The entire Indian nation is celebrating Abhinav Bindra’s Olympic achievement, well at least the minority of upper and middle class Indians are. People who otherwise wont let their kids think of anything apart from Engineering and Business are now wearing their patriotism on their sleeves. The ‘middle-class-populist’ English language media is going to make this entire affair into a chest thumping, jingoistic exercise just to make sure that people tune in the next time they report on whom actor X is dating and which NRI said or did what.
But that aside, there is no getting away from the truth that India’s achievements in the international sports arena are dismal. But why ? Well for starters the expectations might be a bit much, after all doing well at the Olympics is a desire of the Indian middle class, not the aspiration of its toiling masses. But what is the exact scientific reason for India’s sub-par displays ? Well, Anirudh Krishna and Eric Haglund try to answer this question, and I think they mostly get it right.
The author’s say that most Indians dont even know what the Olympics are !! And those that do know what the Olympics are either too obsessed with cricket or with exams to care. Krishna and Haglund surveyed people’s career aspirations in rural Rajasthan and Karnataka. Guess how many aspired to be doing anything related to sports ?
Not one among these
villagers interviewed expressed any desire to become an Olympic
athlete or any other type of sports personality.
Even if they did know about these games, many would correctly point out that without the right training and infrastructure aspiration’s matter little. This may be true, but as the BBC point out in their excellent series, many athletes from around the world come up even in very difficult circumstances. And working against the odds is a matter of daily life for almost all Indians, except most of our politicians, who just work against common sense. It is interesting to note that India’s entry in the BBC series is not working against the odds of civil war, famine or total lack of infrastructure but against the apathy and indifference of a cricket mad nation. Indeed the authors of the article point out,
along with population size stands out as the consistently
So, how is awareness to be spread about sports in India ? Well for starters start an annual, highly televized and popularized intra-state sports meet. For now, hold them in places like Mumbai instead of Guwahati (I mean no offence). Put a sports tax on cricket, for the simple reason that it makes so much money and ask the IPL to do its part in popularizing these games. Broaden the horizons of sports in our schools beyond just P.T. teacher, so ex athletes become sports instructors in some schools and train and inspire a new generation of athletes, this is common in America.
I conclude with another quote from the paper,
Advancing information and enabling access are as much a
critical part of raising Olympic achievement as they are of
enhancing development success and other achievements.
so spreading awareness might do more than just win India a few Olympic medals.