Training for him is nowhere close to as straightforward as it is for other lugers. He has attached rollerblade wheels to a sledge to make an artificial luge, and uses the Himalayas mountains as a substitute for luge centers – dodging sheeps and going under trucks along the way. On top of all this, he had to ask 100 companies for sponsorship so he could go to the Olympics. India’s first woman gymnast, Dipa Karmakar, had to train with pieces of broken bikes, and despite this, managed to execute the Produnova move, considered the most dangerous move in gymnastics. Just imagine the heights she may have reached if she had been provided with proper training equipment.
Another theory suggests that Indian parents just don’t rate sport as a career. Sport is merely considered a form of entertainment in the country, as education gets much more priority. This theory is supported by Madhuli Kulkarni, an Indian sports psychologist who says, “Parents here have the authority to take the decisions in their child’s life. India was not a sports nation. Especially post-independence, Indian parents gave a lot of importance to academics and sport was considered as a “time pass” activity or just for recreational purpose. Sport was never a priority for a majority of parents and their kids. In fact we have a saying in Hindi – India’s National language – “Kheloge kudoge to honge kharab, padhoge likhoge to banoge nawab” which means that your life will be a waste if you play but if you study or do well in academics you will be a king.” Through this quote, you can actually link this theory to the previous one: if the government has the same view on sports as Indian parents, then why should they invest?
To conclude, there is no one concrete reason to this puzzling question, but to address the question above in one final sentence: I think it is fair to say that the negative Indian view towards sports may be costing India in the big stages such as the Olympics.