What India must do to become an Olympic giant

Claude Arpi
Claude ArpiAug 26, 2016 | 09:10

What India must do to become an Olympic giant

The title of a recent article in the French daily Le Monde was "2016 Olympics: the Indian giant, the Olympic dwarf".

The daily writes: "The day, the time, the venue; each and every Indian journalist had ticked (in their agenda) Friday August 19.

And too bad for the latecomers, they won't find a place in the temporary structures of the Riocentro. That morning, India was playing for its first gold medal.

Missed! Sindhu lost two sets to one, the final against the Spanish Carolina Marin."

It is how a non-Indian saw Sindhu's "historic" defeat. Back in India, everyone saw a great victory for India.

Coach P Gopichand and the player made the front pages of the press and despite getting "silver", Sindhu became the "Golden Girl of India".


In the euphoria of the "victory", India's pitiful overall results were forgotten. At the end of the 19th century, Baron Pierre de Coubert decided to revive the old Olympics spirit by emulating the ideals of ancient Greece: body, mind and spirit should be developed simultaneously to produce complete beings.

That was the purpose of education in ancient India too.

Coubertin's interpretation of the Olympic motto, Fortius, Citius, Altius, is fascinating.

Fortius (stronger) referred to the body which had to be trained by repeated exercises to become healthier and stronger.

Citius (swifter) was connected with literary and scientific studies and the domain of the mind.

PV Sindhu (L) and Carolina Marin after the Spaniard's win at women's single badminton final, Rio 2016. (Reuters) 

Altius (higher) had a deeper meaning connected with the sacred. All three levels had their importance; in common was the centrality of the "effort" to reach the determined goal.

The mastery of oneself, generosity and respect for others are essential not only on the sports ground, but in life as well.

All this has totally been forgotten in modern India where education is just a mean to get a diploma and ultimately a lucrative babu's job or a more creative one for the lucky ones.

It is not that Indians do not have the physical capacity to shine. Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar, PV Sindhu, among others, have proved it.

While watching the Indian girls on TV, the story of Captain Bana Singh came to mind. On June 26, 1987, Bana Singh climbed the steep 457m high wall of ice and despite the blizzard, the altitude and the freezing cold, he reached the "Quaid Post" (now "Bana Post"); located at a height of 6,500m it is the highest peak on the Siachen Glacier. What an incredible physical feat!


Apart from the system of education which should be totally revamped, India must take an honest look at the octopus called cricket which is sucking most of the sports energies of the country.

Can you imagine what could happen if even 50 per cent of the funds available to cricket (not an Olympic sports) would be invested to create "sports academies" like Gopichand has done for badminton in Hyderabad or Bishweswar Nandi for gymnastics in Agartala.

A revolution in the mindset is, however, required if India does not want to be called a "dwarf" anymore. Juvenal, the Roman poet, spoke of "mens sana in corpore sano" ("a sound mind in a sound body"). It should be the new motto for education.

Indians should not shout "victory" when India fares so poorly, though the merit and the talent of all those who made it to the Games should be acknowledged as the prime minister did.

"India is phenomenally proud of all our athletes in Rio and their hard work that got them there. Victory and setbacks are all a part of life," Narendra Modi tweeted.

The fact remains India as a nation is not doing enough, and a tsunami of new sports initiatives/policies is necessary.

The Olympic motto may say, "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part," but it is equally important to win.


One first step could be that politicians should be stopped from running Indian sports federations. Only competent people, scrupulously honest and dedicated with a background at the highest level in sports, should be allowed.

Can someone without any knowledge in space sciences be nominated as the head of a department in ISRO?

Plans for the next 10-20 years will need to be "scientifically" prepared; financial support will be required not only from the central and state governments, but also the private sector which has in the past showed that with its dynamism it can make India a sporting giant.

Imagine if each big business house sponsors a sports academy of high excellence. It would revolutionise the sports' state of affairs.

In 1920, in a letter to his brother Barin, Sri Aurobindo spoke of the strength of the shakti "which has been swallowing up the (rest of the) world, like the tapaswins (ascetic) of our ancient times, by whose power even the gods of the world were terrified, held in suspense and subjection."

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Last updated: August 26, 2016 | 09:10
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