In a loose replication of Portuguese adventurers centuries ago, over the last couple of weeks thousands of the world’s top athletes have been seeking precious metals in Brazil. However one country in particular is slightly conspicuous by its absence from the upper echelons of that ultimate game of temporary national one-upmanship, the Olympics medal table.
India collected their best ever medal haul of 6 at the last games in London and were hoping to improve upon that momentum this time round having brought their largest ever team. It was hoped the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi might also kick-start a new generation inspired to improve their fitness and participation levels by seeing many of the world’s top athletes and comparatively unknown sports up close. Yet with the Olympics now over it appears India have headed backwards once more, having claimed a couple of medals only and no gold in Rio 2016.
So why does India struggle when it comes to sporting success and might we see it changing any time soon?
For many it is a simple case of priorities. Why should a country with extensive socio-economic, environmental and political issues overly concern itself with some sporting contest that occurs every four years? Jobs, health and education are what India needs to continue focusing on as its development aims. Major sporting nations tend also to be the major developed nations, with the luxury of having leeway to invest in sports and recreation infrastructure. India can pour funds into stadia, training facilities and sports marketing just as soon as its GDP starts to measure up thank you very much.
Yet whilst not without some validity of argument might this actually be more of a convenient excuse? Officially funding for sport in India is at a level higher than many nations who actually have greater levels of both participation and success in sports and recreation. All too familiar tales of bureaucratic ineptitude, corruption, and organisational inefficiency blight efforts. Not only affecting the chance for potential global sporting icons but the masses at grassroots level, where recreational sport is as much about fitness, social development and self-confidence as it is about standing on the top step of a podium. Sports participation in India remains very low and interest limited even for those with the spare time, resources and facilities to do so. The argument goes that Olympic success is a further representation amongst many others of the health of a nation in general, not just a few mega-athletes.
It’s not as if there is no base to work from. When you have a billion plus people that’s a lot of natural talent to be unearthed and as India’s middle class in particular continues to grow might it not travel along the same path as China. After all major sporting powers today such as Australia or Great Britain not so long ago had moderate success, lifted over a number of years with the onset of not just greater financial backing but professional coaching and more widely accessible facilities for the general population. With success comes mo