The euphoria was there; media engaged columns or bytes on the seven valiant fighters who have won medals, whatever the colour, from the just-concluded Tokyo Olympic (Summer) 2020. The BJP Prime Minister had sent messages during the Games, as also met the medal winners, even a broken heart loser. Certainly they are the prides for the country, particularly considering the long continued rigorous preparation they had to undertake, often under adversities and this year it being aggravated by the anxious moments of waiting for the Games to take place in face of the waves of Covid 19 pandemic. It thus became Tokyo Olympics 2020 held in mid-2021.
However, it cannot be denied that all these accolades, financial incentives (at least on paper), consolations fade with time, as it has been seen all-through. Unfortunately, we dared not expect much difference this time too. So it may need a few words on the Olympics as it is today and the Indians in it.
Indian performance in Olympics so far
To start with, a brief note on India in the Olympics through years may be interesting and may lead to important cue. India is a big country with a long, glorious history and a huge productive population which have kept it running for the ages. Even in certain sporting events the country does not fall back. But the Olympic records do not strike notes precisely conforming with these attributes of the country. There was a single resident individual athlete from India who joined the Olympics in 1900. The first Indian team of three athletes and two wrestlers joined in 1920. Since then the country took part in all the Olympics. From these participations, Indians won 35 Olympic medals in total. Of these, eleven were from hockey in twelve Olympics, including 8 gold medals, 6 successively between 1928 and 1956 and then in 1964 and 1980, two silver (1968, 1972) and one bronze (2020). The first gold medal by an individual and besides hockey, was won by the shooter (A Bindra) in 2008. And the first gold medal in track and field events is earned in the last Olympics (2020) in Javelin throw by Neeraj Chopra. The wrestler Sushil Kumar was the first individual to win two medals (bronze in 2008 and silver in 2012) and the shuttler PV Sindhu, the first female athlete to win multiple medals (silver 2016 and bronze 2020). Karnam Malleswari was the first Indian woman to win a medal in 2000 in weight lifting. Mary Kom became the first Indian woman to win a medal in boxing in 2012. So far six medal haul of 2012 was the highest for the Indian team. This time it has increased to 7, with only two in 2016. Among 93 countries which have won medals in the last Olympic 2020, India stands at the 48th position.
Certainly the jinx is broken. Leaving aside the Indian track legends like Milkha Singh and PT Usha, in slightly over the last decades, the Indian athletes are winning individual medals in events other than hockey and the total number is approaching a two-digit mark. Particularly significant is the most recent historic gold -medal win of Neeraj Chopra in javelin throw, fairly persistent performance of players like PV Sindhu or Mary Kom (who narrowly missed a medal this time). Also significant are efforts of individuals like, among others, Saina Nehwal (Badminton), Dipa Karmakar (Gymnastics), Hima Das or Duyti Chand (in track and field), Sakhshi Malik, Ravi Dahiya, Bajrang Punia ( all in Wrestling) Devalina Borgohain ( in Boxing). They , among others, either won some medals or narrowly missed it.
Does these performances prove that government is encouraging sports?
But frankly, do these performances prove that the country has developed a proper and adequate sports infrastructure to produce front-ranking athletes in a sustained way? It is reported that that Neeraj found himself in charge of a German bio-mechanist specialist, after there had developed problems with his earlier coach. The German guide trained Neeraj in scientific and suitably effective methods to equip him, both physically and psychologically, to take up the challenge. It clicked for him and he fetched the coveted gold. But was it the same for all athletes? India’s first medal in 2020 Olympics was a silver won by Mirabai Chanu from a village of Manipur. It is learnt from a photograph in media that a popular film actor of South India was dumbstruck to see Mirabai having her paltry quantity of meal with family member in a small room. Obviously, with such minimal food intake and staying in a small house in a Manipur village, one can hardly think of competing with other country athletes who are nourished by health diet in appropriate quantity and raised in a healthy dwelling. But Mirabai could overcome all these shortcomings to attain such a height. Lovelina Bargohain, from Assam, who won a bronze in boxing, stays in a remote village where the daily quota of power is two hours during daytime and six hours in the evening It has indeed been unbelievable. It shows that if such talents are identified in time and then the government takes responsibility of rearing and training them in accordance with modern methods, Indian athletics could overtake many formidable competitors to brighten the face of the country in sports. Most of these athletes, wrestlers and boxers hail from villages of different parts of the country where opportunities for developing their skills and affordability of nutritious diet elude them.
Win I gain, loss you lose-that is government’s stance
But what happens when an athlete is not so fortunate and after all the efforts, may fail? Vinesh Phogat, the wrestler who had competed in Rio Olympics in 2016, could not win any medal then, rather had a leg broken, was again on the mat this time. She lost in the quarterfinals. And thereafter the Wrestling Federation of India headed by the BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh clamped a ban on Vinesh on three counts. In a long emotional write-up in the Indian Express, Vinesh refuted the charges and narrated her struggle since 2017 when she had a concussion. She got Covid first time in August 2020, after which she developed problems in digesting protein. She had Covid in 2021 for the second time contracted in Almaty of Kazakhstan after an international meet. Even her family back home tested Covid positive. On this background, she avoided staying with team-mates. Her long term physio was not given the charge; instead a physio from the shooting team was assigned to train her. Naturally the newly appointed physio did not understand her physical strength or areas of deficiencies as well as problems specific to wrestlers. Even then she went through all the schedules. Ultimately, when she was on the mat, she failed to give desired performance and faced defeat.
