October 6, 2022

India’s Olympics Tryst

Neeraj Chopra gave India not just a gold medal but India’s seventh medal which is a singular landmark with never having won seven medals in one Olympic in last 124 years since the first Olympic in 1896. A commentator rightly said that this gold medal is far more significant for India than winning a world cup in cricket.

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (Retd.)

Tokyo Olympics 2020 delayed to 2021 due to the Wuhan Virus is over and India is on Cloud 9. Till the first half of August 7, India had equalled its record of two silver and four bronze medals won in the 2012 Rome Olympics. But then Subedar Neeraj Chopra, VSM changed that giving India the first ever gold medal in athletics with his stupendous javelin throw of 87.58 metres, much beyond other competitors. His feat was all the more commendable having undergone elbow surgery in 2019.

A message on social media reads: Finally Army had to be called in on the last day to win Olympic Gold. But many may be unaware that the Indian Army in 2016 had launched Mission Olympics 2020 under which potential kids were identified, employed, given the best of diet, coaching, infrastructure and incentives – medals too as incentive for promotion. Subedar Neeraj Chopra has won many medals at national and international level. Being 23 year old, he has the potential to win many more medals for India.

The Indian contingent to Tokyo included 12 participants serving in the Indian Army in various ranks: Neeraj Chopra, Avinash Sable, Sandeep Kumar and Gurpreet Singh in Athletics; Amit Panghal, Manish Kaushik and Satish Kumar in Boxing; Pravin Jadhav and Tarundeep Rai in Archery;  Arjun Lal Jat and Arvind Singh in Rowing, and Vishnu Saravanan in Sailing.

Neeraj Chopra gave India not just a gold medal but India’s seventh medal which is a singular landmark with never having won seven medals in one Olympic in last 124 years since the first Olympic in 1896. A commentator rightly said that this gold medal is far more significant for India than winning a world cup in cricket. It was also after Abhinav Bindra won the last gold medal for India in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

All our participants in Tokyo Olympics deserve accolades, especially the winners: Mirabai Chanu and Ravi Kumar for winning silver medals, and; PV Sindhu, Lovlina Borgohain, Bajrang Punia and Men’s Hockey Team winning bronze medals. Mirabai Chanu became the first female weightlifter from India to win a weightlifting silver. PV Sindhu became the first female Indian athlete to win medals in two different Olympics. Indian hockey was resurgent with the Men’s Hockey Team having won the gold medal 41 years ago in the 1980 Moscow Olympics and Women’s Hockey Team playing in semi-finals for the very first time.

As expected in such competitions, there were heartbreaks as well; MC Mary Kom for debatable decisions, Aditi Ashok losing a medal by one stroke, Satish Kumar facing the world champion in the very first bout, Bajrang Punia being injured and had to be content with a bronze medal, and the Women’s Hockey Team missing a medal despite herculean efforts. Shooting, archery and table tennis were disappointing.

Mirabai Chanu became the first female weightlifter from India to win a weightlifting silver. PV Sindhu became the first female Indian athlete to win medals in two different Olympics. Indian hockey was resurgent with the Men’s Hockey Team having won the gold medal 41 years ago in the 1980 Moscow Olympics and Women’s Hockey Team playing in semi-finals for the very first time.

India is jubilant though antics of certain politicians have created subtle humour. Huge billboards welcoming returning medal winners by respective states sported big photographs of politician (s) covering most of the space but only name of the winner. Chief Minister of a state inserted full page ads in national dailies congratulating PM Modi with photographs of himself, the PM and Neeraj Chopra; Neeraj is not from his state and the CM could have phoned the PM or sent him a personal message but perhaps he thought this better way to buttress the PM.

The euphoria over winning seven Olympic medals at Tokyo is well deserved and media blitz will possibly be extended for long to divert attention from issues like the resurging pandemic, Chinese aggression in Ladakh, pandemic deaths for lack of oxygen, Pegasus controversy etc. But seriously we do need to examine the following:

  • At the opening ceremony of Tokyo Olympics, the commentator welcomed our contingent saying they represent a billion people of India. Actually we are already 1.4 billion, world’s second most populous country and by 2030 are expected to beat China population-wise. Are we happy with seven medals (one gold, two silver, four bronze) versus 88 of China (38 gold, 32 silver, 18 bronze)? The usual response will be we are not China and participation matters (not medals) but we are only fooling ourselves.

