Saturday, August 23, 2008

Will the Singaporean Indians be happy?

While working in Singapore in the mid-nineties a question that I heard more than once from the Singapore born Indians (who were obviously frustrated with India or Indians or India's performance in International Sport) was this - "How come you guys have the second biggest population on Earth and cannot even win one Olympic Gold medal?". I used to shrug and give answers but more of them excuses. In return I could have asked them this question instead then but it would have hurt them. How come you have a sizable Indian population, particularly Tamilians and Malayalees and yet cannot make a decent song, or movie and have to resort to entertainment from India. Certainly that isn't more difficult than winning a medal at the Olympics yet these guys simply cannot do them. I remember watching one such serial in Singapore and it was pathetic.

Now that Abhinav Bhandra has won a Gold medal for us I am not saying we have the perfect answer for the Singaporean Indian but we also need to analyze various things behind this victory. Most important of all, will we make a repeat performance because our Athens medallist in the same sport did dismally this time.

I am not trying to let him or India down but this guy is going to be talked about for the next 4 years like no other sportsman in India, a credit that will not and was not given to several other discerning sports personalities that kept India's name shining bright in the yesteryears for several years. In fact very few of us have even heard of Bhindra till he won the medal. Already 5 lakhs has been promised by the Chief Minister, Mr. Karunanidhi of Tamil Nadu and other states have followed suit with their prizes. His total prize money from India stands over 5 crores now and growing. After the states it will then be the turn of the Central Government to give him prizes. Imagine if a lot more Indians had won Gold medals what would happen to our treasury. I can understand the appreciation but has our state and central governments gone over the limit. I think about the Singaporean Indian's question and wonder if we really have to shower so much praise. In China athletes have been winning Golds by the cart load and yet how many of them get even the smallest of praise that one Gold medallist in India does. Most of them are lost and forgotten after the Olympics. It only shows how medal starved we are. And if we are so desperate then what are we doing for it and where are we doing wrong at winning Olympic medals?

In the current political, social and economical setup for most Indians taking sport as a career is a big decision to make and a big no-no. This is probably one of the fundamental reasons why we are so backwards in sport. This is the prime issue we need to address and trying to solve this issue or find an answer will go a long way in helping us understand or solve why India can excel in sport. On the other hand in countries opting for a career in sport is a preferable choice for aspiring sportsmen. The amazing thing is that several countries who are behind India in terms of economy, political stability, funds and coaching have fared better at the Olympics.

This is the first Olympics where we didn't even qualify for Hockey. Its such a shame having been World Champions and having won the maximum number of Golds in Hockey in Olympics we couldn't qualify. So over the years we have been going backwards in the sport that we were best at and finally we have failed to qualify.

I am sure some or many of you may be even want to quote Lincoln - Ask not what the country did for you but ask what you did for the country". For the country I am only trying to throw more light on this incident. Should we shower prizes and prize money or provide better and coaching after employing impartial methods and unbiased selection? Why waste so much of our time on cricket? There are many among the new generation that do not know that Hockey is our national sport. We need to do research and find out how we can improve our sporting scene instead. We also need to investigate sports medicine and see how the usage of the same can improve the condition of our athletes. The dismal performance at the Olympics continously reveals to us the state of our health systems, the cleanliness of our air, our spiritual, emotional and phycial well being, quality of food, discipline and control of our regimens, our overall vision and the general nature of our beings.

Among our current athletes at Beijing Saina Nehal did a good job on the Badminton courts in Beijing. She was leading 11-3 in the decider before giving the game away to an unseeded Indonesian. The pugilists also did well though Akhil Kumar was carried away by some hype and I wasn't surprised when he lost the quarter finals. Vijayendra Kumar was the best of the boxers and it was good he was able to get a bronze. His attempt is certainly commendable. Anju Bobby George was certainly a disappointment. It is difficult to say if she will be able to get a medal after another four years.

And writing of questions from Singaporeans another interesting question but one that got me into a tight corner that I had to confront from a Singaporean-Chinese lady was, "I have always wondered how Indian women wearing the sari go to the toilet?" I kind-of managed to answer this one. Luckily Jaya was around to help.

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