The Tokyo Olympics for India had various ups and downs with mixed sentiments. India sent its biggest-ever Olympic contingent to Tokyo and optimists projected it would bring home a record of double-digit medals but it came home with 7. Despite India’s massive population of more than 1.2 billion people, India consistently fails to grab many medals at the Olympic Games. Tokyo was no exception. Let’s examine some reasons behind this
As per the 2011 census, 21.9% of our population lives below the national poverty. As per the 2020 Global Hunger Index, India’s rank is 94th out of 107 countries where 14% of the Indian population is undernourished and you can’t expect a sportsperson from a person who even fights for food.
The famous saying of “padhogay likhogay banogay nawab, khelogay kudogay banogay kharab (If you study you will become good if you spend your time playing you will become bad)” is somehow still prevalent. During the initial growing days, parents insist on physical activities and sports but a stage arrives when parents want their child to solely focus on status and see sports as a hindrance to academics.
By pushing children towards academics than other co-curricular including sports, sports fade into the background and just become a hobby where sports is seen as a health supplement rather than a skill to excel at. Indian parents don’t see a return on investment in sports as there isn’t any job security and why would a parent send his child to a field where career choices are few.
Rashmita Patra was an ardent Indian footballer, and now she is working at a Betel Shop. Asha Roy was the fastest athlete in India when she clocked 11.85 seconds and now she is a vegetable seller. Dinesh Kumar is Asian games silver medalist in boxing, who was given the Arjuna Award, is now selling kulfi for survival. Sita Sahu is a double Special Olympics medalist for India is now forced to sell goll gappas to make a living. So why would parents send their children to sports when they aren’t assured of a stable future even if they excel in the sport?
Have you ever thought about why Gully cricket is amongst the most famous sport in India? The answer is the dearth of sports infrastructure where you don’t have ample sports facilities and playgrounds but can’t stop children’s urge to play. The lack of infrastructural facilities is one of the major constraints in the process of the development of sports in India. With a lack of resources, little is left for sports allocation.
Sports only contribute 0.1% share of our GDP, while globally the industry is sized at around 0.5% of GDP share. Thus, there is a failure to provide basic infrastructure and this inadequate sports facility creates a divide between the rich and poor which excludes poor talented sports enthusiasts because of their financial circumstances.
Tokyo Olympics offered 339 gold medals and the 3 most rewarding sports are Aquatics, Athletics, and cycling with 49, 48, and 22 gold medals respectively and the status of the infrastructure of these sports is miserable. Furthermore, participation is quite negligible in these sports. Tokyo Olympics has 33 sports in total where Indian participation was in only 20. We are not competing in 33% of sports.
We have witnessed several incidents where an athlete is forced to take low-paying jobs as we lack a proper sports policy and this leaves only a few options with the athletes and makes parents hesitant to send their children to the field of sports. Lack of Govt support is a prime hurdle regardless of social stigma.
Abinav Bindra, Olympic Gold Medalist, in his autobiography “A Shot At History” says all government support is directed towards the elite athletes. That leads to struggling young talents being denied rightful support. “The biggest missing link in sports in our country is the lack of a strong support at the base when the kids are starting,” – says Bindra. This was agreed by the then Sports Minister of India Ajay Maken. India undoubtedly fails their athletes by the lack of subsidized training, facilities, and gear at the right time.
Corruption and scandals within the Indian Sports Federation are a nightmare. The 2010 Commonwealth games exposed it beautifully where Indian players were forced to play with partners they didn’t want to. 13 Arjuna Award winners along with 25 other athletes reported corrupt practices of the sports bodies that control the infrastructure. Many openly stated they were threatened since they asked for monetary support. Many athletes and coaches have complained that India’s chief medical officer at Rio Olympics had a standard response to most complaints of injuries; a dose of Combiflam. He is a radiologist and son of the vice-president of the Indian Olympic Association.
The culture of India preaches that people who earn out of physical activities are low grade while the white collars are considered professional and elite. The situation is much worse for women. Sania Mirza withdrew from the Bangalore Open in 2008 since conservative torch bearers screamed that a female Muslim is “exposing” her body with unacceptable attire. Since then, there have been no WTA events sanctioned in India. End of a dream.
At a society level, sports have not been considered as a secure career, except for a few. With the majority of the population consisting of the poor and the middle class, economic aspirations are high. As a result, either the stress is to excel academically or to start earning. This restricts participation in sports.
There is an urgent requirement to fill these gaps while creating a robust sports policy, increasing sports experience, creating sports training centers at all levels – national, provincial, city, and county sports schools, and creating a sports culture within Indian society with more accountability, transparency, and penalties at every level of the federation to combat the malpractice. Above all, we have certain lessons to learn from IPL.
If a sport is commercialized, it identifies more talents and brings them to the spotlight. It generates more revenue for the govt, the federation, and the country in general. We can learn from Haryana which has maximum participation for India in the Tokyo Olympics. Haryana has quite an encouraging sports policy and culture, and as a result, cities like Bhiwani (mini Cuba of India) and Jhajjar (wrestling cradle) are developing as a hub for boxing and wrestling respectively.
The writer is a student of the faculty of the law university of Delhi.