Wednesday, August 20, 2008

INDIAN SPORT RE-BORN IN BEIJING

Georg, my German blogger friend living in France, had asked me only a couple days back as to why India was not in the limelight at the Beijing Olympics. A very logical question considering that China, whose population is not much more than India’s, is sitting right at the top of the medals heap, pushing sporting giant US to a distant second.

Abhinav Bindra had by then won for India its first ever individual Olympic gold medal, and it seemed that there wouldn’t be any more coming, considering that all the known big names had failed to deliver. And Bindra’s ‘golden gun’ was not sufficient to convince anyone that India’s sport was about to shoot out of the dark tunnel that it has almost always been in.

Suddenly, there is reason to cheer. An unknown Sushil Kumar has wrestled his way to a bronze medal
and Vijender has boxed his way to the semi finals, a bronze assured, looking for another gold. Already, this is India’s best ever performance at the Olympics. It’s not just the medals. For the first time ever, three Indian boxers reached the quarter finals. In badminton, Saina Nehwal surprised everyone with her performance. Indian shooters who have been making their mark for quite some time, getting India its first individual silver at Athens, returned gold in Beijing, but could have got more.


Again, ‘Second Indians’, small town boys not exposed to Westernisation, are leading this resurgence in Indian sport, quite like they have done in cricket and other fields too. Yes, they may never get to become great shooters because of the expenses and logistics involved, but in other sports, they are leading and will lead the charge.

All three quarter finalist boxers are from a small town, Bhiwani, in Haryana. There, they have toiled hard under most primitive conditions which will appear to be almost unreal to those who train to be world class sportsmen in the West. Bhiwani has, for reasons quite unknown, become the boxing capital of India, India’s ‘Cuba’, if you will, on entirely the efforts of the residents of that town. Sushil Kumar trained for wrestling in Delhi under similar conditions, sharing living space with 20 wrestlers packed like sardines in a tiny room, with a ceiling fan to beat the heat.

The unexpected success of these non-English speaking Indians whom almost no one had heard of, has almost electrified the nation. Generous cash awards and other incentives have been announced by the Central and state governments, as well as others. Abhinav Bindra, for example, is going to be worth a total of Rs25 crores or more due to all these benefits and the brand endorsements that he will do. He is already a rich fellow and the amount may not make the earth of a difference to him. But to the other medallists and quarterfinalists, even the Rs1 crore or thereabouts that they will get will dramatically change their lives forever.

In every village and town, Indians are watching the dreams of Indians they can identify with come true. There can be no bigger incentive than that to spur them to take to some sport or the other in a big way. The unexpected success of India in Beijing should also be sufficient to make the corporate world sit up and get involved in nurturing and promoting talent in future.

Three medals for a country of a billion plus is actually something to be ashamed of. But three medals on an almost zero base, except in Hockey, is not to be dismissed lightly. China won its first ever Olympic gold in 1984. In 24 short years, it is the biggest sporting giant of the world, having already won 44 golds in Beijing. But the methods used by China and the single-mindedness displayed by its government to get the country there is not going to be replicated in India. In fact, if Indian sport continues to be in the hands of corrupt and mostly disinterested officials who have dominated sports administration forever, Indian athletes will have to work twice as hard to achieve success despite them. They will.

The Beijing Boom is significant not in terms of the number of medals that India has won but for the fact that for the first time ever, Indian athletes have not gone to an Olympics just to complete the formality of representing India at the Games. This time, many of them have gone to truly compete and get glory for themselves and their country. Their success marks the beginning of a new chapter in Indian sport which, if handled well, may turn out to be quite like the India story in software and mobile telephony.

Georg, India has not been in the limelight in Beijing. But it is no longer in a pitch dark tunnel. Indian sport has in a sense been re-born in Beijing. In London 2012, you will certainly get to see the baby well.
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Readers may also like to read the following posts:
1. Chak de India, second best means nothing
2.Aussies muzzled - 'Second Indians' are coming