POSTED: June 29th 2017

JOHN GOODBODY: India is a 'sleeping giant' but Olympic bids are premature

Sakshi Malik won the Bronze medal in Women's Freestyle 58 kg wrestling at Rio 2016 © Getty Images
Sakshi Malik won the Bronze medal in Women's Freestyle 58 kg wrestling at Rio 2016 © Getty Images

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

(SFC) Dr Thomas Bach recently said that India was the "sleeping giant" of the Olympic Movement. The President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has never said any truer words.

For a country with the second biggest population in the world, their underachievement is extraordinary. In the 2012 Olympics, India managed to win just two silver medals and two bronze. Last year, in Rio, they were even worse, one silver and one bronze.

Even in field hockey, in which they won the men's gold medal at every Olympics between 1928 and 1956, they have fallen away, not being on the podium since 1980, when India won a tournament in which most of the leading countries were absent because of the U.S.-led boycott. Their decline was further evident last week-end when I watched them lose in the World League competition in London to Malaysia, who has a population 31 million. India has 1.3 billion.

Hockey, of course, is a very different game from when India dominated the sport, a much better one incidentally with such an overhaul of the rules. There is a far greater premium on such physical qualities as speed, aggression and stamina and played on artificial surfaces that some nations struggle to provide in great numbers. After all, which is more important, watering a hockey pitch or providing clean water for every inhabitant of the country?

Another contributory factor to India's lowly status is the domination in sporting interest of cricket, where they financially and politically dominate the world game, and often provide many of the outstanding players and teams as well. In fact, if as Dr Bach said, the IOC will "try to wake up" India in the Olympic sports, then one way in the medium-term would be include a short form of cricket on the Games programme.

 If you want to arouse more interest in more people in the Games, cricket has a much better case, as a team sport, than Rugby Sevens, which may be played to some level of achievement in a few more countries than cricket, but will not generate anything like the excitement in nations with huge populations such as Pakistan and, of course, India.

Two years ago, Dr Bach guided India against bidding for the 2024 Olympics. He was quite right to do so but earlier this month the Press Trust of India reported the Indian Olympic Association as saying that the Government was examining whether to bid for 2032.

This still seems premature. When Delhi staged the 2010 Commonwealth Games, it was beset with problems. As a colleague of mine remarked: "Delhi was just about ready to stage the Games on the day they ended."  The local population also gradually woke up to the prospects of attending the event, after the embarrassment of having only about 100 paying spectators present even on the second day of the hockey.

And on the day after the Commonwealth Games ended, the Indian Government set up a special committee to investigate allegations of corruption and mismanagement against the organisers. Subsequently individuals have been jailed for the manipulation of tender documents.

If a country is struggling to host the Commonwealth Games, then it can scarcely fills one with confidence for the Olympics. In the meantime, India is bidding for the 2030 Asian Games, using many of the facilities left over from 2010. India incidentally put on the first Asian Games in 1951. 

Let us see how those Asian Games go before the idea of any Olympic bid is even considered. In the meantime, India should focus on a few sports, where it believes it can make an impact at the Olympics, so as to inspire their youngsters to take them up. And if the IOC eventually admits cricket to the Games programme, then so much the better.

** JOHN GOODBODY will cover the 2016 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 13th 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.  

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.   

Keywords · John Goodbody · Olympics

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