The Indian Olympic Medal Dream

Humans have a very peculiar habit of jumping into two things – Beds and Conclusions. Although this post has nothing to do with the former tendency but the latter is quite flustering specially when it comes from sane earthlings.

Every Olympic ends up brimming the hopes of all the Indians to the hilt. Funnily it reminds me of the poor Indian farmers during the British Raj ( wait..I think they still exist) who used to look at the skies for a few godsend drops of water for their lands. We look at our troop of soldiers(read players) with beseeching eyes in a similar way. We want them to bring Gold medals. Each one of them. Even if they don’t match the skyrocketing world standards of sports or even if they have been battered and bruised by the red tape. We still need the proverbial medal. And God forbid, if they fail ( which they do without failing), we tear them apart like hungry vultures.

What chafes me to no ends is the illogical comparisons with US of A and China. USA has a total of more than 2400 medals till date while India has not even mustered half a century even though India has 17% of the Earth’s population to its disposal.

Can there be a more vague and obscure argument? Can we get anymore foolishly funny?

Why Can’t we face it?

India is a developing nation. According to a 2008 estimation, the Indian population stands at a staggering 1,132,446,000. Out of that 27.5% of the population is living below poverty line. The adult literacy rate is 61.3%. India has the highest rate of malnutrition among children under the age of three as compared to the other countries ( It was 46% in 2007). According to the NSSO survey in 2000, 10% of the population at that time( around 106 million people) were unemployed. A 2007 report by the state-run National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) found that 65% of Indians, or 750 million people, lived on less than 20 rupees per day.

A developing nation has many burning issues to resolve before it can think of accumulating medals in an international sports event and compete with developed nations. In a developing nation like India, people still worry about their next meal and think twice before dishing out the next 10 Rupees note. India is not all about towns and cities. A huge percentage(72.22%) of Indian population lives in villages. Most of the people there won’t even know what Olympics is.

India has many hurdles to cross, to at least provide the population with a decent lifestyle. When a person does not have to worry about his family’s next meal, then he can think of an Olympic medal. And, yes, there is another side of the coin too.

The Indian Mentality towards a sports culture

If we consider an average middle class Indian family, how many of us have the courage to encourage our children into sports? We all have a certain mentality that life as a sportsman would be nothing else but a life wasted. And are we wrong? The government does not provide any sort of infrastructure to encourage sports. If you go and see the conditions of Government schools in India, you will be shocked by the condition of some of them. It would be a miracle if children find proper classrooms, leave aside a playground with all the facilities. Even in an average Public School, you can’t even dream of a swimming pool and horse riding facilities.

Even after jumping over all these barriers(whether it may be because of parent’s inclination or the child’s stubbornness), if someone is able to meet up to the international standards, the red tape kills the talent. All of us have heard of innumerable stories of sportsmen dying in penury and not receiving any help from government agencies despite their contribution towards sports. Which parents would allow their children to jump into such a profession?

With all due respect to Abhinav Bindra’s talent, he had a family support system behind him which provided him ample facilities and encouragement to excel in his chosen sport. I wonder what would have happened to him if he would have belonged to a middle class family with a pressure of becoming an Engineer on his head?

And then we compare our sportsmen with those belonging to nations where sports is a profession as common and successful as Medicine or Engineering, where children get all the facilities from the very beginning and they are groomed in the line of their interest from the inception of that interest. How fair is that?

Only a rocket can take you to the Moon

According to this very interesting report, India is not able to perform in the Olympics due to Low Social mobility. If the people of a nation are better informed, they perform better. It also cites an example of a rich nation which started performing well after the radio connectivity grew.

So, essentially, if we want to reach the moon, we have to build a rocket. If we want loads of medals, we need to put loads of efforts into other areas too.

  • The government needs to provide facilities and encouragement to upcoming sportsmen.
  • We have to encourage our children to choose a sport of their liking and excel in that.
  • Children have to be provided facilities from the elementary levels.
  • Sports should be a proper subject and not just a filler in-between other subjects.

