The Olympic tale of In­dia and China

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

The rea­son why China had an im­pres­sive medal tally of 70 at the Rio Olympic Games and In­dia looked pa­thetic with two can be summed up in three words: at­ti­tude to sports.

Even though China was third in the medals ta­ble, it might al­ready be dis­cussing why it could not bet­ter its tally of 88 medals at Lon­don 2012.

In con­trast, In­dia is in a eu­phoric mood, show­er­ing its bad­minton sil­ver medal­list P.V. Sindhu and wrest­ing bronze win­ner Sak­shi Ma­lik with in­sane amounts of money and pres­ti­gious state awards. Hon­ors have also been be­stowed upon gym­nast Dipa Kar­makar, who missed the bronze by a whisker, and shooter Jitu Rai, who has won a dozen medals in­clud­ing gold and sil­ver in the past two years but drewa blank in Rio.

China and In­dia are two of the most pop­u­lous coun­tries and two of the fastest grow­ing ma­jor economies, but their sim­i­lar­ity ends there. Their views on sports dif­fer dra­mat­i­cally. In­dian par­ents do not take sports se­ri­ously. Un­like their Chi­nese coun­ter­parts, In­di­ans con­sider sports (except per­haps for cricket) a mere pas­time, not a pro­fes­sion, and tend to push their chil­dren to­ward mon­eyspin­ning vo­ca­tions like medicine, engi­neer­ing and IT.

In China, how­ever, hun­dreds of chil­dren, barely three or four years old, are trained rig­or­ously to be out­stand­ing ath­letes. Some may view­such reg­i­mented life for chil­dren as al­most bru­tal, but sports, like any other vo­ca­tion or field of ac­tiv­ity, re­quires sweat and sac­ri­fice, which In­di­ans are not ready to put in.

Also, com­pared with China’s, In­dia’s sports in­fra­struc­ture and fa­cil­i­ties are pa­thetic. Even while the Rio Olympics was on, NDTV, a lead­ing In­dian tele­vi­sion news chan­nel, tele­cast a re­port on how young chil­dren were made to prac­tice swim­ming in a place in north­ern In­dia: they were forced to swim in muddy wa­ters in­fested with snakes and lizards while a nearby gov­ern­ment sports fa­cil­ity had been shut down.

Ad­ding to such gov­ern­ment ap­a­thy are corruption and ne­po­tism, all of which con­spire to blot out gen­uine tal­ent, lead­ing to the se­lec­tion of sub­par can­di­dates for sports com­pe­ti­tions like the the Olympics andCom­mon­wealth Games.

And when a rare tal­ent like Bud­hia Singh emerges, his dreams are snuffed out. In 2006, even be­fore reach­ing the age of five, Bud­hia be­came the world’s youngest marathon run­ner. His coach Bi­ranchi Das was hope­ful that he would win In­dia its first ath­letic gold at the Olympics. But child wel­fare of­fi­cials, re­port­edly jeal­ous of Das’ fame, ac­cused him of bru­tal­ity to­ward Bud­hia and stopped him from run­ning. Soon, Das was shot dead. To­day, Bud­hia who is now 14 lan­guishes in a gov­ern­ment-run board­ing school, and says he can­not even win a school race.

The les­son here is clear. Catch them young— like in China— if you want boys and girls to ex­cel in sports.

Fu­elling In­dia’s woe­ful state of af­fairs in sports is poverty. Many sports­men hail from very poor fam­i­lies, and lack of gov­ern­ment sup­port ren­ders them in­ca­pable of com­pet­ing in in­ter­na­tional games. They can­not af­ford to buy nu­tri­tious food, let alone find the money to un­dergo pro­fes­sional train­ing.

Some of In­dia’s poor­est peo­ple be­long to in­dige­nous eth­nic groups. They have great physique and im­mense stamina. They are peo­ple of the out­doors. And they can be bril­liant sports­men and sportswomen if only they get the right food, re­mu­ner­a­tion, train­ing and, most im­por­tantly, ad­min­is­tra­tive en­cour­age­ment. But in a na­tion like In­dia, steeped as it is in di­vi­sive reli­gious and caste prej­u­dices, the in­dige­nous groups are placed at the bot­tom of so­cial hi­er­ar­chy, and hence shunned.

In short, while China ap­proaches sports with a mil­i­tary-level pre­ci­sion, In­dia is a bun­dle of bu­reau­cratic bun­gles and or­ga­ni­za­tional clum­si­ness laced with am­a­teurism. No won­der even the rare in­di­vid­ual bril­liance per­ishes in the face of in­sur­mount­able odds. It takes a na­tion like China to make a cham­pion out of a tal­ent like Bud­hia.

The au­thor is an In­dian writer and movie critic.

WANG XIAOYING / CHINA DAILY

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