The fact that a nation with such a vast population like India has just managed to win 28 medals — nine gold, seven silver, and 12 bronze – at the Olympic Games is mind blogging. That’s an average of one medal per Games. Any reason to justify such a low count should be immediately thrown out of the window as our athletes, and the systems backing these players have failed more often than not.
From 1896 to 2016 India is at the bottom when it comes to an average number of medals won per capita with 0.003 per one million inhabitants - India’s population is roughly 136 crore. On the other hand, a country like Estonia with 13.2 lakh has an average of 25.62. Finland with a 55.2 lakh population tops this start with an astonishing 54.69 medals per one million inhabitants, while the Bahamas with merely a 3.89 lakh population have produced 35.63 medallists per one million inhabitants.
Every four years, ardent sports fans wait with bated breaths for the best athletes of the country to bring laurels for the nation, but all they get is disappointment and promises to do better the next time around, after four years. Not that our players don’t perform in the other big tournaments — but somehow manage to not go the distance when it matters the most. For Tokyo, close to 120 Indian athletes will be vying to get their hands on the medals. Some agencies have predicted that India will return with its richest medal haul this time — and the tally could be 17. But one should be cautious before pinning such high hopes already.
There are a few disciplines like shooting, boxing and wrestling, that does have a realistic chance of Indian returning with medals, but once again, the number of medals they get is a matter of debate. Before the start of Olympics every time there are expectations from a handful of athletes, but not all of them live up to their promise. Remember the build-up to the previous edition of the games -2016 Rio Olympics — where medals were expected from almost every India shooter on the roster — Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, Jitu Rai, Gurpreet Singh and Heena Sidhu — but none of them won. Interestingly, shooting still remains our strongest suit at the Olympics.
Make no mistake, India does have some world-class players in a lot of sports, but what we still lack perhaps is a proper structure. Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra is expected to end India’s drought in athletics, but a recent controversy surrounding German coach Uwe Hohn, makes you wonder how. Just a month before the Olympics, Javelin team members Shivpal Singh and Annu Rani had accused Hohn of ignoring their training, and rather focussing on foreign players. On the other hand, Hohn called out Sports Authority of India and the Athletics Federation of India for not doing enough to prepare athletes for the mega event. Who’s right and who’s not is not the question here, but it is certainly not the most conducive environment for an athlete to perform.
Look at China and Japan for that matter. For the last 40-50 years they have consistently finished in the top-half of the medals table, and are continuously improving in every sport. Here in India, the focus though on a lot of sports has improved, but there is a long list of them that are still not getting their due. Now consider this. There are 47 medals up for grabs in different disciplines of swimming, but only three swimmers from the country have qualified to represent the country in Tokyo 2020. Canoeing and cycling have 16 and 22 medals, respectively and India has no participation in these events. Lastly, gymnastics has 18 medals up for grabs and we just have one representation in the form of Pranati Nayak, in fact is only the second gymnast ever to represent India at the games. One can only wonder, what it will take for us to produce champions in these sports.
For India to be a powerhouse in sports and Olympics especially, the work will have to start now, to get the desired results in the next games. With experts in the concerned authorities, one can assume that they have the blueprint to make India a global superpower in sports, but the execution needs to be better and at a faster pace, because an average Indian fan might just be running out of patience.