As the nation will develop, the awareness will grow automatically. There are examples of many nations about how to go for it. We have a sports ministry. Don’t we?

Lets not look at the reflection of the moon in the water and cry for it. Lets make a rocket. And if we can’t then lets just shut up.

Related Interesting Reads

Here are a few links which I found very interesting and would like to share –

More than two sides to this coin by Pr3rna

Priorities by Ish

Thinking about Abhinav Bindra not just India’s gold medal by Nita

42 comments on “The Indian Olympic Medal Dream

  1. Good post!! we are quick to blame the athletes who lose or idolize the ones who win . First we need to see what is lacking in the background support so that our sportsmen are atleast capable of competing and our youth interested to participate in sports and even consider it as career.

  2. Good post man. I want to scold heartfully our bloody politicians but I already did several times and now I want to scold ourselves as we are electing them and scolding the system. Dont we have any other option ? I would like to see a post from you why we are electing these people by knowingly and scolding the situations.

  3. As usual a great post and written with emotion and sincerity! Your analysis is detailed and comprehensive. I love your last two lines:

    Lets not look at the reflection of the moon in the water and cry for it. Lets make a rocket. And if we can’t then lets just shut up.

    If all Indians were as passionate as you we would already be halfway there!

  4. @ Amit:

    On that Low Social Mobility related observation, it is worth a mention that the minute the events moved away from those requiring infrastructure and kit (e.g swimming, sailing, rowing etc) to those requiring grit (e.g. running, jumping et) the composition of the line-up of athletes changed. The men’s and women’s 100-m sprint was dominated by athletes from poorer African and Caribbean nations. Runners from Eritrea and Ethiopia were there too – India surely isn’t worse than they are, is She?

    So I guess there are still some things we can do. But between ‘can’ and ‘will’ there is a huge gap.

    In terms of priorities, I agree. That is what I said on Nita’s post as well. There is a sort of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs both at a familial and national level. I cited John Adams with one of my favourite quotes: “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.” Pretty much captures how priorities change…

    Good post.

  5. Nice one Bhaiya, once again.

    But, I am pretty upset with your last lines about the moon and rocket. It seemed to me as if you want to say that if you do not know how to do or create something, then just accept it and let it be like that. And I am really having trouble seeing it as a positive, passionate and optimistic view. If we would have just shut up then I dont think anybody could have justified how we would have won the Gold. Abhinav Bindra tried for straight 10 years to achieve the best and reach the moon. He never shut up and I am pretty sure, he never did because he never quit crying for the moon he was staring in the water. Its the reflection that gives the inspiration to reach and touch the original. India is trying, crying and doing everything it can do the best right now, in the present scenarios, to move ahead and be better than others. And I really do not see a single reason why we should shut up.

    By the way, I do not know whether you know this or not that India is going to moon very soon. We are launching Chandrayaan 1 in October this year, with Chandrayaan 2, a rover, in 2010. Still, you want us to shut up???

  6. I admire your sentiment behind this sincere post. But, unlike you, Iam very pessimistic about our chances in Olympics or any sporting event of note even in the coming many many years. Like you, I used to get so annoyed and hurt at our consistent failings at such events. I remember how excited I was when Paes won bronze medal at Atlanta Olympics ending a drought of 16 years. But, over the years, I have become convinced that things are not going to improve much. You rightly pointed out many reasons for that ( Govt apathy, no culture of sports in our country , corruption etc).
    But, I dont agree with your statement that we need food and water before medals. China is still a developing country-even if higher than us on the ladder- and look how it has kicked the ass of mighty sporting nation, USA. In China too, most of the parents will never want their children as sport persons..becoming an engineer/ doctor etc is pretty important there, how come they have succeeded in sports ? By investing on all budding talents at the right time..remember, we dont need whole of nation to be sport loving..we just need less than 0.001% of the population to be good at sports so that 1% of those make us proud when time comes..
    Doing well at Olympics is ALSO about telling the whole world that we have arrived..just like it was during the cold war era when the race between Soviet Union and USA for sporting supremacy at Olympics used to be a metaphor for who is more powerful..
    I think never before it was that important for us to do well at Olympics as it’s now to complement our improving status in the world ..but, sadly, it’s not happening..

