Glamorising our performance at London 2012, different sections of the Indian media reported that India had doubled their medal tally at the Olympics, in comparison to Beijing 2008. A dose of reality – the ‘doubling’ consists of only an extra three medals, none of them Gold. So have we really improved from Beijing 2008? There are different ways of interpreting and answering this question.
With regards to individual athletes, yes most of the athletes competing for India at London 2012 did improve on their performances from Beijing. Sushil Kumar has now won consecutive medals in wrestling, which is no common feat. The Indian shooting contingent continued their good showings at International events, adding another medal to their count from Beijing. Indian female athletes have shown a much-improved performance, embodied in the fighting spirit of Mary Kom and Saina Nehwal, who can hopefully inspire the next generation of female athletes.
Looking at it objectively, yes we did win three more medals than Beijing, but we also won no Gold medal and finished 55th in the ranking table, as compared to 50th in Beijing. Compared to other nations in the BRICS economies, India’s population to medal ratio at London 2012 is the worst at approximately 201 million people per medal. Compare this to Brazil (≈113 million), China (≈15 million), South Africa (≈8 million) and Russia (≈0.17 million).
Ironically, our best-ever medal haul at Olympics coincided with the falling standards in our national sport, where we are eight-time Olympic champions. We stand nowhere in the development ladder in the sport of Weightlifting, a sport where we won a breakthrough bronze in 2000 Sydney Games. Similarly, we are years away from winning medals in the sporting disciplines of Athletics, Gymnastics or Swimming, where the maximum medals are on offer, and these are also the disciplines the Olympics are most popular for. For India to become a sporting power our best brains need to join this industry and the spotlight needs to be on building a strong grassroots base.
Unless long-term programs are in place with funding at different levels, our performance will fade out like it has in the sport of Tennis where we have an odd “Paes”, “Bhupathi” and “Sania” to show for results. We need accountable and professional sporting bodies for building a sustainable sports model. Our current system doesn’t educate sportspersons to be self-sustainable; there are no career development practices for athletes in our sporting set-up. With all due respect to the sports minister Ajay Maken, we are not convinced about the government spoon-feeding elite athletes by offering them officer grade jobs at the Sports Authority of India (SAI). What about their qualifications? Is the National Institute of Sports (NIS) really a centre of excellence where our Olympians will be able to learn the best practices? If this was the case, we would have in place indigenous coaches, not foreign think tanks, in our sports structure.
What about the sportspersons who are just international or national-level athletes? What measures has our system put in place to support them? We just cannot afford to polish the elite set-up and ignore the grassroots. How are the state or national federations helping these athletes to remain in the set-up and contribute to the development of their respective sports? There is a young battery of sports professionals who are pursuing different degrees from some of the best sporting institutions abroad, but our government guidelines doesn’t recognise the qualifications. You must be qualified from the NIS or a medal winner at the national-level to work in the government set-up. The authorities don’t reconise the UEFA or the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) or the Australian Sports Commission qualifications for government jobs here.
Our higher education institutions (Government-run colleges and universities) still insist on an MPEd for a sports officer position. The job profile requires one to manage sports and the sporting infrastructure at the establishment. What about those who are pursuing sport management? Is the degree only relevant for sports marketing companies in the private sector? Furthermore, there is a requirement for clearing a National Eligibility Test (NET) for teaching positions at an educational institution. Is a sports officer job a teaching or an administrative position? The flaws are many; we may be satisfied with our six medals, but to repeat the heroics and convert these performances into gold will demand a much more prudent system than exists now.
By Aman Dhall & Suheil Tandon
(The authors are Co-founders & Partners at Pro4Sport Solutions, a high-performance coaching firm that trains young athletes in the sport of Basketball, Cricket, Football and Table Tennis)