Thursday, August 14, 2008

Olympic gold medal: Abhinav's medal or India's medal?

India finally got an individual Olympic gold medal after 108 years! Kudos to Abhinav Bindra for his splendid effort in Beijing and bringing happiness to a billion Indians.
The coverage given by global media to the dismal state of Indian sports is incredible. On the day Bindra won his gold, WSJ had 2 half page articles on 2 topics: "India being missed at Olympic hockey" and "First individual medal for India". My friend told me that CNN had a news item on "Why a billion Indians only have 57 member squad?" on the opening day of the Olympics. I still remember 1992 when India did not win a single medal at Barcelona (now I know that it had happened in 1984, 88 also). There was some usual hue and cry (some media reports, IOC comments, and finally, an "enquiry committee" to end all those war cries). But now, with increasing focus on India due to its economic growth has made world media more worried about Indian hockey than Indian media (I haven't read any article on hockey in Indian press for the last 10-15 days).
I am just wondering whether this medal gives us a hope for medals in future also. In management, we learn "building internal competencies which enable you to maintain a sustainable competitive advantage". In sports, India has not done so. Many of these performances are individual efforts (with personal money) and not really, an output of a well-placed system. I don't see a stream of new players coming up in these sports in future. We are struggling to find replacements for Paes and Bhupathi; Bindra trained on personal money in Germany (as per media reports), shooters still complain of lack on facilities; no comments on hockey; women weightlifting seems to be dying out now after Karnam Malleshwari won an Olympic bronze. Only in badminton, Padukone Academy seems to be producing players at regular intervals (Saina just reached quarters).
With this gold medal, some corporate money might pour into shooting or other Olympic sports. But the fact of the matter is, we can't say that there will be a medal for India in the next Olympics. We don't have any system or infrastructure built for it. It will depend on few individuals who can put in effort and money on their own.
Let's face the reality: India is not a sporting nation. From childhood, we have been told "Kheloge kudoge to banoge kharaab, Padhoge likhoge to banoge nawaab". Rise of a nation in sporting arena has historically been a mix of its economic power and associated national pride. Eastern European countries always fared better than western Europe during cold war times. China has also made special focused efforts to rise as a sporting powerhouse (I don't know how many of those efforts can be applied in a democratic India!). Will it happen for India?
May be it's time for us to not to make a huge issue out of our failures at international sports, and just enjoy individual glories as and when those come.

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