POSTED: December 28th 2011

JOHN GOODBODY: India - Olympic under-achievers and now shamed by drug scandals

The National Anti-Doping Agency handed down the ruling last Friday  / NADA
The National Anti-Doping Agency handed down the ruling last Friday / NADA

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

LONDON: India is the great under-achiever of Olympic sport – and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Few things would please the International Olympic Committee (IOC) more than to see the country which, after China, has the world’s biggest population to obtain more success at the Summer Games. Consider the evidence.

In 2000, it got one bronze medal. In 2004, one silver medal. And, in 2008, there was some slight improvement with a gold and two bronze medals but this total still only ranked it 50th in the medal table behind Estonia, Latvia and the Dominican Republic.

Pro-rata for its population, India is far and away the least successful country at the Summer Olympics and we should not even mention the Winter Games.

Admittedly, the country’s most popular sport is cricket, which is not on the Olympic programme, while the advent of artifical pitches has eroded the country’s former dominance at hockey, at which it won every gold medal between 1928 and 1956.

However, one would have thought that with such a huge population, more talent should come through, as it has done so outstandingly in China.

For the IOC, the situation is vexing not least because it could command larger fees from their sponsors if a country, with a population of more than a billion and also a rapidly growing economy, was making a greater impact on the Olympic Movement.

It had been hoped that staging the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi might be the springboard to India’s rise, since it was second in the medal table, behind Australia but ahead of (an admittedly-weakened) England.

Hopefully, this will occur. However, a series of drugs scandals has arrested the impetus of India. In weightlifting, India had to pay a fine to the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) just to compete in those Games, because of the number of doping cases, and last April, the Indian Federation suspended 14 coaches for two years for their involvement in drug offences. 

The IWF also suspended a cluster of lifters over the last year while in Paris, at the 2011 World Championships, India failed to get their assured quota places for the 2012 Olympic, because both the men and women were way below the standard required.

It is true that in some sports, India has shown considerable progress, one being shooting, the sport in which Abhinav Bindra won his country’s solitary gold medal in Beijing, with nine of them gaining quota places for 2012, while boxer Vikas Krishnan won a bronze medal in the 2011 World Championships.

However, there has been more drugs problems in athletics, the centrepiece of the Olympic programme. When the women’s 4 x 400 metres relay team won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, it was the domestic highlight of the event with Sebastian Coe remarking that it was: "potentially the moment that could change the course of athletics in Asia, the moment that could inspire thousands of people who had never seen an athletics track before to get involved.”

However, in the last year, six leading female 400 metres runners, three of them members of that relay squad, includingthe celebrated Ashwini Akkunji,  have received one year bans. The International Association of Athletic Federations may consider the suspension is not sufficiently long  and any appeal  to the Court of Arbitration for Sport is likely to overshadow India’s preparations for the London Games.

There is, indeed, a long way to go for the country to be at the high table of Olympic sport, as surely it should be.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · India · John Goodbody · IOC

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