India Must Look Beyond Medals

India's first and only individual gold medal winner, Abhinav Bindra (Image Credit: newsx.com)

India as a country is huge in its size and population, it is a well-documented fact. Broadly speaking about the sports ‘culture’, it comes down to a key element – the purpose. Why would any school or a community provide sporting facilities in India?

Sports is fun and this aspect is associated mostly for children until they reach high school. In my experience, I have seen many students give up sport, with lack of motivation and direction being the two main reasons.

The pressure of the academics, lack of encouragement at schools and at home dictates this shift away from sports. Only a handful group of parents, coaches, schools, colleges and universities encourage these ‘promising athletes’.

The problem with such an arrangement is that, it is not a level-playing FIELD. Those motivating factors are in minority. As a result, India, being a highly populous country feeds a tiny amount of athlete population into the world.

There is room just for a selected few. Influential individuals with talent and those aware get this opportunity, while others have to fight it out to fit in.

So, why would an Indian dream about Olympics?

Olympics is recognised as the pinnacle of all sporting events. Athletes, who take up Olympic sports have a desire to compete, represent and win medals.

In corporate terms, winning an Olympic medal can be compared to executing a dream project. In India, few athletes make the cut, as the room is selective, small and lack resources for more.

So, why there isn’t a bigger room?

After reading the above line, I felt the pressing need to let go of the past and rephrase the question.

How can a bigger room be built?

This sounds better. For the upcoming Olympic Games, India will be sending their largest contingent ever – 105, twenty two more than the previous edition in London. As per estimates, India will be representing 1% of the global Olympic athletes (slightly more than 10,000 athletes).

As of today, India contributes 17.84% towards world’s population. There is no dearth of raw talent at our disposal. And, for that, India needs to have at least 18% of its population participating in sports actively. The encouragement and the path must be clear as a child advances into youth and beyond. An athlete’s need for support increases with age.

Having facilities for athletes ensure, there will be more Indians qualifying at the world events, perform better and thereby get into the Olympics.

Time is ripe in India to have infrastructure and a road map to filter 400 top athletes per Olympic edition. That’s the number United States and China aim for each edition.

If India’s contribution of athletes at the Olympics increase, there is a higher probability of winning more medals, which then paves the way for creating an ecosystem to be in the top five sporting nations of the world.

Hundred athletes is a good start for India (compared with previous editions). However, the grassroots development programme must be accelerated and Government must create jobs for monitoring nationwide sports programme. Private companies must be encouraged to invest in sport as ‘tax-free initiatives’.

BEYOND MEDALS

Winning an Olympic medal is a destination, which many of the Indian athletes figure out by themselves. This know-how must be clear so as to have many prospects taking a shot at the title moving forward.

Looking at the big picture, sports is not just for winning trophies or medals. In a well-established sporting nation, sport is a medium to achieve fitness, maintain health and is ingrained as a part of one’s lifestyle. If this isn’t a motivation to invest in sports, then what is?

Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of modern Olympics stressed – “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part; the important thing in Life is not triumph, but the struggle; the essential thing is not have conquered but to have fought well.”

The above quote reflected the ideals of an amateur sporting spectacle which Olympics was.

In today’s world, the words of the legendary American football player and coach Vince Lombardi makes sense, “If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”

India, so far has heeded well to the quote of Pierre de Coubertin.

If India has serious ambitions to be one of the top sporting nations, it is time to open ears, eyes, minds and pockets in order to understand why medals/prizes are awarded at every sporting event and how only a handful of countries invest their resources to achieve it in an ethical manner.

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