Monday, August 18, 2008

Olympic déjà vu

Here are my random, rambling thoughts on the Beijing Olympics:

China, the ‘best ever’ opening ceremony, Phelps owns the pool, Bolt runs a 9.69 sec 100 m – an astonishing world record, an Indian wins an individual gold, many firsts . .

Some things do not change, however; people crying that it is a national shame that a country of a billion people does not win anything more. As I write this, there is a distinct possibility that we win some medals in boxing.

But, what all of us who cry that it is a shame that we do not win medals in the international arena forget is that we have a lot more to be ashamed of and that they are the real reason for the ‘Olympic shame’.

The Netherlands recently overtook the US in the average heights of its populations. What has that got to do with medals in the Olympics? Everything! Sociologists think that the reason for this is the greater social equality in the Netherlands. It does not help that the US is one of the richest countries in the world because it has too many who are very poor. What matters is the social equality. That translates into the fact that the people in the NL have access to nutrition that allows them to grow to their full potential.

Does this translate into medals in the Olympics? May be, may be not. But it is clear that NL is a force to reckon with in football and hockey an has won seven medals. At the time of writing this it stands 21st in the medals tally. What is the big deal, you say? It has a population of about 18 million for chrissake! If India won medals at the same rate, it should have won some 350 medals in this Olympics, by now!

OK, is social equality all? Definitely not. There are factors such as tradition. Sporting tradition, I mean. This, to a large extent explains how terribly poor countries like Ethiopia can win golds. Note that they are in fields that hardly need equipment and facilities.

While watching the Olympics (alas only on TV) this time, I had enough proof for the lack of sporting tradition in India. (Incidentally, I watched the first week of this Olympics in a hospital room while keeping company to my son who had just then undergone “Kebab Osteotomy” on both his femurs. That is another long story.) The patient in the other bed in the room switched over to Kannada serials as soon as I left the room. The first opportunity I got I shifted to the Olympics and there it stayed for the rest of the stay.

The ticker tape news highlights provided some indicators to the lack of sporting tradition, apart from the ‘normal’ lack of attention to detail. Women’s Heptathlon was consistently spelt as Hepthatalon! Then there was the Artistic Gymnastics All-Around. I swear, I am not making this up. The person preparing that ticker had perhaps never heard of these two events until he was actually required to type it in.

Most of the time, the TV was in mute. When I did turn up the volume, I heard some interesting bits. For one commentator the name of a Thai boxer was too complex and throughout the four rounds referred to him as the Thai boxer. With his Indian pronunciation it sounded like ‘the Thigh boxer’. Another commentator somehow caught hold of ‘the Finnish player’. I have a suspicion that he does not know the name of the country – Finland! This kind of inaccuracies were not limited to Doordarshan. Aaj Tak kept talking about Fleps instead of Phelps!

The fact that one of the gold medallists in Swimming, Alain Bernard lives in a village with a population of 450 amazes me. In India, anyone living in a village with a population of 45,000 will find it practically impossible to gain access to a swimming pool.

Talking of sporting tradition reminds me of this incident. Some thirty odd years ago, I cycled from Mysore to Bangalore – a distance of 140 km. The reaction of an uncle and an aunt were – “Why? Weren’t there buses?” and “Your father let you go? I thought he was sane”, respectively. Says a lot does it not?

So, those optimists who dream that India will one day win medals by the bushels at the Olympics: Rejoice! The day is not far off. It will happen as soon as we have more social equality, have a better universal education and when we have developed a sporting tradition going back centuries . . . . .”


  1. Anonymous10:25 pm

    Humorous and touchy. Facts and thoughts to ponder. You mix them up well, my friend :-)
    Must confess-- smiled and blinked back...


  2. i got my olympic coverage, comments and analysis. other than reading the headlines about india winning gold in some shooting event, this post is all i have heard about olympics 2008. with so much of sports awareness we are sure to flourish in future.