Monday, August 6, 2012

If India fails to win an Olympic medal, why blame Cricket?

The London Olympics has already become India’s best Olympic performance. At the time of writing, India has already won a Silver and two Bronzes, thanks to Vijay Kumar (Men’s 25m Rapid Fire Pistol), Gagan Narang (Men’s 10m Air Gun), and Saina Nehwal (Women’s Badminton Singles) respectively. And considering we are assured of another medal from Mary Kom, who just entered the Women’s 51 Kg Boxing Semi Finals, it takes India’s medal count to four, one more than Beijing 2008. It’s a reason to celebrate. Despite the fact that we as a nation technically trail behind the likes of Chinshanlo Zulfiya of Kazakhstan and Kim Un Guk of North Korea on the medals tally, unless our boxers and wrestlers bring back the much elusive Gold medal. But hey, it’s still an improvement. 

The country could have easily won one more medal when Joydeep Karmarkar missed a Bronze by a fraction of an inch, quite literally. However, come 2020 and the number of Indians who’ll remember Karmarkar’s 4th place in 50m Rifle Prone will be far lesser than those who’ll remember Rajesh Chauhan’s last over six against Pakistan in an ODI at Karachi. And there in lies a lesson. No, seriously. How many of you remember the name of the Badminton player from India who almost made it to the quarters of the Barcelona Olympics? I certainly don’t.

Clearly Indian Cricket has become the Microsoft of Indian Sports. Nobody seems to appreciate what it’s managed to achieve, even though nobody can imagine life without it. True story. Surely, the BCCI has managed to do something that other sporting bodies in India have failed to do. They’ve managed to create a loyalty among fans, even without their knowledge. Sample the cases stated below:

Broadcast: As a kid, I grew up watching Sachin making piles of money winning matches, while Azhar matching the little master’s earnings by losing them. But I couldn't say the same about Badminton, which was never really telecast on national TV. So even watching countless fixed...fixtures at Sharjah was more memorable than growing up watching Vijayalakshmi auntie and Ananthapadmanabhan uncle play ‘shuttlecock’!

Cool-factor: Admit it! It’s a lot cooler to say “I never budged an inch while watching Robin Singh play a match-winning 32* in a crucial tie against Zimbabwe at Benoni”, than “ You didn’t watch Narsingh Panch Yadav win the Men’s 74kg – Repechage Freestyle Wrestling Gold, ah? Mad or what!!”

Victory Celebration: We never really celebrated when Jaspal Rana won a Gold medal at the Asian Games at Hiroshima in 1994. Yet, we took a family picture around our old Nelco Blue Diamond TV when India won the Asia Cup in 1995 at Sharjah.

Sex Appeal: When Hrishikesh Kanitkar scored a match-winning boundary against Pakistan at the Bangabandu Stadium to help India win the Coca Cola Independence Cup in 1998, he instantly became India’s most eligible bachelor, getting proposals from North Indians, South Indians and even West Indians (One woman named Sanya Rambally who lived on the outskirts of Georgetown, Guyana actually believed that Kanitkar had the sexiest forward defence, second only to Shivnaraine Chanderpaul). However, not too many women gave Bajrang Lal Takhar a second glance after he won a Men's Single Sculls Gold at the Asian Games in 2010 at Guangzhou.

Publicity: If you were shown photos of two similar sounding sportsmen named Raman Lamba and Limba Ram, who are you likely to recognize? The one holding the cricket bat, obviously!

Clearly, much has worked in favour of cricket, thanks to its fans, who may even recall the bowling action of Bhupinder Singh Sr with moist eyes, but couldn’t recognize Ajit Pal Singhs from their Ajit Singhs. Why even Ajit Agarkar would have a bigger fan club than his two equally illustrious namesakes. So guys! Don’t blame one game for the country's failures in other fields (and not just sporting ones). If you feel so strongly about sports in India, do more than worshiping one set of medal winners and forgetting the rest until it's time for the next Olympics four years later. Follow them. Encourage them. And if nothing else, stop blaming Cricket the next time an Indian athlete fails to win a Bronze.

( P.S.: If you agree with what the author says, first memorise the names of the Men’s and Women’s Kabaddi squads who won the World Cup in 2011-2012 and then forward this article to 10 other friends. If you do so immediately, India will surely win another medal before the Olympics ends.)    


The Cydonian said...

One other aspect that doesn't get acknowledged enough in discussions such as this, is that quite a few of the world's Olympic Committees are actually autonomous bodies, with their own fundraising efforts and training facilities. USOC, for instance, has regular fundraising efforts and sells its own merchandise. This is unlike the (old) Soviet and Chinese approaches where the state pours in tons of money to get medals.

Now, I'm not saying there should be no room for governmental involvement here - I personally think a purely libertarian sort of an approach won't fully work in India - but given the success of the pistol-shooters such as Bhindra (who essentially bought his own facilities/ equipment) and Gopichand's badminton trainees (Jwala/Ashwini, Saina Nehwal, Kashyap among others) it's perhaps time to talk more about lessening the involvement of career-babus and netas in sports administrations and increasing the autonomy of individual sportspeople and their support systems.

Sudhir Pai said...

@Cyndonian: I find it very difficult to imagine how the Chinese have risen to a position where they can challenge the US, considering how they neglected the games for nearly 32 years. I'm also amazed by how countries like Iran, South Korea, Cuba and Hungary maintain a consistent performance in Olympics, always returning with more than a decent share of the medal spoils. I think there's much that India can learn from these nations. I feel at least the cuban model can be incorporated in India for a few if not all the Olympic disciplines.Coming back to the present, I'm still pinning my hopes on our wrestlers to come home with at least one more medal.