Lessons from the London Olympics

Lessons from the London Olympics

Lessons from the London Olympics

The greatest show on earth is over, and it is time to celebrate and introspect what happened in the London Olympics. India finished with six medals, doubling their tally from the Beijing Olympics in 2008 but slipped to 55th position compared to 50th in Beijing.

Since gold medals are the yardstick in deciding a country’s ranking, India slipped a couple of places, despite statistically having their best show in a single edition of the Olympics. The much-improved result allowed Ajay Maken (sports minister) to be cautiously optimistic and hope for 25 medals by the 2020 Olympics.

However, a closer scrutiny of India’s sporting setup reveals that achieving 25 medals by 2020 may still be a distant dream. In India, except for Cricket, which is run by the cash-rich BCCI, other sports organizations are either government-controlled or government-funded. Many of these organizations are non-performing assets, comparable only to the pre-reform era sick public sector units (PSUs). Furthermore, these sporting bodies are often administered by people who have little knowledge about the sport.

Indian hockey’s humiliating performance in the London Olympics reflects the organizational disarray that exists in our sporting bodies. There was much euphoria when the Indian Hockey team managed to book a ticket to the London Olympics by defeating France 8-1 in the final of the qualification tournament. India failed to qualify in the 2008 edition, and the qualification tournament performance created a false belief that India could pull off something special. Instead, it turned out to be Indian hockey’s worst performance in any Olympics. The infighting between “Indian Hockey Federation” (now de-recognized) and “Hockey India” (the governing body for Hockey in India) has further hindered progress.

Just before the Olympic qualifier tournament began, Hockey India (HI) stated that players joining the World Series Hockey (WSH) organized by the rival Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) would be suspended from international matches. IHF hit back by saying that Hockey India was trying to sabotage the league, which was helpful for the players. Later, they worked out a solution, but it is now clear that such whimsical attitudes from hockey federations have led to the decline in the quality of hockey in India.

Due to murky politics, hockey has already lost many talents, including Viren Rasquinha and Gagan Ajit Singh. The former, a promising midfielder, decided to retire at the age of 27. Former captain Dhanraj Pillai, in an interview, also mentioned how he had to retire in the most humiliating way after serving the country for 16 years. Different stakeholders of Hockey in India need to engage in serious soul-searching before the Rio Olympics give us another shock.

India’s underwhelming performance in sports like archery and athletics is indicative of the broader challenges facing the country’s sports ecosystem. Despite having promising athletes and dedicated training programs, the lack of infrastructure, inadequate support systems, and insufficient funding often thwart their potential. For instance, in archery, while Deepika Kumari had the talent to compete with the best, the pressure of the Olympics coupled with inadequate mental conditioning support led to disappointing results. This highlights the need for a more holistic approach to athlete development, encompassing not just physical training but also mental health and resilience.

While our wrestlers and shooters continued their good show, India was let down by Archery, Tennis, and its track events. Archers Deepika Kumari and Jayanta Talukdar bowed down tamely, while the Tennis players put up a brave fight that eventually proved not enough. Saina Nehwal continues to challenge Chinese supremacy in Badminton, and Mary Kom, even fighting in the 51 kg category (she is a five-time world boxing champion in the 48 kg category), proved to be a match-winner