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The curtains have come down on the Rio Olympics 2016. I believe it has left each of us grappling with mixed feelings about India’s performance in this global event. There were no doubt distinct high lights to savor this year as well. The women saved the day yet again metaphorically and literally and barely at that, for a country boasting of diverse cultures, a booming economy, a stable government and most importantly a sixth of the world’s population among others.

If market dominance and economic success are a benchmark, then the world’s super powers corner the maximum share of the medals each year and easily at that. Given below is a snap shot of the medal tally this year.

India has a lot to learn from this very fact. While we are trying to shine as a nation globally on multiple fronts, I believe that even sport is a strong indicator of our success and strengths. I find the analogy of a child’s performance in school is similar to that of a country. You can see that a well-rounded child is not only good in academics but is typically an all-rounder excelling in various fields including extracurricular activities and sports. I believe India definitely prides itself (and rightfully so) in its rich culture and its traditions but loses focus of what is practical and what is the ‘need of the hour’ for progress?

Let me give you a case in point. I am sure all of us are familiar with the Spelling Bee competitions widely popular in the United States. Indian students are known to regularly ace this competition with ease. It is estimated that Indians represent just about 1% of the US population which by itself is small, that being the case the numbers of success stories by Indians is phenomenal. Don’t you think that Indians are then no less and given the right mindset and support can achieve anything?

According to Subhash Chandra Bose an avid marathoner from Bangalore “In 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Great Britain only had 1 Gold. At Rio they are standing 2nd on the medals tally 27 Gold and 67medlas in all. What an improvement in 20 years? Incidentally Great Britain has been running a Lottery, and the income from this goes to promoting sports. This is how they raise funds to encourage sportsmanship.”

Is it a mindset change that is required to take the country and its sportspeople forward?

Look at the US for example which is the most successful sorting nation in the globe. The sporting requirements are not controlled by the Government but is rather privatized and is hence managed by professionals. Considering money is the only motivator in India that trumps regressive ancient practices and traditions, probably privatizing the sector with sufficient sops will provide the requisite results.

Adds Vasudev Krishnamoorthy a marathoner and Techie who has settled in the Silicon Valley US and who witnessed the Olympics first hand, “I watched the race live and it is true that there were no officials at the water stations. It was very hot and lot of runners dropped out in fact. I don’t know how she managed 2:47 with any water. That run is golden and the Indian govt should give her the gifts and money they gave Sindhu. Initially I thought no one was representing India. MOFs Indian officials were busy doing what is left to anyone’s imagination.”

Hence the writing is on the wall. The usual suspects for the lack of sporting talent in India at a global level could be attributed to the following:

  • Lack of awareness
  • Poor Education
  • Lack of Infrastructure
  • Poor economic maturity

These are some of the universal culprits that influence sporting in a country. While there is no silver bullet or panacea to address these challenges, there needs to be a concerted effort by the nation as a whole to find solutions.

Look at another static that contrasts when you look at the large population that India has. If you were to look at the countries with most medals per person basis populations you will be surprised with the leading nations.

This map only goes to show that it is not the strength of the country that contributes to sporting success but also the mindset and the intent of the population however big or small they may. I think this is food for thought for every Indian.

What stood out for me in this Olympics:

  • PV Sindhu – I think she gave a brilliant performance particularly in the last fight with the Spaniard. She had the entire country on goose bumps throughout her performance.
  • Sakshi Malik – A vibrant and cheerful gal who gave a tough fight to her Kyrgystan opponent for the bronze.
  • Dipa Karmakar – Who showed the world that India can produce Olympian gymnasts.
  • Usain Bolt – World record consistency in winning Golds, 3 in 3 consecutive Olympics

On the negative side:

  • The Indian Sports minister’s antics to earn him the sobriquet Panauti or Bad Luck
  • Poor treatment of Indian sportspersons to the extent of lack of water even for marathon runners
  • Poverty in Rio

I read an interesting article recently about Indians and their interest in Olympics. It reflects that as a country we are so enamored by cricket in sports that we forget to recognize any other sporting activity. So much so that conversations around Olympics are flat for every 3 years in a row and only moderately spike when the actual Olympics takes place every fourth year. This goes to show the ironic awareness and interest in our country for this truly global sporting spectacle.