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Why Olympic Medal is more a dream than a reality for India

I was so keen to write this article; especially after Shobha De’s disgraceful remark on Indian athletes; but I decided to wait as I wanted the Olympics to be over first. Frankly, it does not make sense to postmortem something which is still active. Rather, let it get over, and then analyze on what could have been better.

Today is the last day of Rio Olympics, 2016. Till now, India has won 2 medals; one silver by PV Sindhu, and One Bronze by Sakshi Malik. Last day on 21st, I hope India will win some more; but honestly it doesn’t change the fact that out of 117 total athletes sent; largest delegation so far; we manage to get only 2 medals. It’s a shame.

If you are an Indian who is trying to convince yourself that Indian athletes are competing against so many odds and winning 2 medals is enough; then you should be really ashamed to undermine India.

No, I am not trying to be Shobha De here. Could never be. She is a disgrace. Every athlete who has made it to Olympics deserves respect and much more. I just want to put emphasis on why we Indians who are 1.2 billion in number, could manage to grab only 2 medals in a world level competing event.

Some of the comments that I have seen/heard from our expert panel of Olympic specialists on Facebook, are – Indian government offer no infrastructure to its players; Indian government does not pay enough money to its players; government is doing nothing to help create good Olympic players. Players live in poverty. There is no money after their sports life. There is no career for these players. Etc.

Honestly, some of this is true. But, only some of it. Problem is we do not see the big picture. When we say India is not providing good infrastructure to its players, we compare India with UK and USA. How can we ignore the countries like, Jamaica, Kenya, Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, North Korea, Azerbaijan (I never heard of it before, my poor GK to blame), Ethiopia, Vietnam, Kosovo, Tajikistan, Malaysia, Lithuania, etc. They all are above us in the tally of Olympic medals, and if not all, then some of these countries are not as developed as we proudly boast about India. Mera Bharat Mahan.

Just for the sake of it, let us assume, that these countries are giving their players some extra support which India does not manage to provide just yet. Isn’t it shameful too?

Let’s not compare ourselves to these countries; so let’s go with the one on top – USA.

Do you know that there is no federal support for US Olympians? There is no sports ministry in US government. There is a non-profit corporation called US Olympic Committee, which manages Olympic programs and players. They are solely depended on generosity of American people and corporations for all their funding. They receive nothing from government, unlike other countries.

If you think that American players don’t need money, or they must be super rich. Then also you are wrong. There is one Michael Phelps or Simone Biles, who are earning in billions through endorsements; but you will find many athletes who work hard whole year and didn’t make it to top team, or just didn’t win any medals. Main income of these players is through endorsements. If your game is not popular, and you are not winning medals; you will get no endorsements, so no money. Most of the players are funded by family or friends, local businesses, or through crowdfunding. Some are given stipend by USOC. But, most of them who did not receive any funding; they have to do part-time jobs.

Gwen Jorgensen, I saw her Triathlon yesterday, she was an accountant. Jared Frayer, wrestler, is a coach. Jazmine Fenlator, diver, is a dog walker. Kerron Clement, Hurdler, do modeling. Emil Milev, shooter, is a teacher. Jonathan Cheever, snowboarder, is a plumber. Taylor Fletcher, Skier, is a waiter. Most of them are not coming from rich background. They come from families like mine and yours. Families who have gone bankrupt in order to support expenses of sports equipment and travel needs of players.  These players either do part time jobs, or are totally dependent on their family support. Life is not rosy even for USA Olympic athletes.

US government do give bonus to its medal winner. It is around $25K, $15K, and $10K respectively for Gold, silver and bronze winners. They also deduct heavy tax on these medals.

However, latest that I have heard is that Indian Government is giving 75Lakhs to Gold, and 50L to Silver winners. State government’s  gifts and other endorsements are an added bonus.

If you win a medal, you will get endorsements and gifts, just like athletes from other countries get. If you don’t get a medal but still stand out in an event; like Deepa Karmakar; you may still get good endorsements. But, what attracts these players the most other than playing for their country and winning medals and cash prizes, is a government job.

Indian government do spend less money when it comes to sports; but it is providing something much more valuable than that. Indian government-run organizations like, Railways, Army and Police; they consume these athletes in government jobs. In India acquiring a government job is more or less like winning a lottery. If you are a well-doing athlete, you may never have to go to office and still get your salary each month. If you are not doing well then you may get a data entry kind of desk job, but still you will get promotions based on your performance. In fact, colleges too give admission to students under sports quota. One of my friend get admitted to a reputed college in Delhi University based on sports quota, where I didn’t even when I scored much higher. But, she deserved it. She put her hard work and sweat in it, to win that sports reservation, unlike others who just use their caste. Our system does help sports players. It may not be enough for some of us, but for few it is all they need.

