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The other side of the Olympic divide

What sets the adrenalin flowing? Not religion, not war, not politics, but sports it is that gets the juices out.

My earliest memory of the Olympics is the cover story in the Illustrated Weekly of India in the autumn of 1976.  It read, “600 Million Indians—Not One Bronze!”  Today that population has doubled. Luckily we haven’t returned from the Rio Olympics empty handed. Silver and bronze are the counts, and thousands of ‘patriots’ are gung-ho about it.  

Therein perhaps lies the reason why don't do well at the greatest sports show on earth: the readiness to accept being an underachiever as the norm.  Not just in sports but in life as well.  

While we have rightfully given the top performers a rock star’s welcome and showered them with gifts, it is time we genuinely looked at what’s wrong.  A tiny country like Jamaica produces speedsters on an assembly line. A Phelps has as much, if not more medals, than what India has in the Olympics. It hurts.

I don't think that the players are to blame though some of them are hardcore professionals who have cut their grade in international circuit and should have done infinitely better. I am not pointing an accusing finger at anybody, but when you stretch the rules to let an ageing superstar play when the man who has rightfully qualified doesn't want to partner him, you realise that our priorities are wrong.  

I also don't buy this business of the spirit of the game is just to participate. That was all right so long as the game was meant for amateurs and the players had a different occupation or profession. Today, most of these sportspersons earn their living out of the game. They practise long hours. Also, no one wants to play to lose. So let’s get this straight: we must play only to win.

There is this dumb crap that sports doesn't pay and that our parents push our children to study than to play.  First, sports does pay. Some of our cricketers are stinking rich thanks to the game. Ask Saina Nehwal, Leander Paes and

Sania Mirza and now P V Sindhu.  Also, the world over only sportsmen who have struck it big laugh their way to the bank. If the charge is against the parents and their propensity to spend on studies, then logically we should have by now produced hundreds of Nobel Prize winners.

The trouble is we are argumentative

In a sense, money spends and prizes won, are a chicken and egg story. Aren’t our cricketers world beaters?  Did the money come first, or did the world beating come first? We grudge our movie stars their money. Behind every prize money and handclaps,  are thousands of hours of hard work. The trouble is that, as a nation, we are argumentative. Watch how we instantly troll even well-meaning people.

Personally, I think it is the chaltha hai attitude that hurts. This is true not just in sports but in real life as well. The son doesn't do well in academics, and dad says, “it's okay; after all, Sachin Tendulkar was no great scholar.”  I agree we need to be positive, but positivity has to come with corrective action.  

One way out is to create the infrastructure across the country in respect of the games that we think we have the competence to win. We must identify a talent pool and let corporate entrepreneurs manage it backed by coaches who have played the game. If a Gopichand can help produce two world-beaters by working in isolation, imagine what would happen if we worked with concerted action! The political class should be shown the door. There is no need to pamper officials while the real champions suck it out.

Victory at the Olympics will feed our hunger to perform better. And that will set the ball rolling. We need to spread the word. We need to ensure like the army does, that the athletes also at that time get appropriate education.  

In short, how about  ‘sports’ as a college degree?


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