Country of a billion plus people and a single medal, why?

Michael Phelps an individual manages to win 8 gold medals in a single Olympic and India a country of a Billion plus people manages to win just one and that too after a long hiatus of 20 years.

I read a post by Arun Prabhudesai on his blog about the wild celebrations on Bindra winning gold. Abhinav Bindra the first individual gold winner for India is showered with gifts and money from the Governments, politicians and businessmen. Indian media goes gaga over the victorious Olympian as the icon starved country finds a new sporting hero. Arun makes a point that although Bindra’s feat is commendable, we shouldn’t go overboard with our celebrations and forget the ground reality that it’s a pity that in a country of 1.2 billion people we have to be content with a single medal!

Arun blames the popularity of cricket for the sorry state of other sports in the country. I don’t agree.

Q: Why aren’t people following and supporting other sports?

A: Because they are supporting cricket!

Q: Why are people supporting and watching cricket?

A: Because it’s the only sport where we have some kind of credibility. Even though our cricket team has its on and off days, it’s the only sport which has managed to win some titles for India in the recent past.

People worship heroes. People follow winners. People need icons to look up to. Cricket has a lot of winners. It keeps producing winners. There’s no dearth of superstars in Cricket at the individual level. When it comes to cricket, we may not be the best but we do have the “potential” to beat best the best (Australia) occasionally and we sometimes do. That’s enough for people. The key word here is potential. Cricket rules in India because at least it has the potential to be amongst the world’s best. Can we even dream of Sania beating Maria Sharapova? Can we even dream of Indian Hockey team winning the Hockey world cup? Especially after the team fails to even qualify for the Olympics? The answer is NO. No other sports with the exception of may be Chess (Vishwanathan Anand) can claim to be amongst the world best!

Why is it so?

It is not in our genes
Lets face it. We Indians lack the winning spirit. Most of the time we don’t play to win, we just play. We are not born athletes like Australians who are so keen on winning. They play to win. We have very few people who actually have that fighting spirit. Although this is changing, we have a long way to go yet.

The infrastructure
I read an article on Michael Phelps’s daily diet on Rediff. The only thing that guy ever does is eat, sleep and swim. How many of our athletes can actually afford to do that? How can one be the best if he is occupied with the routine stuff of the life? Bindra could manage to win gold because he had the resources to get the best training. Parents in India don’t encourage their kids to engage in sports from the early age because there’s no career in sports except may be cricket. And even if you do have resources to get the best training, if you are playing a team sport like Hockey or Football, your chances are making up to a big league are slim as your team mates may not be fortunate enough to afford the same level of training and facilities as you do. Look at Baichung Bhutia, he is probably the best football player India has produced and definitely has the potential to be counted amongst world’s best. But can he ever dream of playing for India in a football world cup? You know the answer!

Sports is managed and controlled by the government instead of private parties
That’s probably the biggest reason why we aren’t good at any major sport. Socialism is bad for everything be it business or be it sports. Cricket rules because it is not managed and funded by the government. BCCI runs it as a private establishment. They run it for profit. The rules of the game are simple – you pay good salary to your players, so more and more people will be attracted to join the sport, the more people take up the sport, the more chances of producing heroes, invest in facilities and better training and produce champions, once your champions start winning, money will start pouring in, with more money you can pay even more to your players and that will attract even more people to the sport and the cycle continues.

Sports in private hands is treated as a business. Players are like products and their victories are like sales on which the sport can make profit. Government in India approves budget for promoting sports, build a few stadiums,training facilities, funds some training camps and then proceeds to manage it all by itself! The administrators don’t have any personal motivation to further the cause of the sport. And the funding provided is almost always not sufficient. Just have a look at the training facilities provided for the Hockey team in the movie Chak De. Compare the dorm room of Hockey players with the dressing room of a cricket stadium. Our Hockey administration can’t even afford the astro-turfs which are a de facto standard for International Hockey matches.

This is the story with every government managed establishment in India. Its it not government’s job to run corporations, be it a business venture or a sports governing body. Any venture can not succeed if the people running it aren’t personally rewarded/punished for the success/failure of the venture. In a private organization if you don’t meet your targets you get the boot, in a government undertaking that’s not the case. So office bearers don’t care if their players win or lose.

Someone might argue that even in China it’s the government that regulates and manages the sporting bodies then how come China manages to win gold after gold? In China, it’s not the government, rather the Communist party that wants to prove itself to the world. The ruling party of China wants to put its best face in front of the world. The Chinese are driven by a specific agenda of winning most gold at the Olympic. People in China don’t take up sports because they love the game, it’s because the government “breeds” athletes. China “grows” medal winners and so no stone if left unturned when it comes to training athletes and sportsmen. Best training eventually produces best athletes. In China government is committed to the task of furthering sports. Not for the sake of sports, but to prove its one-upmanship over US of A in every field which includes sports. India has no such agenda so government here is least concerned with promotion of sports so whatever medals we happen to win are like a consolation price. After all something’s better than nothing.

At the end it all boils down to money. People don’t have money to be able to afford world class training so they can’t compete at the world stage. Money comes to only those who manage to win, but you can win only if you can afford to invest in training. Whatever little we have in terms of good athletes in the form of Vishwanathan Anand, Sania Mirza, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupati or Abhinav Bindra were fortunate enough to have the resources to get the best training possible. It’s the same logic – you invest money – you get best training – you win something – money starts flowing and then it goes on. The issues is of that initial investment, it is clear what the government is doing is not enough so unless we have more wealthy people in India who can afford to get best training for their kids we will have to be happy with whatever we manage to win!

Country of a billion plus people and a single medal, why?
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