Friday, March 31st, 2023 15:24:17

What Ails Indian Sports

Updated: September 22, 2016 11:10 am

Kheloge, kudoge to hoge kharab, Padhoge, likhoge to banoge nawab is what everyone would have listened in his/her childhood. This apathy towards sports from the parents can be termed the root- cause of the worst condition in which our sports is. In terms of population size and medals won, there is no worse Olympic performer than India. It seems strange that a country of more than 1.2 billion people can only collect an average of less than one medal per Games. Beijing 2008 was India’s most successful Olympics to date; it finished with one Gold and two Bronze medals. That is over 383 million people per medal, the highest ratio of all competing nations at Beijing.

It would be untrue to say that India does not produce good sportsmen and women: in cricket, the country’s passionate obsession, it has Sachin Tendulkar, one of the sport’s greatest ever players. The Indian cricket team holds the world one-day title and was until recently the Number 1 Test team in the world. The Indian men’s field hockey team won six consecutive Olympic Golds in the mid-20th century.

But Indian sports today are in a poor state of organisation. Its superstructure is too heavy; some of its foundations are built on shifting sands. The entire structure has been corroded with jealousies and prejudices, provincialism and communalism, anomalies and stupidities. Players are merely the pawns in the annual skirmishes for power, the stepping stones by which social climbers and careerists find their way into presidential and committee chairs.

Indian sports’ is in shambles and sportsmen continue to be pawns in the hands of the administrative bodies. This has been the system and will remain in the future. Nothing will change so long as the foundations remain on shifting sands. And we continue to dream about hosting the Olympic Games.

Of the three stakeholders in a sportssman’s success, the sportsman himself, the administrator and the public at large, the greatest thrust for excellence has to come from the sportsman. Yet, that is not always the case. For so many years Indian athletes have shown themselves to be satisfied with the perks of participation rather than the rewards of performance that it no longer causes comment. A lifetime train pass, free telephone calls, a plot of land, apparent incentives meant to encourage the athlete to go faster, higher and stronger that act as roadblocks to effort when a performer is too easily satisfied.

In most events, therefore, the goal is not to win, but to top the personal best. The gold, silver and bronze are left to those who train for them physically and mentally, but for most Indian athletes, the competition has a much narrower focus. This middle class attitude to sporting contests persists.

It would be easy to blame the sportsmen and women. But they are part of a system that rewards mediocrity. The system is geared towards producing gracious losers, not aggressive winners. That is why India’s best efforts have come in individual sports. No tennis federation or badminton association or chess federation can take the credit for the successes of men like the Amritrajs, the Leanders, the Anands, the Sandhus and the Maliks. Most of these champions have had problems with their respective sports associations run by politicians and time servers who want to take credit for every success but are experts at pointing fingers at others when things go wrong. When such champions continue to be harassed by officialdom, which functions in a heavy-handed bureaucratic manner, what chance do those on the lower rungs of the ladder have?

The public is largely indifferent to sportsmen till someone wins a world title and then it cannot have enough of him or her. This has to do not so much with sports as with our overblown celebrity culture. If the officials have been able to get away with non-performance for decades, it also has to do with media indifference.

Our poor standing in Olympic sports has little to do with genetics or nutrition or body structure or muscle fibre. We are not a sporting nation in the way Australia or South Africa or Canada is. Or China has become, through a rigorous system of training and playing the percentages. In 2004 Athens Olympics, India celebrated its achievement of one silver medal it won in shooting. After four years, in 2008 Beijing Olympics, India won a gold medal in 10m air rifle event and one bronze medal each, in wrestling and boxing. The international media appreciated this as a rare feat from a ‘non-athletic nation’. The tag ‘non-athletic nation’ can be refuted considering the craze for cricket in India. However, that is not the bone of contention here. India is considered a non-athletic nation because of its consistent poor performance before the world audience in this quadrennial event. India has 17 per cent of the world population but won only 0.31 per cent of the total medals in Beijing Olympics. Thus, there is an urgent need for a strategy that can help India win more Olympic medals.

