In a (sick/sad) way, I am glad NBC has a delay telecasting Olympics here in the USA. As an Indian living here, I cheer happily for both countries. But the contrast between the two is way too much to ignore.
Lets start with Athletics. Every year, India sends a bunch of athletes to Olympics. There hasn’t been any success – and we still celebrate the 4th place P.T Usha got in Los Angeles in the 80s. Even before they leave India, their coaches will issue defensive statements like “even if we enter the final medal round, we should be proud of it” . Seriously? isn’t that getting old after all these years? Why bother traveling across ocean if the best you can do is nowhere close to getting a medal? If participation is the big deal – why not participate in lesser events and gain the experience?
Almost every retired athlete in India will start an academy in his or her name. Everyone wants to send their wards to Olympics, and do 4 year and 8 year plans. They then go on TV and blame the government a lot for lack of support. If the athlete who started the academy never won an Olympics, or has never coached an Olympic medal winner – what is the chance that they have it in them to do something different? If proof of the pudding is in the eating – well, lets see what comes off next week when the athletics kick off in London. I hope there will be a miracle, knowing well that hope is not a strategy.
Take badminton – where Saina Nehwal is a world class player. She seems to be doing well so far, and good luck to her. And I applaud what P Kashyap is doing too. But the doubles players were atrocious. They just did not play like a 13th ranked team in the world . There just was no intensity in their game.
Or take tennis – where the two big boys have egos fitting a soccer field. India could not field their best pair because they just hate each other. Whether the big boys Paes and Bhupathi would have won in Olympics is yet another question. I would doubt it . In Grand Slams – the top singles players in men’s circuit do not play doubles any more like Connors and McEnroe did years ago. That is not the case in Olympics – where top singles players usually play doubles too. It makes it hard for Paes and Bhupathi to win against players of Roger Federer’s class. Sania Mirza was never a top 10 player in singles, yet is the highest ranked Indian in the mix in women. Does she have a prayer in winning singles ever in Olympics? No – and I would be surprised if her teaming with Paes is going to work out very well after airing dirty laundry in public. After all the fuss – Bhupati and Boppanna who seemed confident of winning a medal, crashed out meekly in second round.
Archery was an area where we had world class competitors. They didn’t do too well either – and were totally outclassed. The lone silver lining is Narang who won a bronze yesterday for shooting. He won a bronze in an event where Bindra had a gold last year. As much as I am happy for him, can we ignore the decline?
All is not lost though – Field Hockey and Boxing are two areas I feel some confidence in. Boxing more so than Hockey. In both these cases the big difference is the difference in preparation that the teams went through. Their coaches are from outside India and they prepared the team to play to its strength. With Hockey – first match did not go well. But the second half was quite good – and I hope the team strikes back. In Boxing, the first rounds were excellent. I was surprised to see how physically fit the boxers and hockey players are now. Way to go – and good luck !
What causes this sob story to repeat each year? I can think of many reasons , but here is the first half dozen that comes to mind.
1. Politicians head sports in India invariably. Most of them have never played at a high level, and have not coached or in several cases not even followed the game. So there is hardly any vision . The one exception probably is our current sports minister who seems quite capable.
2. There is a cultural issue with taking up sports for a living. Other than cricket – most sports don’t have big sponsorship. So most parents won’t encourage kids to make a career in sports. It is changing, but way too slowly
3. Coaching is mostly stuck in the past. Past athletes who themselves were not capable of winning anything are now coaches. Bad idea – we should aim to partner with the best coaches in the world and get Indian coaches exposed to newer methods of training and conditioning. This includes boosting confidence of players
4. Infrastructure sucks in most sports centers. The only way out is to get private sector interested. Government cannot solve it themselves – and we should realize this after all these years.
5. Sports Quota from government needs to be revamped, or done away with. I personally know many who get a government job and never take part in sport ever after.
6. International exposure from young age. Don’t start sending athletes to compete abroad just the year before Olympics. Start sending them from a young age from minor leagues, and build up some bench strength.
I am glad the India – Srilanka cricket matches are there to give something to cheer about now. It is a little less gloomy thanks to that. But who knows – Miracles might happen next week.