  7. @ Dev:

    “In China too, most of the parents will never want their children as sport persons.”

    Except that in China, parents do not always have a say in what will be done to their children. There is a fantastic amount of literature documenting how China ‘manufactures’ its athletes (not very diff from, although far more rigorous than, how Femina & Co make beauty queens on an assembly-line of sorts). At the risk of repeating a cliché, the democracy thing does make a not-considerable difference.

  8. I don’t quite agree. It’s true that lack of sports infrastructure has hampered us. I agree that we cannot compare ourselves with the US or China.

    But Jamaica has now won more medals than us (2 gold, 3 silver). Or, for that matter, Ethiopia (2 golds, 1 silver). Surely, these are not countries with huge spending on sports?

    Then there are the “performances” by Sania Mirza and Anju George. How does even begin to explain those? 😦

    Yes, there is a lack of infrastructure, but there is also a lack of commitment to the Olympics and there is a tendency to give up too easily. Those who succeed, in sports or anywhere else, are those who have a driving need to succeed. Let’s face it, most of our athletes don’t have it 😦

  9. Oh brilliant post! Absolutely true! The situation is quite pathetic and unless something is done, it’s gonna deteriorate… We could start with lessening the media attention accorded to these sportstars and somehow, reducing the monopoly of cricket over other sports.. The fact that we’re not performing in cricket either should make it easier! 😀

  10. My sentiments exactly. It is only when we see other countries achieving something, we suddenly want to be at the top of those things too, without any preparation, without having any realistic check whether we have the capability or not. We are like the small kid who cries for a chocolate when he sees another kid relishing it although he has never seen or tasted the chocolate before. He just wants it coz the other kid has it. Also, as you said, I don’t think any parents would allow and encourage their child to enter into sports as a career except maybe for Cricket. We as a nation are too staunch and orthodox in our ideas about career and earnings. We don’t give much credibility to our players and we would jump at the chance of criticising them at the smallest mistake.

  11. Wonderful post mate! Made me think about things I’d packed up and thrown somewhere in the back of my mind. About my country, about where it is headed, about how we can make a place for us in the world, about why we take things for granted, about why we lack passion. Something needs to be done. What and how is what puzzles me. And it’s not only about Olympics.

  12. nice post….with all those stats……………………..!!!!
    Though I wonder shutting up would be a good idea!!!
    For those who have means and talent to pursue sports should atleast do that like Bindra did ..(and I believe there would be many like him)……..!!!

    Shefaly it will be gr8 if you can point us to the article talking about China “manufacturing athletes”.

  13. @ Abha:

    The most recent one I have read was in the FT’s weekend magazine, dated July 19/ 20, 2008, titled ‘Tomorrow’s Olympians’. I have been seeking a URL pointing to it but it is nowhere to be found. If you can locate a copy in a library or something that is a good option.

    Despite its title, the article is focused on China and nearly all photos of ‘athletes’ in training are children around 4-6 years of age.

  14. Amit,
    I dont know if its mere co-incedence or not. I was thinking along the same lines couple of days back. Sitting @ home i have the luxury of watching the olympics daily, I was thinking why India was not like USA and China..I was comparing the facilities @ London and India. Its so pitiful you know. India is not even near the mark, the facilities here re sooo good. The children get free education, travel , sponsors ,trainees what not?? and most important the right and the flexibility to pursue their dreams. Sadly we cannot think of that in India. Why speak of others, wud we do that to our own children?? All we think is of a stable job and sustainability in life. Olmpic medal are a far cry ..:-(

  15. I dont know whether there’s an online article about China manufacturing athletes. But I read in newspapers here about it. It said that China finds its athletes in the remote and rural parts of its country. Parents who cannot afford to feed their children, who cannot provide them with education and other facilities are convinced to send their children for Olympics. The only condition being that they cannot meet their children during this period. These children are provided with proper living conditions, food, education and extensive training for the Olympics games. However, they are not supposed to go outside and meet their parents or have a life like other people. These are considered as distractions from their aim.

