Vijender Kumar lost in the semi-final of 75 kg middle-weight boxing at Beijing 2008 but still secured a bronze medal. That was the third medal for India at Beijing after Abhinav Bindra won a gold in 10m rifle and Sushil Kumar won a bronze in freestyle 66 kg wrestling. Beijing marks the best Indian Olympic performance since Helsinki 1948 when it won a gold in field hockey and a bronze in bantam-weight wrestling.
India has one of the lowest per capita Olympics medals in the world and no one would have been shocked had India not won any medal this time around. However, Abhinav Bindra won the first ever individual gold for India and three Indian pugilists reached the quarter-finals with one reaching semi-final. Paes-Bhupati also reached the quarter-final of men’s doubles in tennis and Saina Nehwal reaching quarter-final of women’s badminton.
Also, with a gold medal this time, Abhinav has been spared us the collective self-flagellation we indulge in every four years with the standard refrain “One billion people, not a single gold medal” and then go back to being engineers and doctors.
Obviously, there are many things that can be done to improve the performance. Accountability for the sports administrator would be a good start. For the first time ever since 1928 India failed to qualify for field hockey for the Olypics. And that is our national game! KPS Gill has been the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) President since the past 15 years before his sacking and dissolution of IHF in April 2008. Indian Weightlifting Federation was banned for two years after the 2006 doping scandal at the Commonwealth Games. Only one weightlifter, Monika Devi, was allowed but then disallowed after she tested positive for drugs before it turned out that her tests were incorrect but by then it was too late for her to compte. Sunil Dutt, the fine actor was the Sports minister of India before he died in 2005 at the age of 74. He was replaced by MS Gill who is 71 years. Well, at least no one can fault us for bringing underage people into the sports!
Another issue is that ofÃ‚Â infrastructure. In this case too the Indian government has got its priorities wrong. We always hear about a slew of rewards, land allotments, jobs for the medalists returning home. The four boxers from Bhiwani are being rewarded lakhs of Rupees by the Haryana government from the taxpayers money. However, if such money was invested wisely in the first place, we would be returning with more medals. But then with corrupt (or incompetent) administrators running the show, it wouldn’t have mattered. Amit Varma makes a good argument why we don’t need to invest money in winning medals:
I shall go against the prevailing wisdom, then, and say that I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mind if our government spends less money on sport, or even none. Where will our Olympic medals come from then, you ask (as if the last few decades have brought us a slew of them). Well, lift enough people to prosperity, and the sporting laurels will roll in. Ask Abhinav Bindra. [India Uncut]
However, what I totally fail to understand is that these four boxers are being made DSPs in Haryana! What is their qualification to manage Gurjar-Meena or Sacha Sauda like situation that could erupt in India anytime? Being macho men? Government does not need to overcompensate at at the cost of a few other (and may I add deserving) young men.
The 2010 Commonwealth Games are to be hosted in New Delhi and I hope that it will spur some positive initiatives to advance the cause sports in India. Just by looking at the current website of the games, a lot needs to be done.