And we will never become one till there is a change in attitude.

Need of the hour

India’s dismal performance at the Rio Olympics, with just two medals and the 67th rank, has again brought to the fore the pressing need to institute a root-and-branch change in sports in India. The world’s second most populous nation has only won 28 olympics medals so far, and managed to achieve the world’s worst record of medals per head (among nations that have won a medal).

Not too long ago, China was where we find ourselves today. It could barely boast of medals and was subjected to much international scorn. But then its political leadership decided that enough is enough, and embarked on a comprehensive and planned development of sports. The result is for all to see–China is one of the top three in terms of the medal tally at the Olympics and dominates different sports.

It is important to understand ‘why’ India has not been able to get more Olympic medals before answering ‘how’ to get the same. Well, the sportsmen and women in India often complain about lack of adequate sources, funds, infrastructure, equipment, sponsorship and encouragement for sports and games other than cricket in the country. Corruption, political intervention and unwillingness of sports authorities are also cited as the root-causes. Inadequate training programmes and practice sessions which do not meet international standards are said to be another reason for dismal performances in the Olympics. Besides the above, another most important reason is the discouragement and disinterest showed by parents and teachers to their children’s interest in sports and games.

The solution lies in addressing or targeting the above problems. In the first place, parents and teachers should make an extra effort to identify a child’s inclination towards sports. Children of all ages should be encouraged to actively participate in sports as it will help in their overall physical and mental development. Schools should include sports as an integral part of their curriculum. Sports competitions should be held at local and regional levels, and students interested in a particular game, should be provided with further training. This can help children cultivate sportsmanship qualities and also gain experience in the game.

Secondly, the state and central governments should provide adequate funds and resources for upgraded training programing, necessary infrastructure, equipment and other facilities to sportspersons. For instance, the government and sports authorities in China have not only planned to successfully host 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, but also have designed ‘Project 119’ towards winning gold[s] in the medal rich sports of swimming, track, rowing, kayaking and sailing. Under this project, intensive training at par with international standards was provided to athletes and participants of various games. India needs to design and implement such goal-oriented projects to clinch more medals in Olympic games.

Thirdly, all the encouragement, resources and participation would go waste without a proper coach. The nuances and tricks of the game can only be learnt from a good trainer. Even in Mahabharata, the great India epic, a master-archer like Arjuna was trained by his versatile teacher, Dronacharya. Hence, trainers with good performance record, experience and exposure to national and international sports should be appointed as sports coach to train the athletes.

In addition to this, steps should be taken to sever the tentacles of this monstrous octopus called ‘corruption’ which has made its way into every part of human life including sports and games. Sanctioning and providing adequate funds is one step but utilizing them efficiently for the purpose meant, is an altogether different step. Accounts should be audited to ensure proper appropriation of funds. Authorities holding positions in sports organizations, associations and selection committees should be held accountable and punished in the event of any misuse of the allocated funds.

The importance of politics in sports

Should politicians administer sports? This question, which is under increasing public scrutiny in the context of India’s poor record in sports,  has two dimensions – “politics and sports” and “politicians in sports”. As politicians are practitioners of politics, one may think that the two are the same; but there is a major difference between them.

As regards politics and sports, their relationship is interminable. Sports have always been instruments of politics, be it at local or regional or national or international level. Sports in this case become synonymous with the honour or policy of a town or the province or the country. This explains why India and Pakistan are not playing cricket these days. This explains why upset over Russia’s policy towards Ukraine, many Western countries have warned that their teams will stay away from the 2018 World Cup(Football), to be held in 11 Russian cities. This also explains why during the Cold War, the USA-led Block had boycotted the Moscow Olympics (1980) and the then Soviet Union-led group had boycotted Los Angeles Olympics (1984).