  16. well like everyone says i also sya…IT IS A GOOD POST 😛

    hmm…true,our country needs to do more for sports….maybe the corporate sector needs to consider this…and invest in sports…

  17. Yes, you got it all right.

    As I read somewhere, the only two options you have in India is education and Cricket. Looking at the Dhoni’s and the Praveen Kumar’s, people now allow their kids to play cricket because it has the money. But Olympics? Hah, you’ve got to be kidding us.

    Everybody cries when the cricket team loses. Even the hockey team for that matter. Nobody bothers about the win of the football team and Baichung Bhutia’s injury. Who cares? They’d rather be Manchester United fans.

  18. @Reema : Thanks. 🙂 The government needs to provide the basic infrastructure first. The we can talk about building up interest and winning medals.

    @Vijaya Bharat : There is an option of not voting at all instead of voting for someone bad. But its hard to implement in India. Thanks anyways. 🙂

    @Nita : Thanks Nita. One point which I could have mentioned was about how the media fuel the expectations of the public. That “shut up” was specifically for them. 🙂

    @Pr3rna : Thanks a lot. And you are welcome. 🙂

    @Shefaly : Yes, I agree India isn’t worse than them, but then that is where having a “sports” culture plays a part. We are just not build that way. And I guess, winning 5-6 medals is not the criteria. Even if we want to be in the top ten, we have to put efforts on a mammoth scale. Right now its seems impossible.
    This quote is one of the most intelligent I have heard. It pretty much sums up everything. 🙂

    @RXK : You took it wrong. As always!! 😛 😛 What I simply meant was that if we want to achieve something, it requires some amount of efforts and if we are not willing to put those efforts, then we should sit quietly. We all know that the only problem in India is the infrastructure and the educational system. I can site many examples where children gave up their favorite sports because it was coming in the was of their studies.
    Wanting an Olympic medal without any efforts is like wanting a 95% score without studying.

    @Lallopallo : I agree with you. With due respect to all Indians, I think Chinese people are much hardworking and focused. I cannot imagine a similar Olympic Opening Ceremony in India. Both the Nations are leading the world population wise. But, look at the huge gap in the medal tally. Surely there is a problem with us. Instead of trying to fill up the gaps, we keep on blaming those who are atleast trying.

  19. @Smallstar : I am fine. Thankyou. 🙂

    @Lekhni : I am quite sure that Jamaica and Ethiopia must be having atleast a better “sports culture” even if the facilities are not there. Yes, I agree we are lazy and not go-getters, but I always believe that a proper exposure can always do wonders. As Lallopallo said, we don’t want everyone to be a sportsman, but those who are passionate should be provided with the best.

    @Nikhil : Thanks. 🙂 Yes, this Cricket mania is killing all other sports. Cricket only has eleven vacancies, 22 if we include under 18. 🙂 So how many Indians are supposed to fill them? And the Media really need a whip. They are going completely out of control.

    @Maddie : Its not that we can’t get a Chocolate. The only catch is that it does not come for free. 🙂 The information about China which you have given is quite shocking. Somehow it reminds me of how scholars and terrorists are created. 😦

    @Lively : We have certainly made a place in the world but this is one area where we need to emphasize. The upcoming Superpower with one Gold medal does not sound nice. Does it? 🙂

    @Abha : Bindra had a very effective family support. It just goes ahead to show that with the right training and support we have the capability to excel.

