Hum bhi Olympic!
A saga of glory, shame and pity
ARJIMAND HUSSAIN TALIB
What do people like us have to do with Olympics? A reasonably fair question.
The London Olympics are here. Over 200 nations are competing in a quest for excellence and glory. China – the new sporting super power – struggles to retain its top position of 100 medals it earned at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The United States – ranked second in 2008 - is trying to dislodge the Chinese from the top spot. Then the other greats, like Russia, the UK, Germany, South Korea, Japan and others will aim for improving their performance too.
India, we are told, looks ahead to ‘significantly improve’ its 3 medals-win at Beijing to a more respectable one. Pakistan may be aiming to figure in the medal list (at Beijing it didn’t figure there).
New York Times columnist David Brooks called the Olympics affair a contradiction in his latest column. To him, even as the opening ceremony is all about some nice things – flaunting human friendship, unity and so on, the competition in itself is a war. And why not?
When I was in Beijing at the time of the Beijing Olympics I learnt these global events are not only about medals and honors. These events are more about racial superiority, political statements, progress, prosperity and national wellbeing.
The Chinese made a statement at Beijing just in their characteristic style – they let words speak less and make their deeds do the talking. And now look at the London Olympics. Beyond the sporting competitions, it is a time for the British people to remind the world of their glory days of the Empire era. It is a time to remind the world that out of the greatest ten world sports it has invented or codified eight.
Looking at the Danny Boyle-choreographed opening ceremony Friday night, that is what was emphasised. The pomp and show wasn’t only about color and choreography, it was about political statements.
New York Times was stunningly quick to call the event a ‘5-ring circus’ in its lead headline, only to change the title later to ‘Olympic opening is oddly, confidently British’. The Guardian focused on the diplomatic gaffes of the presumptive US Republican presidential nominee – Mitt Romney – in London. It listed all his gaffes – mainly his criticism for London’s lack of preparation – and even asked him to go home. Prime Minister David Cameroon reminded Romney that London was not holding the games ‘out of nowhere’ – a reference to the 2002 winter Olympics he hosted in Salt Lake City.
As great nations fight for the golds we would be content watching all the action on the television. We hardly have any heroes, and just nothing to lose. But the question why countries like India fare so poorly in the Olympics cannot evade an answer infinitely.
India suffers from a dismal sporting culture. Its sporting facilities are one of the poorest in the world. The worst things to happen are letting its politicians’ control and manage its sporting bodies. It is like asking a public sector undertaking traditionally dealing with silk to manufacture missiles.
India’s sports traditions are so dominated by cricket – a game which in essence lacks athletics – that it hasn’t quite been able to excel in other sports. Worse, politicians have made sporting an area for manufacturing careers for their supporters and earn huge money. Delhi Commonwealth Games were a fiasco – a global shame.
Our state’s lack of development in sports suffers from the spin-offs of the same bad sporting culture. Imagine the J&K Cricket Association scandal.
India’s sporting culture also suffers from the syndromes of symbolism and tokenism. The same happens in J&K as well. We breed mediocrity and revel in the delusions of sporting excellence, which never exists. We use sports as a means of conflict management rather than for breeding excellence.
At the school level, where the real sporting talents normally flourish, we hardly have serious systems to identify and nourish talents. While living in several African countries and China, which are making a big mark in international sporting arenas, I learnt that sporting excellence is not only about sporting infrastructure it is also about certain physical characteristics and culture. Certain cultures have a thirst for excellence and inbuilt discipline. They call our sports ‘silly sports.’
In Kashmir it is always delightful to see youngsters playing football in the Polo Ground or cricket in the Eidgah Grounds. But the sad part is that that enthusiasm doesn’t have a system to nurture excellence. If only we take sports really seriously we will be in a position to compete at some level. We may still not be able to make it to the Olympics (there are certain racial issues too that play a part in that) but we can undoubtedly do better.
Glory does not come with mediocrity. Celebrating mediocrity and isolated success as excellence is a pity for a country like India. It would mean nothing more than symbolism, rooted in the sporting cliché like Hum bhi Olympic!
The columnist is a technical consultant in international development. Feedback at: email@example.com
Lastupdate on : Sat, 28 Jul 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 28 Jul 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 29 Jul 2012 00:00:00 IST
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