Friday 19 August 2016

India at Rio Olympics 2016: No Country For Non-Cricketers

Indian Wrestler Sakshi Malik at Rio Olympics 2016

This article, this fleeting interest in any sport not spelled with the letters c, r, i, k, e and t, and all this hullabaloo is just an August thing, so enjoy this joyride while it lasts folks, 'cause the biggest, boldest and most exhilarating IPL will soon be upon us, live on Star Sports!

In the vast, documented history of the Olympics, India has won a total of 28 medals. That puts us below Ethiopia and Estonia, slightly above Latvia and on par with Michael Phelps. More importantly, it puts us quite a few spots above Pakistan (10 medals), so ha, in your face! Let us quickly revel in past glory and establish our sporting credentials by listing five athletes off the top of our heads who have won Olympic medals. Go on then, treat this mental exercise like a riddle forwarded to you on WhatsApp - list five Indian athletes who have won a piece of metal attached to a ribbon at the Olympics.

As a diehard cricket fanatic, this is far from me patronising anyone - I took a long time to complete my own proposed mental exercise, albeit aided and abetted at times by Google. I recalled Abhinav Bindra because he was briefly in the ephemeral limelight again. Had I asked myself this question a year back, I would've confused him for 'Avinash Bindra' - as did Mr. Suresh Kalmadi, chief of the Indian Olympics Association at the time Mr. Bindra won his gold. Avinash Bindra (© Suresh Kalmadi) has often spoken up against India's indifference towards all sports not cricket, and the fact that he managed to become the world champion with the assistance of a well-off family, private indoor shooting range and exceptional coaches should astonish no one.

If the provision of training facilities and coaches could help manufacture more Avinash Bindras (© Suresh Kalmadi), surely the most logical step would be to go out there and provide it? Not only do we do things differently in aiding the training of our athletes (by differently I mean horrendously idiotically), we also send a team of world-class officials (with business class tickets) at the actual global competitions for providing 'support' - much of which involves them barging into restricted zones, bombarding athletes with selfies (as you do) and desultory debauchery.

But anyway, in the mundane realm of inane conjecture, this is just in - Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma might be vacationing in Goa next summer!

I remembered Sushil Kumar, the undisputed beast, mainly because he was caught up in the mire of controversy with rival Narsingh Yadav this entire year. I remembered Vijender Singh, because I personally met the estimable legend this year, invited him to inaugurate an event I was organising and also watched him decimate his opponent at Manchester Arena. I was asked to bring as many people as I can, in order to provide some moral support for one of the greatest boxers India has produced. Free entry to witness the greatest, and we toiled to get spectators in the UK.

In the summer of 2014, when India toured England, people lined up in hotels for hours just to get a glimpse of Shikhar Dhawan or Ishant Sharma. I would know - I was considering joining them.

Indian Boxer Vijender Singh at Manchester Arena UK

I am no one to question the existing infrastructure of sports management in India - unqualified, oblivious and benighted millennial that I might be. However, the acute connection between my remembrance of Olympic medalists and some news article/personal memory/viral meme implores me to dig into the root of the problem. Channels do air badminton matches - but how many watch them? Papers do publish features on athletics - but how many read them? In this day and age of impressions and ratings, can we blame Star Sports for airing highlights of Mumbai Indians vs. Royal Challengers Bangalore repeatedly when a recap of Vijender's bouts would garner less than half those ratings?

Are we invested enough in sports to incite the growth of awareness, evoke the will to amend the infrastructure and either a) demote cricketers to a general athlete status or b) deify all athletes to demigod status? Sure, the downright rejection of Shobha De's condescending existence and celebration of doggedness in effort and participation in this particular month is a good step, but correct me if I'm wrong, the persistence in adulation for the other 47 months till the next Olympics is what would promulgate the awareness we all seek, wouldn't it? I don't follow football or basketball at all, yet I could name several members of most high-profile teams. This awareness was created solely due to the invested interest of the world into those sports, which invariably reach those not interested as well. Why then, did it take a random patriotic video of a South Indian actor for me to discover Pullela Gopichand and Deepika Padukone for the venerated Prakash Padukone?

Remember how for a few months the world was incredibly solicitous about the detrimental effects of ALS (not in any case because there was an opportunity to upload a funny video and get attention on social media) and now no one gives a shit? That's how I feel every time I chance upon articles that detail India's indifference to Olympic sports - articles that only circulate in Olympic season. I bet you 10 bucks we'll forget how to spell Dipa Karmakar by the time MS Dhoni's epic biopic hits theatres worldwide. Not so sure about old men, but at the moment we're definitely no country for non-cricketers.

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