There is a sense of euphoria that the International Olympic Committee voted overwhelmingly to let the western Indian megapolis of Mumbai host the 140th IOC Session, the most important annual meeting of its members, in May-June 2023. And in many ways it is not misplaced since it will be a massive shot in the arm for the Olympic movement in the country.
With the IOC Members visiting India – and it must be hoped that May-June 2023 will allow people to travel more freely than now – it will be a good opportunity to convince them of the serious intent of hosting the 2036 Olympic Games. It has been amply clear for a while that India nurses more realistic ambitions of hosting the Games than ever thus far.
It can be hoped that Mumbai 2023 will lead to some different outcomes to the 1983 Session in New Delhi. After staging the Asian Games a few months earlier, India had been hopeful of staging the 1992 Olympic Games. The impression created after the IOC Session was that with a few modifications, New Delhi would be a strong contender to host the 1992 Games. That dream remained unrealised.
IOC has had 53 more sessions in the time before it voted to return to India for only the second time since the inaugural Session in Paris in 1894. Meanwhile, the world of sport, not to speak of the world itself, has evolved a great deal since the last such assembly in India in March 1983.
IOC no longer winces at the thought of letting professional athletes being part of the movement.
Come to think of it, IOC itself has reformed in the past four decades. It now embraced 15 Olympian athletes, 15 representatives from National Olympic Committees and 15 from International Federations as members in the wake of turmoil and review. It has worked towards achieving gender parity in the Games and becoming more inclusive.
India now has the chance to put its best foot forward. It is emerging as a leader on the global stage, rising among the developing economies. At the same time, Indians are embracing Olympic sport whole-heartedly. From the common citizen to the Government, from the broadcasters to the corporates, there is massive interest in promoting Olympic sport.
For all that, we must not confuse the decision to award hosting an IOC Session in Mumbai with a sporting celebration that can bring in socio-economic growth in its wake. After all, the agenda for the Session will revolve around the various Commissions of IOC and consider their reports besides one from the 2024 Paris Olympic Games Organising Committee.
Yet, there is no reason to believe that while the IOC conducts its business, India must have its own agenda and use the Session as a catalyst to usher in greater focus on Olympic sport. The events of the next year and a quarter must be designed to tap its potential in India in a more structured manner, with all stakeholders coming together and tugging in the same direction.
There was splendid teamwork featuring the IOC Members in India, Mrs. Nita Ambani and Dr. Narender Dhruv Batra, the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Mr. Anurag Singh Thakur and Abhinav Bindra, India’s first individual Olympic Games gold medalist, and countless others who worked behind the scenes to ensure that the Session would be allotted to Mumbai.
Abhinav Bindra called Mrs. Ambani the First Lady of Indian sport and said she is deeply committed to elevating sport and Olympism in the country. It would be amazing if such teamwork persists in India’s sports administration, often beset by legal skirmishes. Surely, if Team India can come together to bring a session to Mumbai, it can lift Indian sport higher.
There is no doubt that India now loves the Olympic Games more than ever in its 75-year history as an independent nation. India has a sports-loving population that contributed more than a tenth of the global viewership for Tokyo2020. And yet, it is a market in which more can be done, making the Olympic Games more accessible and get more engagement.
After all, IOC chose the second most populous nation in the world, with a significantly large percentage of young population, with a very good reason. It did not need the broadcasting statistics of Tokyo2020 to be convinced that the Indian market is crucial. And, with its vast human potential, India can aspire to be among the leading nations in the Olympic Movement.
Perhaps, the IOC Session will also spur the ecosystem in India to find the balance in sports administration. There could be deeper message tucked in Mr. Bach’s reference that IOC wants to encourage and support the Indian Olympic Association and all the National Federations to promote and strengthen Olympic sport in the country.
Over the past few years, India has spent time, energy and money to strive for a better sports culture. If used well by the sports administrators, the run-up to IOC Session can spur India’s evolution, inspiring more youth to take up competitive sport and pursuing it as a profession. It is up to the stakeholders to ensure gains for India from the IOC Session 2023 in Mumbai.
In many ways, Team India must have its own agenda even while IOC comes to town next year with its work carved out. If it can fine tune the assembly-line, with greater participation of State Governments and Corporates at the grassroots level while the Central Sector funds elite sportspersons, its aspirations of being among the world’s top sporting nations may find fruition.
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