A corollary of the phenomenon of sports being instruments of politics also explains how and why world class stadiums or other sports infrastructures have come about with the State-support. Without the generous grants from the government of the day, Delhi, for instance, would not have been able to host the Asian games in 1982 and commonwealth games in 2010. The same is the case all over the world. The consequent corruption is a different story.

Thus, politics is and shall remain an integral part of sports, whether we like it or not. However, the trend of “politicians in sports” is neither inevitable nor desirable. Unlike that of a collective entity like the State, the interference in sports-affairs of a politician as an individual is aimed at personal gains. Sport provides the politician a stage for public visibility, attention, and awareness. When a politician appears at, say, a Cricket or Football match, it shows that he or she shares a common passion for the wider public. After all, publicity is the oxygen for a successful politician. Having power to control the sports heroes and being seen with them work towards the creation of legitimacy, likeability, and credibility for a politician. And if the politician is so inclined, he or she can make a lot of money for himself or herself, given the huge cash the modern sports bodies possess.

No wonder why the Indian politicians love to head or be associated with leading sports bodies. We have had leading politicians like NKP Salve and Sharad Pawar heading the BCCI, the country’s richest sports body. In fact, Pawar headed the BCCI even though he was India’s Agriculture Minister. BCCI’s present president Anurag Thakur is a Member of Parliament. Congress MP Rajiv Shukla has also been a senior functionary of BCCI for years. Politicians have been heading the regional bodies of the BCCI as well – Jaitley of the DDCA and BJP president Amit Shah of the Gujarat unit. In fact, Shah replaced none other than Prime Minister Modi in this post.

Our politicians have not even spared other sports bodies. Let alone the Indian Olympic Association, bodies dealing with Football, Tennis, Hockey, Archery, Shooting or Rowing have invariably been headed by leading politicians such as Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, Praful Patel, Suresh Kalmadi, Lalu Yadav, Yashwant Sinha, K P Singhdeo, Digvijay Singh and Vijay Kumar Malhotra.

It may be noted that as the Union Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar had once proposed a new national sports policy whose principal feature was that Indian sports should be free of politicians. Predictably it did not work out, with politicians, irrespective of their party affiliations, joining hands to oppose the move. And that, perhaps, is the reason, why our overall record as a sporting nation is so pathetic.

by Prakash Nanda

Moreover, favouritism and bias in selection of team members, appointment of trainers, etc. should be strictly discouraged. It should be ensured that the only criteria for selecting a player or a coach of the team should be his/her performance record and definitely not their personal background or relation with the members of selection committee. Care should be taken to not repeat cases like Monica Devi, a wrestler from Manipur, who was dropped from the Indian contingent to 2008 Beijing Olympics in the last minute.

The issue is yet to be solved. Such incidents can lead to resentment among players.

India has decent talent pool in a few sports and we must identify how our traditional sports can be used to translate those talents into their nearest equivalent of Olympic sports. Traditional Indian martial arts still exist in various forms. We must study how these traditional skills, that are second nature to the practitioners, can be translated in to Olympic sports like fencing and judo. It is even possible to tap gymnasts from these village grounds given the amount of acrobatics that is required for a skilled fighter.

Indian Medal tally at Olympics till date


  • In the 1900 Paris Olympics, Norman Pritchard won silver medals in the 200m and the 200m hurdles.
  • Between 1928 and 1980, Indian hockey team won 8 gold medals (1928, 1932, 1936, 1948, 1952, 1956, 1964, 1980). These were the only medal for India during that period.
  • In the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, besides the gold from Indian men’s hockey team, Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav won a bronze in men’s wrestling freestyle bantamweight category.
  • India won silver in men’s hockey in 1960.
  • In 1968 and 1972, men’s hockey team managed to clinch bronze medals.
  • In 1996, Leander Paes won a bronze in tennis. Read: The phenomenon that’s Leander Paes.
  • In 2000 and 2004 Karnam Malleswari (weightlifting – 69 kg category) and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (shooting – double trap) won bronze and silver medals respectively.
  • In 2008, Abhinav Bindra became the first Indian to win an individual gold medal. Vijender Singh (boxing) and Sushil Kumar won a bronze each at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
  • The 2012 London Olympics was a good event for India, winning 6 individual medals.


