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Beyond the Tokyo Olympics
How did India perform at the Tokyo Olympics? There are two diverse answers to this question, ranging from dismally to extremely well.
Those who subscribe to the former view dwell on such things as the fact that a country of this size, the second-most populous in the world, could only bring in a haul of seven medals, of which only one was gold. Moreover, India ranked a poor 48th among the competing nations and was bested by tiny countries such as Cuba, New Zealand, Belgium, and Ecuador. Others choose to see the sunnier side, taking heart from India’s best-ever performance in decades. They celebrate sweet and small triumphs such as the brave and heart-winning performance of the women’s hockey team; our return to the medal pace in men’s hockey, after a drought of 41 years; or even the astonishing ‘failure’ of the lowly-ranked Aditi Ashok, who challenged the best women golfers in the world with her stunning short game, before being pushed to a fourth place.
There is an element of truth to both stories, as a nation, we would do better to see the glass half-full rather than half-empty. At the same time, while it is important to celebrate our victories, it is important to examine what contributed to this success and, more importantly, how we can take this forward in the years to come. What this Olympic Games established was that our sportsmen were no longer drawn only from the upper crust of Indian society. Take someone like sprinter Revathi Veeramani, who was brought up on the income earned by her maternal grandmother earning day wages at brick kilns. Such stories are extremely heart-warming, of course, but they also present an opportunity. It signals that as we develop, we can find a way of honing the talent and energies of crores of Indians to improve ourselves as a sporting nation.
Discussions on sport tend to dwell a lot on how poorly we spend on it. In a nation where cricket pushes all other sports to a poor second, our per capita spend on sport compares extremely badly with countries such as China and the US. While it is important to bump up spending, we must also be smart about how resources are distributed. We are not going to become a country with gleaming stadiums and first-rate sporting facilities overnight. What we can do, however, is to focus on sports keeping Indian interests and even keep our body types in mind when making investments. While we are, despite exceptions, a long way away from excelling in sprints and long-distance races, we have an aptitude for sports that depend on hand-eye coordination. Areas such as weightlifting and wrestling are two other possible focus areas.
A good start would be to overhaul the coaching system in the country. We can always afford to hire a foreign coach at the top tier, as we did for women’s hockey, but at the end of the day, there is no alternative to developing a big task force of competent coaches at the district level in every nook and corner of the country. If we are going to improve on Tokyo in Paris and beyond, then we need to start from the bottom upwards. We need people invested with a scientific outlook and up to date with the constantly improving routines that go into training and the building of athletes. We should use the surge of national pride that attended our victories in Tokyo to good effect. And we need to tell the pessimists that while our performance may have been modest, it points to a much brighter and better future.
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