It is heartbreaking to see a billion Indians hoping against hope for one creditable performance by one Indian in the Olympics – and then exploding in excitement when a humble bronze is won. Did you notice any excitement in the US? In China? They win gold by the tonne and take it as routine.
Champion countries didn't get there easily. Behind their success are back-breaking training systems and long years of dedication. In America, as the world's leading capitalist state, sports training is a business enterprise conducted with all the paraphernalia and competitiveness of corporate culture. In China it is part of communist rigour where top results are mandatory. India fails in this league because sports is for us an extension of politics. Athletics or archery, football or cricket, hockey or tennis, we run them all as we run the Nationalist Congress Party or some such. Sports in India is meant for the Suresh Kalmadis of India.
Hockey is a good example of politics as destroyer. India was Olympics champion in hockey eight times. The team today has some new players who performed well enough to win matches against Pakistan, China, Japan and South Korea. But they finally fell victim to the power struggle between the warring factions of the game, Hockey India and Indian Hockey Federation. Pressure from the Sports Ministry in Delhi and warnings from the International Hockey Federation failed to enforce peace. The hockey politicians fought so savagely that the players were demoralised. The humiliation in London matched the humiliation in Beijing four years ago.
Such things are unimaginable in other countries. American training centres maintain high standards because the competition among them is stiff. They provide high-quality services in physical conditioning, mental training, sports psychology, speed techniques and even coach education. Because the English Premier League is “the most successful, viewed and profitable soccer league in the world”, football training schools teach also British philosophy.
China was an under-performer not long ago. It won its first Olympic gold medal only in 1984. Then it decided to take a leaf from Stalin and start a whole new culture in sports. Back in the 1950s, Stalin had picked sports as a field where the Soviet Union's supremacy could be put on display as a winning point in the Cold War. He succeeded. In events like gymnastics, weighlifting, kayaking and wrestling, Russian and East European stars became household names across the globe. Every human fell in love with Nadia Comaneci. But the methods Stalin used to achieve this distinction would not be acceptable to others. Coaches were told the number of medals their wards had to win in a particular event. If the quota was not filled....
In China Government diktat was an acceptable way to achieve excellence. Once it was decided to become a sporting nation, China set up special schools to train sports persons. There are 3000 of them today where some four lakh children, picked up by talent scouts, are given rigorous training. From them half a lakh “gifted” children are chosen for specialised training in elite sports schools.
It's tough life for the kids who start at age 5 and 6. Mornings are for general education. Then four hours of relentless training under unsmiling coaches. The children are kept fulltime in boarding houses, with access to parents only in weekends or perhaps monthends, rather hard in a country where the one-child norm is law. There are occasional reports of coaches beating the children, even doping them. But medals are what matter, and medals they win.
We are an honourable capitalist country, so we can't resort to communist methods. But why are there not enough entrepreneurs setting up sports schools with honourable profit motives? Perhaps they have no prospects when politicians are meddling in sports. So we are back at the mercy of the state. Unless the Government bans political leaders from sports, our athletes will have to find gold in bronze, and the nation must hold its head between its knees. How about FDI in sports? At least PPP?