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Author Topic: Ready, steady... go?  (Read 1056 times)

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Ready, steady... go?
« on: August 21, 2008, 09:35:12 PM »

Very good article by Rajdeep, he ends up with a nice thought :)

Journalism has a nose for nostalgia : 20 years ago, ahead of  the Seoul Olympics, I was sent as a cub reporter to track down the family of K.D. Jadhav, independent India's first Olympic medallist. The story of  a wrestler in the small town of Karad in Maharashtra had a familiar ring to it: neglect, deprivation and a sense of  anger at being forgotten  in a cricket-crazy country. Ahead of the Beijing Olympics, the Jadhavs once again experienced their ritualistic date with fame. Perhaps, it's the last time we'll tell their tale. In the aftermath of  Beijing, the country has found new Olympian families  to showcase: next time, it will be the Bindras of Chandigarh and the Kumars of Bhiwani who will be celebrated. While India's first medallist died battling for his policeman's pension, the new generation heroes are already on the crorepati list. 

It has taken 56 long and frustrating years for bronze to turn into gold for India's Olympic athletes. In the meantime, China, which won its first Olympic gold as late as 1984, has become the number one Olympic country, the US remains a powerhouse of  talent, and even tiny Jamaica has established an enviable reputation. If  the Olympic medal tally was to rank countries in a ratio of  population to medals won, we'd still probably be close to the bottom, our sole satisfaction emerging from the fact that our eternal rivals, the Pakistanis, have drawn a blank.

Jadhav won his medal in the same year (1952) that India had its first general election. His win at the time should have heralded the arrival of  a young nation on the world stage. Instead, it became a footnote in the history books. This was a time of the grand Nehruvian dream: of Five Year Plans, scientific temper, non-alignment, big dams and heavy industries. In this vision of a new India, Olympic sports had little place. Hockey alone prospered because of  the legacy that had been handed over by the colonialists: the clubs and army grounds remained the nurseries of  the sport. The rest of  Indian sport was literally consigned to endless debates about why we were an Olympic zero.

The Nehruvians saw sports as yet another large public sector undertaking, to be managed like a steel plant. The Soviet-style buildings that housed our sporting bodies typified a bureaucratic mindset: the malaise of  sporting talent being controlled by mean-spirited officials has been with us from the very beginning.  Ironically, the Soviets (and now the Chinese) were highly successful in developing Olympic sport through a Ďcontrolledí system. The reason was simple: an autocratic model of  managing sport can work in a totalitarian political system, not in a chaotic democracy like ours. The Chinese system can train six-year-old gymnasts to do 60 sit-ups: in India, child rights activists would have filed a petition complaining of child abuse

And yet, maybe for the first time in six decades of  independence, there may be a twist in the Indian Olympic tale and Beijing 2008 could mark a defining moment. For the first time there is a genuine belief  that India's next Olympic gold wonít take quite so long, and that by the year 2020, we might actually get enough medals for customs officials to take note. What has changed? On the surface, very little. Our officials still remain as lethargic and junket-obsessed as ever. We still hire sporting grounds for marriages. Our athletes still receive shamelessly meagre daily allowances. And we still canít shake off  the monopoly of  cricket in our lives.

What we have shaken off  though is the inferiority complex that was sustained by a litany of  past failures. Itís not just Abhinav Bindra's Mr Cool act that symbolises a quiet confidence that was missing in previous Olympics. As a child of  privilege, Bindra had the benefit of  exceptional parental support from a very young age. In an expensive sport, his success was almost fashioned like a well-crafted business plan for which his family deserves enormous credit. But what is perhaps even more creditable is the remarkable performance of  our boxers and wrestlers. Itís not just the medals they've won, it's the journey they've undertaken to get there that suggests we have finally crossed a psychological barrier to actually compete at the highest level.

From Bhiwani to Beijing is an  arduous journey but one that the Kumars  have shown the courage and passion to undertake. Mohammed Ali once famously said that to be a good boxer you needed strong fists, but an even stronger heart. To watch our boxers, whether they win or lose, look their opponents in the eye, must rank as one of  the finer moments in Indian sport. Not to forget bronze medallist Sushil Kumar and  tiny Saina Nehwal who showed enough talent in her first Olympic appearance to make us believe that she will win a medal in the future.

Undoubtedly, there are many more Sainas and Sushil Kumars waiting to be discovered. We are an aspirational society, one which is on the cusp of  change. Sporting success is part of that process of  change, of unleashing the dormant energies that were stifled by bureaucratic chains. We still don't have a sporting culture like the Americans or the Australians, but at least we've moved beyond the Hindu rate of  growth. As the economy expands, sports will be a natural beneficiary since it offers increasing opportunities for upward mobility, a chance to move overnight from a tinshed to a bungalow. Moreover, in the age of  24 hour news television, new role models are being constantly thrown up, with every medal won spurring a wave of  nationalistic pride.

What is needed then is to sustain the Beijing momentum with a single-minded commitment to harness talent across the country, not just in the big cities. Cricket 'democratised' itself , which is why we have achieved so much success at the game. Now, other sports too need to be 'liberated' from the mai-baap culture of  the Nehruvian era. Hereís a thought: why don't each of  the IPL team owners adopt one sport and make it part of  their business plan? Bhiwani could do with a world class boxing gymnasium.
Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-chief, IBN network

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Re: Ready, steady... go?
« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2008, 10:01:52 PM »

Is it wrong to ask who the f cares about three quarters of these Olympic sports ? Should we really encourage wrestling (the non-staged variety  ;D), shooting, weightlifting, velodrome cycling, rowing, canoeing, softball, water polo, taekwando and other such low viewership sports just so we can get some random medals every 4 years and feel more adequate?

If you throw sufficient money in all these categories - world class facilities, relevant coaching etc. there is no doubt better results will come. But what is the point - just to instill some national pride though creating artificial interest? I'd rather we try working on more popular, widespread and relevant sports (e.g. rowing in the sewage infested canals in India is not a natural thing unless you are a scavenger) and improving our lot. We don't need to ape the Chinese at all.
I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. - (thanks, Hugh Gallagher)
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