In a subsequent personal breakfast meeting with the athletes the BJP PM Narendra Modi had told Vinesh that he was ‘fond’ of her skills, respected her family and advised her–“Never let success go to your head and never let failure go to your heart”. Sounds nice, but where was any concrete suggestion on the ban on her and/or resulting problems in her practice schedule? Under such circumstances, one may tend to be at one with Vinesh’s feelings– ‘ in India, you fall as fast as you rise. One medal (lost) and everything is finished’.
Olympics, a commercial proposition and preserve of the rich
Sports is no more creates a healthy mind in a healthy body and fosters the spirit of cooperation and friendship. It is now an out and out commercial proposition. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), a private entity which conducts the entire proceedings of the Games and makes revenue to the extent of around $5 billion over a four year period. Olympians get medals, prestige and fame, but no significant share of the revenue. In a few year time, many of them would have to search for a job to live upon. Then again, these days preparation for Olympics is itself a highly expensive affair. So, there is always a general correlation between the number of medals won by a country and how rich it is. Naturally richer countries have more decisive says in the IOC. Russia, now an imperialist country after counter-revolution, was banned on the charge of a state-sponsored doping scandal. It could circumvent it by sending its athletes under the banner of ROC (Russian Olympic Committee). There have been several allegations of influential rich country/ countries manipulating doping results to weed out serious and potential contenders from other countries. And last but not the least, the cut-throat rat race for medals are subjecting athletes, more so young teenagers, to be pushed under the grinding wheel of rigorous training schedules, often for years. Such schedules besides telling upon the health of the budding athletes, are also reported to comprise physical, verbal even psychological abuses of theirs. ‘Preparing them for withstanding pressure’-this may be the innocent argument, but that does not prevent such acts from the scope of violation of even human rights. The tragedy of such mad pursuit of success is reflected in the case of Simone Biles or Vinesh Phogat.
Objective of Olympics is being tampered with
The original motto of the Olympics adopted in 1894 was Citius- Altius- Fortius (meaning Faster-Higher-Stronger). In 1908 it was accompanied by an elaboration: “The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well”. Those reflected the ethical demands from the sportspersons and sports. The IOC has added a change in its 20 July 2021 session making the motto Citius- Altius- Fortius-Communiter (Faster- Higher- Stronger- Together). But that only reads hypocritical, as the Olympics, with all its glamour and hype, negates its original ethical stand and turns more and more into a lucrative business for the organizers, mad rat-race for medals and a recurring event telling upon people’s life. After all, we live in a capitalist world, where earning maximum profit is the sole motive force of all productive activities, where facing all-out crisis capitalism is trying to wipe out all remnants of ethics and morality !
In India, the Olympics, this year, has additional attributes. The BJP Prime Minister who is always on the lookout to arrogate all credit of any success to himself called on the athletes, both winners and losers. One veteran sportsman called it a ‘rare’ thing in this country as it proves that person who leads India’s democracy thinks of sports and sporting culture. But is it so? In that personal meet with the athletes, the PM reportedly requested each player to visit 75 schools by 15 August 2023 as part of the Amrit Mahotsav, the term the BJP and its government has coined to celebrate 75 years of independence which, as borne out by recorded facts, was opposed by the predecessors of the BJP. So this fake jubilation over anniversary of independence, aimed at deriving electoral benefits in the coming polls, Now the PM wants to use the athletes to be a courier pigeon of his vested political agenda. There are more up the sleeve.
In the coming UP assembly election, prospects of the BJP is stated to be bleak because of mishandling of pandemic, virtual collapse of law and order and the peasants taken umbrage at the Black Farm laws, there is as usual a spree of promises of freebies. Now the BJP PM has no qualm in using the Olympic medal for his political, election campaign. That is the hidden agenda of meeting Olympians in breakfast meet.
But the medal winners are no fools. The bronze medallist pugilist said clearly that, to her independence meant a society where a mother would smile with pride even after giving birth to three girls in succession. To her, independence would find significance when, even if the village girl does not fetch a medal, her village at the remotest corner would be provided normally with metalled roads, tap water connection or the likes. The moot question that remains can her dreams as also the dreams of the veteran sportsperson mentioned above, come true in the capitalist society we are now living in, where the man who leads the ‘democracy’ uses Olympic medals as means to win election.
[Sources: Deccan Herald 11 August 2021, Times of India 15 August 2021, The Indian Express 18 August 2021; The Statesman Kolkata, 19 August 2021; olympics.com]