Why does India, which houses a sixth of the world’s population, inevitably figures at the lower end of the medal tally at the Olympics?
The reasons behind poor show are lack of infrastructure, poor health, poverty, girls not being allowed to participate in sports, boys being coaxed into becoming doctors and engineers, the popularity of cricket over other sports, India’s fading hockey glory and lack of awareness about the Olympics in rural areas.
Large gap between rich and poor has made it hard for the poor people even to make a living, let alone saving the energy for sports practice. The government has only little investment on sports infrastructure, the mass sports and competitive sports.
And, then cricket.
Cricket has an overarching presence in India. Many young people don’t have enough motivation towards other sports. But sadly, cricket is not among the Olympic events, Indians can’t win a gold medal with it.
In reality, there are three main reasons for our underperformance at the Olympics. ?
We just don’t care much about Olympic sports (except when the Olympics is on).
We don’t value excellence in society as much. Jugaad and mediocrity often work just fine, though they can’t get us medals.
We don’t spend enough or spend in the right direction to win Olympic medals.
The first two are societal values. They will change slowly, over time. The third, how we spend on sports, is the focus here. We have to understand the difference between spending on competitive sports and on sports in general. Sports is not all for winning, it is also for recreation and physical fitness. We need to have jogging tracks in parks. These may not yield world-class athletes, but will make the neighbourhood fitter.
If India wins a dozen golds, it will have huge benefits. It will put the country on the global map. It will motivate millions of youth and invoke a stronger national identity.
It is important to see some numbers. Australia, with a mere 20 million population, averages around 50 medals in every Olympics. The total amount it spends on sports is around Rs 700 crore(AUD-136998805) , of which 80% (Rs 560 crore) goes into Olympic sports.
India has averaged two medals in every Olympics in the last two decades. The amount we spend? Rs 900 crore. Of this, over two-thirds goes into organizing local-level tournaments (not meant to yield Olympic winners), giving prizes, upgrading stadiums etc. Only around Rs 300 crore were spent on Olympics with participation in 20 odd events that amounts to Rs 15 Crore on each event at best. So we have a national budget of Rs 15 crore for, say, swimming, a sport where you can win a ton of medals. That probably just pays for the salaries of babus associated with the sport. Hence, the amount left to find and train new players is nothing. Good luck finding Olympic champions with that! Australia, on the other hand, spends a far less absolute amount, but has lower overheads and lesser corruption.
India can do the same. For one, we need a separate budget, say the Indian Olympics Fund, for Olympic talent scouting and training (versus that for promoting sports in general). This budget should be at least Rs 10,000 crore per year. It sounds like a lot but is only Rs 80 per Indian on a per capita basis.
The Olympics Fund if managed by external professionals, would keep things more honest and efficient. The 10,000 crore would be spent in three parts. One, to identify and maintain a talent pool of 5,000 elite sportspersons in the country, preferably in medal-heavy events (swimming, cycling, etc). Two, to pay for the elite scholarships and education so they don’t have to worry about money or having a job later. Three, to give world-class training to 5,000 elite sportspersons, of which say 300 will make up the Indian contingent at the Olympics. Such a setup will certainly win us a dozen golds.
Medals do not just come from a) having a fighting spirit, b) being emotionally patriotic, c) cheering our players on social media or d) turning individual sporting heroes into media stars. These things help, but they are and should be a given. Medals will come if we implement the Indian Olympics Fund in the manner prescribed above.