Have you ever thought about, why most of the Indian athletes are coming from poor background or villages of India? One of the reason is this government job. They don’t get good education, or other support; if they can just put all their physical strength in a sport and manage to get selected in national team; they do have a chance to get a government job. For this they give their all. They work hard, day or night. They struggle every step, and some of them manage to clench medal for our nation.

My question to you is – why not many players are coming from middle class, or upper middle class, or high-class families? Why not Shobha De’s daughter/son is competing in a sport? Why is your daughter not doing gymnastic? Why your son is not doing track & field? Why your sister is not competing in wrestling? Or your brother in discus throw?

Problem is we judge success of a person by the amount he is earning; not by how many medals they have won in a sport, or by how content he/she is with what they are doing. We want to make our kids engineer, doctor, manager, business person; but not sportsman, maybe a cricketer but not any other sport. We want them to work in a multinational company sitting in a centralized office; not sweat for India in an unkempt stadium. We want medals but we don’t want to be sports players.

Why Olympic Medal is more a dream than a reality for India

Even when there is a chance of getting a government job; there is a lot of toil which goes into making a Saakshi, or Deepa, or Sindhu. We expect our kids to study 20 hours in a day; but not to wake up at 5am and run 3 miles. For parents, if you are playing sport, you are evading studies and actually ruining your career. What is a career?

Our government has not built proper stadiums for our kids. Our schools do not have good coaches. We do lack infrastructure. We don’t have swimming pools in every society, we do not even have gymnastic poles accessible, no diving place, no biking lanes, no running track. This is a major deterrent in motivating our kids to pick up a sport. Whatever government provides through sports budget; that is eaten up by the bureaucracy and corruption. Level of corruption is at its peak, just look at the recent Narsingh Yadav controversy; or at commonwealth games corruption records. We play politics in sports. Those who are sitting on top of selection committees, they play favorites. These officials don’t even know how to fill paperwork for Olympics. They are not at all professional. One of the main reason USA wins so many medals is that their government is not interfering with the sports. It is the passion of people who is motivating and funding sportsmen. If only India could keep its politics aside from games.

We the people, the ones, who can afford sending their kids to sports clubs having swimming pools, we are not mentoring our kids for Olympics; and the ones who are preparing for Olympics, they can only afford rivers and local ponds to practice swimming.

Those who are winning medals for India, if you look at their background; they are either children of former sports players; or they are picked and trained by former players. A sportsman knows the passion behind it, and they want their kids to feel the same. They want to leave their legacy through their students. They invest not only their money but everything to make their kid a world-class player. They don’t get much in return, just a satisfaction of doing something for their country. They are the true patriots, unlike us whose patriotism can be seen only on Facebook and not in a field.

We live and breathe cricket. We have the world’s best cricket players. We play cricket not only in stadiums but on roads, in schools, everywhere. We are experts in giving advice to our players, and in criticizing them. We love it. So, how many world cups we have won in cricket so far?

We can consider cricket world cup, same as Olympics is for other sports, right? So how many world cups?

We don’t even have enough passion for cricket.

We can build world-class cricket grounds; but we can’t build world-class track fields?

It’s not that we lack talent. We boast of our diversity. We have strength and we have money too. We spend billions on cricket. Just think of it, what if we can pool money within a society and build a swimming pool, or donate to our local school so they can hire a good coach, or build a sports gym. Why don’t we take our kids for running in the morning? Motivate them for biking. Teach them not only how to swim, but also different types of swimming techniques. Why not enroll our kids in gymnastic classes? why not lead by example. Why not do all of these ourselves and inspire our kids to take interest in sports?

I see passion of sports in almost every family of USA. Parents play with their kids. They teach them. Weekends are reserved for family. Time to play sports. They swim together, they play ball together, soccer, tennis, running, biking. How many Indian parents take time out to play sports with their kids? We shake off our responsibility by sending our kids to cricket coaching and that’s enough sports for us. We ourselves don’t play. Why would our children be interested in any sport then?

It is not a government who makes Olympic medal winner. It is a coach, a parent, a partner, a local investor who helps in shaping a Saakshi, Sindhu or Deepa. Be that parent, be that coach. If you can’t be that, at least become a sponsor. A change in our attitude is needed, if we want to have Gold in our hands.

 

 

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