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No Fear No Favour

Why Athletes shouldn’t be blamed for lack of medals in Olympics.

On tuesday when Abhinav Bindra failed to win medal in 10 m Air Rifle, Indian media takes no time to start their negative press, Instead of praising the good performance of Abhinav Bindra, as he scored 4th position in the game, media is more concerned about losing the medal and not about the performance itself. Bindra’s trainer Heinz Reinkemeier was also not happy with the negative press, “Let me be very clear. This is a problem of the media. They just come and want gold. They are not interested in the sport or the individuals. They just want gold, gold, gold,” Heinz Reinkmeier told reporters after Bindra bid a final goodbye to the shooting range with a fourth place finish. Yes, i agree with Heinz Reinkmeier, only medals should not be the criteria to judge athletes capability, fourth place finish is not bad at all, yes a ‘medal’ finish is better but fourth place finish is not a complete disaster at all. Talent like Abhinav Bindra is rare when you think about the condition of sports in general, you will realise that how tough it is for Indian talents to cope up with some brilliant sport countries players in an event like Olympics, not to mentions our lack of sporting talents in general.


There is no doubt that India has sporting talent, so why does it fail to translate this into Olympic success?
It would be untrue to say that India does not produce good sportsmen at all, in cricket, our passionate obsession, Sachin Tendulkar is one of the sport’s greatest player ever, not to mention Virat Kohli epic rise in cricket. The Indian cricket team holds the world one-day title and was until recently the Number 1 Test team in the world. The Indian men’s field hockey team won six consecutive Olympic Golds in the mid-20th century (field hockey accounts for more than half of India’s historical total of 20 Olympic medals).

There have been some academic studies that suggest the total population of a country is irrelevant when it comes to Olympic medal tallies, but that rather what counts is the part of a population that participates effectively in sports. Anirudh Krishna and Eric Haglund argue in a 2008 report in the Indian publication Economic and Political Weekly that “Olympians are drawn, not from the entire population of a country, but only from the share that is effectively participating. Low medal tallies can arise both because a country has very few people and because very few of its people effectively participate.”

They go on to contend that there are certain factors that limit effective participation. Those factors, they say, are health, education, public information and what they call ‘physical connectedness’ i.e. a population’s ability to travel. In other words, an unhealthy individual is unlikely to participate in sport; an educated individual is likely to be more ambitious and school attendance increases the chance that talent will be spotted and developed; in terms of public information, an individual can only aspire to be an Olympic athlete if he or she has heard about the Olympics via the media; and where there is little ‘physical connectedness’ in remote, isolated villages, many sporting jewels may go undiscovered. In rural India, where life expectancy and primary school enrolment are below the world average and where there is more limited access to the outside world both physically and communication-wise, much of the effective participating population is lost.

But the 2011 Indian Census tells us that the urban population in India is over 3.2 billion people, the equivalent of the USA and Russia combined. That is still a massive pool of talent and one that is becoming wealthier at a faster rate than almost anywhere else on Earth. So the question remains: why the lack of medals?

The problem is not with lack of sports but it’s more of a general concern about longetivity in sports, Parents here have the authority to take the decisions in their child’s life. India was not a sports nation. Especially post-independence, Indian parents gave a lot of importance to academics and sport was considered as a “time pass” activity or just for recreational purpose. Sport was never a priority for a majority of parents and their kids. In fact we have a saying in Hindi – India’s National language – “Kheloge kudoge to honge kharab, padhoge likhoge to banoge nawab” which means that your life will be a waste if you play but if you study or do well in academics you will be a king.

We are more concern about academic rather than physical education. Although we have the best of the academic schools and universities, we do not have good sports facilities and good sports academics. We did not have well maintained playgrounds; equipment was not available and if it was, then it was not in good condition, no proper support staff, no athlete-friendly sports policies. Not to mention corruption and favouritism issues which made athletes to think about their career choices, MaryKom fight with Boxing Associations is a clear example, however while India still has a long way to go, things are looking up to get better. We are still in the developing phase. Young Indians are given opportunity but the facilities and opportunities are not enough, we still have to improve a lot. India’s government seems to smell change in the wind: It allocated $7 million more to the 2016-2017 sports budget than it did the previous year. And compared to China, where athletes often need state permission to compete or travel abroad, the Indian situation is downright rosy. Things are definitely changing now and are changing for the better. That’s actually seen in an improvement in the performance of our athletes in the CommonWealth Games and London Olympic Games.

India does have several reasons for optimism: Rio provided its best medal total and it is sending its largest ever delegation of athletes to the Games (118) which includes real medal prospects in wrestling and shooting. Nobody is expecting miracles, but success breeds success; if any new Indian hero like Abhinav Bindra in Beijing 2008 or wrestler Sushil Kumar in London 2012 emerges from Rio Olympics, there are hundreds of millions of youngsters back in India ready to try and emulate them. So at last i’m saying is don’t lose hope and don’t blame players if they did not grab medals in Rio Olympics, things will change eventually and if the pacing is right we will see ourselves competing with countries like China, USA and Australia in leading points tally.

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