Opinion

A silver lining in our Rio performance

NV Krishnakumar | Updated on January 17, 2018 Published on August 24, 2016

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The fact is, India’s actually got better at the Olympics since the turn of the century, going beyond its traditional strengths

Technology and communication are making the world flat. The human spirit and endurance are making the Olympics flat. In the Rio Olympics, the US and China expectedly were the most decorated countries but others are slowly and surely catching up. Great Britain was the biggest surprise with 27 gold medals and an overall tally of 70 medals. Some countries are losing their dominance in what was considered their forte while others have made a start by participating in events they have never participated in before.

India’s performance was sub-standard. Expected to win a minimum of 10 medals, Indian athletes ended up with just 2. Shooting and tennis were a dud while archery was again a washout. On the positive side, there was a surprising fourth place finish in gymnastics while a golfer and an athlete made it to the finals. The Indian marathoners finished respectably, just six minutes behind the winner.

Surprisingly better

But from a historical perspective, India’s performance is on the ascendant. Between the 1948 London Olympics and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, India had won a total of 10 medals with 7 of them coming from just hockey. In 1996, Leander Paes was the sole bronze medal-winner, in tennis. But moving on to this century, India has already won 13 medals in four different disciplines — weightlifting, shooting, wrestling and badminton.

In a globalised and intensely competitive environment, how can India producegold medal-winners consistently? The Michael Porter principle that competition is a must within a geographic area for world class products is also true for sport.

Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinting legend, attributes his country’s success to a competitive school environment. Both Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky have maintained it is harder to qualify for the Olympics than to win gold in their respective swimming events.

This is true for other gold medal-producing countries too — Great Britain in cycling, South Korea in archery, Kenya in middle distance running, and so on. Even within India, badminton, wrestling and shooting will yield medal contenders because they have built a competitive ecosystem with some of the best infrastructure facilities available in the country.

Leave aside the glamour sports in the Olympics — athletics and swimming — India can and should be producing medal-winners in other events if there is a focus on creating a competitive sporting environment.

Great Britain went from being a cycling dud to a powerhouse in a decade. Jamaica took a decade-and-a-half to produce world class sprinters. Australia started to produce swimming champions in a decade in time to compete in the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

For India to become dominant in a few Olympic events, three steps are a — sports associations have to be reformed, infrastructure has to be built, and, most importantly, talent has to be nurtured from a very young age.

Lessons from cricket

For all its faults, cricket offers a praiseworthy model for other sports associations to follow. The president of the BCCI cannot hold office for more than two terms, there is no family domination in administrations, and elections are held in a fair manner to State cricket associations since acquiring administrative positions is highly competitive. In turn, State associations play a dominant role in electing the top echelons of BCCI.

Once reformed, sports associations can focus on creating infrastructure facilities across the country by pitching for investments from both the Centre and State governments. With plenty of CSR money available, Corporate India too will be able to fill the funding gap to create world class sporting infrastructure.

Finally, talent has to be spotted at a young age and rigorous training needs to be imparted. The Jamaica National High School track and field championship is a celebrity event in the tiny country. Archery is South Korea’s national sport where talented school kids are given two hours of training every day. Chinese gymnasts are sent to train in world class facilities in their early teens.

Many Indian fans are hoping to see Indian athletes do a 1-2-3 one day in an event such as shooting or badminton or wrestling. They need not lose heart. Public pressure has started to build up to reform sport and it will not be long before a transformation occurs.

India will soon be a dominant sporting country in at least two to three Olympic events that will boost our country’s sporting image and cheer the entire population.

The writer is a Bengaluru-based money manager

Published on August 24, 2016
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