  • Gagan Narang Bronze Shooting Men’s 10m Air Rifle
  • Vijay Kumar Silver Shooting Men’s 25 Rapid Fire Pistol
  • Saina Nehwal Bronze Badminton Women’s Singles
  • Mary Kom Bronze Boxing Women’s Flyweight
  • Yogeshwar Dutt Bronze Wrestling Men’s 60 kg Freestyle
  • Sushil Kumar Silver Wrestling Men’s 66 kg Freestyle
  • Till now, Sushil Kumar is the only Indian to have won two individual Olympics medals for India after Norman Pritchard.
  • In Rio 2016 Olympic India could manage to win only two medals: P.V. Sindhu’s Silver in badminton and Sakshi Malik’s bronze in wrestling.


We have had centres of wrestling colloquially for centuries. One must not forget that India’s first individual medal came in wrestling as early as 1952. Funding for wrestling must be increased multi-fold to create a much bigger pool of wrestlers to compete at the Olympics and world championships. Again our traditional style of wrestling must be codified and combined with modern diet and fitness techniques to get the best of both worlds. Tradition, more often than not, exists for a reason because it works!

Shooting is another sport India must focus upon. The Indian army is one of the best trained armies in the world and we have a wealthy pool of talent to chooose from to train. It is important to identify the men who had the best shooting records and the training provided to these men can lead to a high degree of sophistication in Olympic competitions.

If India, through means private and public, concentrate on these sports i.e. archery (4), fencing (10), judo (14), wrestling (18) and shooting (15), we will compete for 159 total medals. With a thorough road map and exact targets at each step, even if India win 10 per cent of the medals we will end up with 16 medals in an Olympics. We should also invite experts from countries that dominate medals in said sports i.e. Japanese Judo experts or South Korean archery experts to train our fledgling aspiring Olympians.

Damage control move by Sports Ministry

 01-10-2016After disappointing debacle at Rio Olympics 2016, Sports Ministry has come under direct attack from many quarters of the country. The scathing remarks have prompted the stakeholders to look into the past and analyse the performance to ensure a better future.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced setting-up of a task force keeping in mind the next three Olympics. Going into the damage control mode, Sports Ministry said it has started a “thorough review” of India’s dismal outing at the Rio Olympics and is also seeking feedbacks and suggestions from the athletes who competed in the quadrennial extravaganza. “Sports Minister Vijay Goel has decided to conduct within the Ministry a thorough review of India’s performance in Rio Olympics, 2016. The process has already begun,” the Ministry said in a release.

“The Minister has written individual letters to each of the athletes who participated in the Rio Olympics 2016, seeking their feedback and suggestions. He has stated that they should feel free to give him their suggestions or feedback anytime either personally or through mail.

“In his letter, the Minister has stressed the need for more inputs from performers like them so that the pool of the world-class athletes can be enhanced and sports infrastructure strengthened,” it added in the release.

Finally, sports in India should expand and reach beyond cricket. Cricket has managed to attract huge fanfare, reputed brand names for sponsorship and popular celebrities like industrialists and bollywood actors. Cash-rich Indian Premier League stands as a testimony to this. Similar treatment is due to be accorded to other sports. Private sponsorers including domestic and multinational companies should be invited to offer sponsorship to sportsmen of other games. Wide publicity should be given to other sports by broadcasting them on television. Medal winning performance should be duly rewarded by the central and state governments. However, in spite of all the hurdles and hiccups, Abhinav Bindra, Sushil Kumar and Vijendra Kumar had created history at the Beijing Olympics 2008 and now PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik in Rio 2016. This clearly shows that without obstacles, India would stand second to none in the Olympic medal chart. If It works with a purpose and vision.

by Nilabh krishna

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