If the Indian Army could launch ‘Mission Olympics’ why can’t the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) do similarly with the strength of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) under it comparable to the Armed Forces strength? Surely the MHA can do much more than training a Delhi Police squad to win the best contingent award in annual Republic Day Parades.

  • Tokyo Olympics had 339 events across 33 sports (50 disciplines). New sports of baseball/ softball, skateboarding, sport climbing, surfing and karate were added. How many events and sports did India participate in and why?
  • Our hockey team was dominant in Olympic competition, winning 11 medals in 12 Olympics between 1928 and 1980. This included eight gold medals in total and six successive gold medals from 1928–1956. Sure the surface changed to artificial turf but that happened decades ago. Did we notice the number of penalty corners not converted into goals by our hockey teams in Tokyo? Wasn’t the commentator calling time and again that after attacking we must rush back to defend our own D?
  • Where our national sport (hockey) has been snatched by others, why can’t we do similarly? Any reason we cannot participate in softball, basketball, volleyball, handball and swimming – both men and women? Why not karate, judo, kickboxing? We actually need to examine which Olympic sports we ‘cannot’ participate and why so?
  • The PM’s sport vision and programmes like ‘Khelo India’ are fine but the National Sports Policy, 2001 was to be reviewed periodically to incorporate changes and modifications necessary due to “technological and other advancements in the field of sports”. What has the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports done about this over past 20 years?

The ground-level execution in preparing contingents for future Olympics (identification, selection, training-coaching, motivation, infrastructure, medical cover, employment) is not being covered here. The Centre needs to clearly regulate these, not leave it to the whims and fancies of individual states. The corporate must contribute significantly towards this as a matter of policy as part of CSR or otherwise especially in building requisite sports infrastructure.

  • If the Indian Army could launch ‘Mission Olympics’ why can’t the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) do similarly with the strength of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) under it comparable to the Armed Forces strength? Surely the MHA can do much more than training a Delhi Police squad to win the best contingent award in annual Republic Day Parades.

The ground-level execution in preparing contingents for future Olympics (identification, selection, training-coaching, motivation, infrastructure, medical cover, employment) is not being covered here. The Centre needs to clearly regulate these, not leave it to the whims and fancies of individual states. The corporate must contribute significantly towards this as a matter of policy as part of CSR or otherwise especially in building requisite sports infrastructure. Creating F1 tracks should not be the only priority of the corporate. Incidentally, according to a participant in the Rio Olympics, selectors in some cases demand money though not from established sportspersons.

We have the largest youth pool in the world – much more than China. Climate shouldn’t be an excuse either; we are a large nation with diverse terrain and climate plus part training abroad remains an option. Hopefully, we will not fall back in the ‘chalta hai’ attitude once celebrations for medals won in the Tokyo Olympics are over. It is this frustration that has led to the following post on social media:

“In a country where Karishma Kapoor wears yoga track on the golf course and picks up a football to play basketball with her friends wearing tennis attire, a bronze medal in Olympics means a lot.”

Finally, it is not good enough to lead the world in Yoga. Forget China, shouldn’t so many smaller nations above us in Olympics medals tally and India’s ranking of 48 in Tokyo Olympics prick our conscience? We need to identify the voids to address them methodically but quickly – a Revolution in Sports Affairs is required. There is no reason why India cannot be in the top rung of sporting nations in Olympics.

Finally, it is not good enough to lead the world in Yoga. Forget China, shouldn’t so many smaller nations above us in Olympics medals tally and India’s ranking of 48 in Tokyo Olympics prick our conscience? We need to identify the voids to address them methodically but quickly – a Revolution in Sports Affairs is required. There is no reason why India cannot be in the top rung of sporting nations in Olympics.

The author is veteran of Indian Army. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow us on Social Media