Olympics and those Pesky Medals

By Samir Shukla

The summer Olympics are over. This year the United States won over 100 medals and India won two. Once again the discussions begin on why India, a country of over 1.2 billion people, can't produce athletes that can win medals at the Olympics. Well, the answer is rather simple. It's about money. It's about a culture of sports. It's about sports infrastructure. It's about parents willing to let their children go full blast into sports, while putting academics on the backburner. That's it. If Indian parents, government, schools and communities set up the type of sports environment and ethos pervasive in the US, India would come home with a stack of medals from any sporting event around the world. Instead, Indians produce gold medalists in spelling bees, IT, and STEM.

I've had discussions with friends and relatives on why India doesn't win medals. The argument goes that Indians don't have the athletic prowess, stamina, and ability to become world class athletes. I say, hogwash. Again, it's quite simple. Here are the basics. You need money, lots of it, world-class training centers, lots of them, veteran trainers and coaches, lots of them, a sports culture that is pervasive at all income levels, and, most important, parents and family members willing to let kids with raw talent bloom as athletes. India simply doesn't have the traditions and infrastructures of swim teams, little league, soccer, softball, tennis, track & field, and football that's in place, as it is in the US for even the youngest of participants. Sure, lots of kids play cricket in dusty fields and neighborhood greens all over India. The country's cricket superstars are proof that when a country is obsessed with a sport, uber athletes are spawn.

In the United States, parents spend hours each week transporting kids to soccer games or tennis matches or their neighborhood swim teams. Indian-American parents also do this. The easy availability of swimming pools, tennis courts, soccer fields, and other sports infrastructure builds and blooms the layers of talent and training that can help identify the talented youngsters. These youngsters can then be brought into the moneyed sports structure, with full parental support, to turn them into world-class athletes. This is why the US leads in medal counts. And India doesn't.

The Chinese and Russians spend billions of dollars to train their athletes to compete in a nationalistic manner. And they win a lot of medals, because they back and support athletes to a level that India never has. If India can follow suit to create the sports traditions of the US, fund the training of athletes and the needed infrastructure, it will take only a generation to build the foundation. The medals will pour in.

Samir Shukla is the Editor of Saathee Magazine