Posted by: Vikram | August 13, 2008

Why India is non existent at the Olympics and possible solutions

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,

Public information
along with population size stands out as the consistently
significant factor.

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.


  1. I agree. You have hit the nail on its proverbial head this time. May be they also need to limit the “air time” that cricket gets on TV. North Eastern young people often play soccer and in small villages in Punjab where I am from its common for boys and girls to play Hockey and Soccer. Wrestling is popular as well. Although they never get the resources that can take them further partially because they do not see these sports as a career and also because of apathy of the so called government.

    Well its good to here that both girls and boys are playing, and that too sports other than cricket. I think if schools and colleges in India had more serious athletics programs (like they do in the US), these boys and girls could definitely get jobs as instructors in the schools. In America, you actually take a sport (like soccer) as a subject in high school. In fact they even offer orchestra and band as courses. We seem to want to be like America in so many (not so good) ways, why not emulate these good things about them !

  2. There has been a spurt in the sale of air guns in Punjab after Abhinav’s feat. It has been estimated that the Olympic gold might quickly make him worth Rs 25 crores or so, right there with the cricketers.

    The obsession with cricket has a lot to do not just with the fact that India is up there with the best in the world(in a field of eight!) but that it is inseparably linked with the glamour of Bollywood. And Indians can’t get enough of that.

    Sania Mirza’s glamour has done wonders for tennis. Whether that will translate into Grand Slam Champs or not is another matter. With Abhinav’s success, and the money and glamour that will follow him, Indians will start looking beyond cricket a little more.

    The government has made a mess of sports. But with the corporates entering this field and basic education, things might begin to look up. LN Mittal was involved with Abhinav and had sent him to Germany for training before the Olympics. He has now announced an award of Rs1.5 crores from his Champions trust.

    It will take a few more Olympics. But India should start getting gold regularly after that. Soney ki Chidiya!

    Yes, it is good to see that the corporates are getting involved. Abhinav also has a blog in which he extols the Indian people not to simply blow up winners who come up after years of hard work but to fully support athletes throughout the ups and downs of their careers.

  3. […] in sports‘ and even ‘corruption‘ !! I talked about these things myself, but realize that the issue in urban Indian is very different. Let me just point out that Russia is […]

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