Commonwealth Games 2018: Why India needs to start taking swimming seriously
The Gold Coast Commonwealth Games turned out to be decent for India. While they didn't match the energy or the achievements of the New Delhi Games in 2010, they surely brought some great moments. From Mirabai Chanu's record-breaking lifts to Manika Batra's brilliant performances the Games from Gold Coast were memorable for the fans owing to the success of various sportsmen and sportswomen.
One sport which was not able to keep up with others in terms of medals or progression for India was swimming.
It is widely known that swimming has the most number of events, as well as, the most number of medals on the line in any multi-sport big-ticket event. And yet, India has never taken the sport seriously.
India amassed 66 medals over the course of 11 days- 26 Gold, 20 Silver, and 20 Bronze. None of these medals were, however, from swimming. In comparison, table toppers Australia won 198 medals, out of which 73 were from swimming. The proportion of medals in swimming to that of the other sports is such that Australia was able to win more medals in swimming itself than India won overall.
How some other countries have reaped the benefits from swimming
India's disappointing performances in swimming are nothing new. Taking a sneak peek into the past, one will find that India has had terrible returns in swimming. Across the last five editions of the Commonwealth Games, India has won a total of 350 medals, out of which only one came through swimming.
This is not restricted to only the Commonwealth Games. Ever since the origin of the Asian Games, Indian swimmers have won 9 medals. To provide a bit of perspective, Japan in the same period has won 646.
If we compare India to its close rivals Australia and China, one will find that India has been left far behind in swimming. China has been one of the most consistent performers in the pool in International tournaments. It is in second place, behind Japan in the all-time swimming medal tally, with a total of 352 medals.
Australia currently stands at the top of the all-time Commonwealth Games table. Much of that success is owed to swimming. In this edition itself, Australian swimmers gained 73 medals, ranking them above most countries' overall medal tally. Australia won 57 medals in swimming in Glasgow four years ago and 70 in New Delhi, further back in time.
Step-motherly treatment towards swimming in India
One cannot deny that there has been a clear disregard towards swimming by the authorities as well. Such is the state of swimming in our country that Sajan Prakash, who was dubbed India's Michael Phelps, threatened to sell his national level medals for funds. Sajan also had to spend money from his own pocket in order to take part in international events.
Apart from a clear lack of funding, India also lacks a culture in which swimming can thrive. While sports like Boxing and Wrestling have been around in the rural areas for a long time, passed down from generation to generation, swimming is a sport that was never viewed as a viable option. Although there are millions of Indians who derive their living from the elements involved in swimming, there are few who dream of diving into the pool professionally.
Virdhawal Khade has been one of the few success stories of Indian swimming. Khade holds one of the nine medals that India has one in the Asian Games till date. However, he recognized the same challenges when speaking about the sport a couple of years ago. Khade admitted that there is a clear lack of swimming culture in India which in part is due to the irregularity of the National competitions. He also indicated that Indian contingent needs 12-15 swimmers in every international tournament if they wish to succeed in the pool. In the most recent international tournament, the Commonwealth Games, India sent five swimmers.
Khade spoke about the need to hold regular domestic competitions as well in order to keep the sport in the news and to attract more youngsters to the sport.
Swimming in India has also been shrouded in controversy with a conflict brewing in between the authorities and the Indian head coach Pradeep Sreedharan who has not been paid his dues since 2010.
It is a shame that a sport as rewarding as swimming has to go through such disregard in India. Whether it is due to the lack of efforts directed towards the sport by the authorities or due to the lack of popular interest, there is only one loser here- India.
There needs to be a clear restructuring here starting with directing funds in the direction of the sport. Better and more structured national competitions need to take place, an initiative which is already happening in the form of Khelo India. Hopefully, in the near future authorities, as well as the general population, will realize the cost of ignoring such a huge sport and work towards the betterment of it.