    @Sujani : We can cry like this after we provide world class facilities to our athletes and still don’t win any medals. But we haven’t and still we have the audacity to go ahead and blame the sports person. Its a shame!!

    @Dinu : Yup!! Congrats to all of us!

    @Xylene : Thanks a lot. 🙂

    @Vishesh : Thanks. 🙂 The corporate sector is busy making money. I don’t think it will even consider this option.

    @Ish : Most of the time its all about Cricket and people don’t even stop to think about other sports. But when a handful of people take interest and do their best in the limited options available to them and could not match the world standards, we start pointing finger at them. Sad state of affairs!!

  20. good post..
    infact u mentioned many things which i had in mind..
    the points u have included that needed to be done for improving our performances are pretty right..
    but i guess that will take lots and lots of years ..
    Infact i can never imagine india to come as close to what china has done..
    it got its first medal in 1984 and now its the best nation in the tournament..
    first we need a proper government .. politicians give loads of money when someone performs ..
    but they dont spend a single penny on improving the basic infrastructure.,.
    quite ironic..
    and yes .mindset matters we dont give improtance to other sports like cricket that has to change/..
    and i guess it will take loads of years to change too 😦
    we have to wait..

  21. We are not at all a sporting nation. I used to play a few sports at school. For my parents that was ok as a aberration as long as i had no plans of making a career out of sports.

    Honestly i think we havent done bad. Chess, Billiards, Cricket are games where we have done well. Sad, they are not a part of Olympics.

    Maybe a start has happened. The Mittal Academy is one of the pioneers in training players. Maybe the 2 or 3 medals this time might be the catalyst for a push towards olympic medals. The London games would be worth watching. I think we might start to peak with the 2010 Commonwealth games in Delhi.

    Or who knows this might be only a flash in the pan.

  22. hey we have atleast 2 bronze more, the situation is improving for it’s own pace…but I guess there is nothing more energising, boosting than a medal………hope for better things to come!!!!

  23. @Arvind : All of us have to change our mindset. The government and the common man too. All of us have to do it together. I am hopeful.

    @lionheart : Thanks and Welcome!! 🙂

    @Anand : Quite interesting. The Guardian article is quite similar to what I was trying to say. Thanks. 🙂

    @Liju : I am also hopeful that the recent winnings might make us all think in the right direction. We have the potential. What is needed is a direction.

    @Rahul : Yes, its so good that the situation is better now. Hope floats. 🙂

    @Su : Well!! We can start collecting the raw materials for starters. 🙂

  24. One should not forget two very important things apart from the facilities provided and govt support when it comes to sports:

    1. Climate

    Majority of India reels under a harsh climate above 35 deg. on an average. This, combined with the humidity at certain places makes it extremely difficult to play sports which require extremely physical capabilities. China, has an upper edge over India in this case (Comparing from a Developing nation perspective) as most of China never sees temperatures of > 30 deg. at any time of the year.
    Source []

    2. Food

    To perform, you need to eat food that provide you not only the energy but also the stamina to perform. Have a look at this link and decide how much fuel would your rocket require even if you think about reaching the moon


  25. well said!!!
    now after the session of blaming our govt, “off gen” parents, n the whole system..
    the responsibility of ‘takin india to the moon’ mission, thoroughly lies on the current day “youngistan” 😉 😛
    so, letz not follow the age old tradition of sayin NO to sports big time..

  26. @Nishant : I agree with you about the climate factor and that the food that guy is eating is amazing!!! But then his metabolism is very abnormal and he is burning it regularly too. But the commitment is amazing. I am surprised. Thanks for the link. 🙂

    @Rav2911 : Yes. Amen to that!! 🙂

    @Vaibhav : Thanks a ton!! I am honored. 🙂

  27. Pingback: Nominations So Far… « Visceral Observations

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  29. hello amit,
    i hv been reading ur post since couple of weeks back..
    I enjoy ur writting.. they are satirical but its justified..

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