How India lost the Olympics
How India lost the Olympics
With just two medals at Rio 2016 for India, what does this say about the country in terms of culture, society and attitude towards sport?
India’s abysmal performance at Rio 2016 says a lot about the country as a whole. The BBC posed the question aptly ‘Olympic losers: Why is India so bad at sport?’ The list of countries who performed better includes Slovenia, Republic of Korea, Kazakhstan, Iran and 61 others.
On the other hand, the fact that the two medals won were by female athletes might also be hailed as a success. What might we draw as overall conclusions, especially when it comes to sport and development?
Some would argue that as a developing nation, the Olympics shouldn’t take the spotlight when it comes to India's priorities. The comparison of India to the USA, UK or even China isn’t necessarily a useful one. It is said that the UK spends approximately £4.5m per medal and this was achieved through national lottery funds. For India, this money would arguably be better spent on improving basic needs.
However, sport pervades all parts of life and many aspects of a society: health, equality, economy, culture, politics and more. India spends lavishly on defence and, controversially, space programmes. To argue that money equals success in sport suggests that it is elitist, though sport and development programmes prove it is not.
Only one Indian, the rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra, has ever won an individual Olympic gold medal. Unfortunately, a chapter in his memoirs is entitled “Mr Indian Official: Thanks for Nothing”. Corruption continues to infest and create a barrier to progress for athletes.
A nation that has a history of gender inequality, it was in fact India’s women who were the saviours of Rio 2016, winning all the medals for their country. Despite this, the Indian authorities let down a top female athlete, OP Jaisha, when water was not available during her marathon, leading to her being rushed to hospital afterwards.
India has proven that despite its challenges it can perform in sport: it is a world leader in cricket. A more supportive system and a change of attitude could lead the country to mirror this success in other sports as well.
While India emerges as a significant economy and catches up with the rest of the world in research, technology, talent, industrial innovation and in other realms, it seems the time has come to put sport up there too. Historically, there are reasons that explain the poor performance at Rio, and it seems obvious how these barriers can be challenged. If India could now take the baton and reach for the stars, sport could well be the solution. Through a combined singular effort of everyone involved, putting others’ interests ahead of their own, the future is bright…perhaps bright, shining gold.
This article is a prequel to an upcoming series highlighting various aspects of sport and development in India.