Aug 23, 2008
India - Olympic glory needs huge state effort
There’s the cynics and there’s the hopefuls. The former, observing the hullabaloo over a couple of bronzes, would surely smirk. It is, at one level, rather incredible that a nation of our size and potential should be over the moon if our ‘best ever’ Olympic games have, so far, meant a total of just three medals. And all, let the point be made, were unexpected. We simply weren’t thinking any of our sportspersons would win anything. The hopefuls, on the other hand, would posit the medals as a sign that finally, perhaps, we will witness the rise of India as a sporting nation. Then again, this is a bit utopian. What has happened is that a couple of members of the backbone of this country, the hard-working lower and middle classes, have by dint of sheer physical grit broken through. The photograph of a delighted, yet incredulous Sushil Kumar, who won the bronze in the 66 kg Men’s Freestyle wrestling event, says it all. This individual determination and skill hardly means a national effort has paid off. Success in major global sporting events is first and foremost a consequence of a sustained state effort. There has to be a national effort to build the training facilities, to invest in the logistics of making champions. Nothing illustrates this better than China, the host country this time around. In the 2000 games in Sydney, China won 28 gold medals, compared to top-of-the-league USA with 39, the gap narrowed by the time of the Athens Olympics (China: 32, USA: 35), and finally, China has now stunned the world by leaving it far behind with its current tally of 46 golds compared to the second in-line USA at 28. The sheer scale of the state effort, and the long sustained support China has provided its sportspersons, has finally triumphed. Industry can and should play a role, but only the state can ensure and deliver the kind of resources needed to make a global sporting power. Already, voices in the US are demanding the state should step in and replace the almost-wholly private nature of support for sports prevalent in that country. Becoming a nation of champions is no accident.