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India Has Only 35 Medals Till Date. What Stops Us From Winning Big At The Olympics?

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By Tina Garg

Tokyo Olympics finally ended on August 8, and we managed to bring home seven medals in total (one gold, two silvers and four bronze medals). It is the highest number so far for us, ever since the Olympics commenced.

But a mere seven medals for a country housing over 1.36 billion people is hard to believe, isn’t it?

Mirabai Chanu won a silver medal for India at the Tokyo Olympics, in weightlifting. Photo credit: @mirabai_chanu, Instagram.

Few could say that we probably lack talent. But, there are countries with far lower populations bagging so many more medals. The US, for example, won 113 medals when its population is just over 331 million.

So, it is difficult for me to grasp that even though we have one billion more people than them, we don’t have as much talent as them.

One could argue that it is probably because we are not as rich as those other countries which win the most medals. And I would agree.

We are not as rich as the USA or Germany, but financially competent with countries like Cuba, Jamaica, Brazil, or Ecuador. These countries, like India, do not have a strong economy but this does not prevent them from winning more medals than us.

India started competing in the Olympics in 1900. To date, we have only 35 medals and a mere 10 golds. The majority of them are from our past performances in hockey. So, what are we doing wrong?

Poor Sports Culture In India 

Let’s start with the root of the problem—how people perceive sports in the country. Remember when we used to play sports in school? No? Oh yeah, of course.

How would you remember when those sports periods were substituted by the Math or Science ones because the teachers thought sports doesn’t help in life, but the Pythagoras theorem will!

Most of our parents held a negative view of sports and games. They discouraged us from participating in any activity remotely related to sports. Even if the child had talent and wanted to make a career in a sport, they were not allowed to pursue it.

Then, there is a serious lack of sports infrastructure. There are many parks where there is a strict warning that sports of any kind are not allowed. To prevent them from playing, the ground is splashed with water.

Now, I have just one question to ask from such people—what are kids supposed to do in parks, if not play?

After this, can you blame the child for watching too much television, when grown-ups are doing everything possible to stop them from participating in sports?

We do not want our children to become a generation of spectators. Rather we want each of them to be a participant in the vigorous life,” said US President John F. Kennedy in the ’60s.

We, in India, are making absolutely sure that our kids have no choice but to be glued to their mobile and TV screens.

Sports culture needs to improve for us to have a better chance at winning medals at the Olympics. Representational image. Photo credit: Zee5.

Lack Of Sports Infrastructure

India’s GDP (gross domestic product) per capita is among the lowest in the world, not even comparable to countries like the USA, China, and Germany. This lack of funds combined with the practice of corruption is not the best combination for sports development.

Each medal costs the UK 5.5 million pounds. That’s the sort of investment needed. Let’s not expect much until we put systems in place at home,tweeted Abhinav Bindra, in 2016.

Sports require a massive amount of investment. Providing a nutritional diet to players, building stadiums and complexes, and hiring the best coaches comes under the preliminary requirements, and India can barely manage it.

It has also been observed that most sports persons come from rural India, and belong to economically weaker sections of society. For them, financial security is an important factor, which sports fail to provide in India. Hence, very few people actually take sports as a career.

Cricket: The Supreme Religion In India

Imagine representing your country on an international platform, winning a medal in the sport, but getting hardly any cheers from your own countrymen. That’s what happens with every sportsperson who plays any sport other than cricket.

Every victory in cricket is regarded and appreciated by people. Cricketers are regarded as celebrities. Everyone wants to know what happens in the lives of Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

But, have you ever shown interest in following an archer or a kabbadi player? Did you even know what javelin’s throw was before Neeraj Chopra won gold in it? If we don’t encourage other players, then the motivation to bring home a medal is naturally lower.

Are We Really At A Genetic Disadvantage?

At the beginning of this article, I wrote that even poor countries like Jamaica and Kenya perform considerably well in the Olympics. So, what gives them the advantage over us to win medals? The answer could be genes.

Long and middle-distance races are dominated by Kenyan athletes from Rift Valley, while sprinting is dominated by athletes from Jamaica. These countries have identified their strengths and made sure that they are invincible there.

india medals sports
Athletes from Kenya have a genetic advantage in long-distance races. Representational image. Photo credit:

India’s strength was hockey. Our players were used to trap, dribble, and pass the ball on the grass surfaces. Nobody in the world could do it as well as our players.

But, the problem started when they started playing it on astro-turf, which our players were not familiar with. So, they changed the rules of that one sport which was our strength.

Will The Situation Ever Change?

Probably. There is not a clear yes or no answer to this. The situation can change. But, the first thing that needs changing is our attitude towards sports. Physical education should be made a compulsory requirement in schools.

Not only will this help find good players, but also give students a chance to direct their energy somewhere.

Our country needs more sports complexes. Recently, Odisha’s cabinet approved the proposal to construct 89 indoor stadiums in different urban areas with an investment of a little over ₹690 crore.

More such decisions are needed in every state to boost the culture of sports in the country.

If every winner was showered with the kind of support that Neeraj Chopra got this time, then this would increase the morale of players. They would have an incentive to win, the incentive being recognition and fame.

Who knows? Maybe the next Olympics would be India’s time to shine.

Note: The article was originally published here.

Featured image, taken from Wikimedia Commons, is for representational purposes only.
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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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