2024 Olympics – Climbing Up The Ladder

Zeus and Hercules must be sitting up there and having a great laugh. The two Greek Gods in whose honor The Olympic Games began in the 8th  century BC, would be holding on to their sides, rolling on the floor, laughing. The ultimate test of sports endurance and what a massive imbalance. Two Asian countries, mind you both neighbours, both with comparable populace, yet one is in the lead and the other lost in the line.

In the on-going 2020 Tokyo Olympics, China with a population of 1.41 billion has 87 medals with 38 gold. India with 1.39 billion has 7 medals with 1 gold. I mean seriously 7 medals…ha ha… pinch me…… because this is unbelievable, unthinkable and utter nonsense. Yes we’re a poor country, yes we’re a third world country, but is it possible that 1.39 billion people can’t produce medals? What’s going wrong? And what’s been going wrong, has been going wrong for donkeys years.

In the last 7 Olympics we’ve won a total of 21 medals. As I watch the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games these statistics get me thinking. Is something drastically wrong with our country? Are we really that poor that we can’t win more medals? Do we not have the fire within us, to compete? Take Lovlina Borgohain for instance, the Indian boxer and Olympic bronze medalist this year. Her father is a small-scale businessman who struggled financially to support her ambition. There is enough fire in our bellies. It is something else that is holding us back from winning medals. Here are three points I would like to place on the table.

The first is the ‘P’ of the OlymPics, eliminate that and it’s half the battle won. So what is this big ‘P’? Most sporting institutions in India are headed by politicians and ex-bureaucrats. Sadly, most of them have no clue about sports. While the government pumps crores into the sports budget, these sports bodies are a brilliant place to make money. The cherry on the cake is that they will never be held accountable for the pathetic results, because no one has the authority to question their credentials. Unfortunately the only qualification needed to head a sports body is a stint in any ministry. If we want to win medals all these bodies have to be removed from the hands of these politicians and ex-bureaucrats and given to those people who are either qualified or have won medals at the Olympics.

Second is to bring about privatization in sport. The Padukone Dravid Center for Sports Excellence in Bangalore is a state of the art, world class facility. I have been going there regularly to practice tennis and it is a “Temple of Sport”. The energy, the youngsters, the quality of the facilities is beyond imagination.

It’s just been three years and in such a short span they have sent 3 athletes to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Now that is quite an achievement.

The Central and State Sports Ministers should visit the place, draw learnings and handover the mantle to such academies. If one center can produce 3 world class athletes, think of such a center in every state. Then we can send a large, top class contingent to the Olympic Games, increasing the chances of winning medals.

Olympic medalist in India are like fire crackers. They blaze the night sky and even before you know it their glory fizzles out. “Char din ki Chandni phir andheri raat”. It is the duty of the government to ensure that these 120 athletes remain in the public eye. After all they are our real heroes as against our reel & cricket heroes, who receive undue advantage & credit. They should be given sustained importance for over the next four years, like inaugurating government functions, assured government jobs, called on as state ambassadors etc. The next generation should feel inspired and motivated to consider sports as an aspirational career choice. This is the third essential component which completes the triad.

In a lighter vein to fix the deficit in medals, a short term approach could be importing sports talent. So just like there is brain drain from India to the world, let there be sports drain from the world into India. We all need to do our bit as citizens, whatever is possible in our capacity. To honor that we have sponsored a tennis court at my ancestral village Kalhandri in Rajasthan.

I am also working towards a sports center in Kalandri, for the underprivileged and the dream is one Olympic Gold or a Grand Slam in this life time – nothing wrong in dreaming!

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Opinions in this piece belong to the author: Ramesh Kumar Shah

Ramesh Kumar Shah is the founder of the RK Group, RK Trust (rktrust.in) and The Jain Foundation. He is also the co-founder of Harvard Business School Angels of India. Apart from being a businessman, he is keenly involved in making as much of a difference in people’s lives as he can, most recently through the Let’s Mask India initiative, providing free masks to the economically challenged communities in Bangalore.

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