India at the Olympics: Why the Dearth of Medals?

Indian field hockey team at the 1963 Berlin Olympics.

The Atlantic – As I watched the Olympics this Summer, I had an epiphanic moment: where’s India? For such a large and economically powerful country (at least in terms of GDP), I was perplexed at its lack of Olympic prowess. Pondering this, I realized that the image of India excelling in the various events simply did not feel “right”. I didn’t know whether it was the Indian culture or their substantial poverty that created this feeling. It turns out that both of these reasons, and more, contribute to India’s relatively low presence at the Olympics. Atlantic associate editor Max Fisher addresses this well (read the full article for more information on India at the games.):

So how to explain the Olympic medal deficiency? There are a number of theories. Probably the most common is that both India as a country and Indians as individuals just have other priorities. “Sport was never a priority for a majority of [Indian] parents and their kids,” Indian sports psychologist Madhuli Kulkarni told EuroNews. “In fact we have a saying in Hindi – India’s National language – ‘Kheloge kudoge to honge kharab, padhoge likhoge to banoge nawab‘ which means that your life will be a waste if you play but if you study or do well in academics you will be a king.”
It’s not just that Indians are poor — Indian GDP per capita is well into the bottom quartile of all countries, ranked among landlocked African nations and still-recovering former warzones — but they’re also weakened by poor infrastructure and poor governance, which touches everything from public health to education to opportunities for advancement. Derek Thompson explained why rich countries tend to perform so well in the Olympics, boosted by better access to athletics infrastructure such as swimming pools and tennis courts, by “talent magnetism,” and other factors.
But there’s also the economic safety net that makes it easier for Western (or Japanese or South Korean) would-be Olympians to take a chance on athletics. If an American amateur gymnast spends a few years deemphasizing school so she can labor toward her dream of a gold medal and it doesn’t work out, she still has a good shot at a middle class life. But if her Indian equivalent does the same, she may never recover from all those hours she didn’t spend on education or job training, making a middle class life less likely for either her or her children.
Throughout the rest of the Olympics, I’m sure that I’ll be playing the Indian equivalent of “Where’s Waldo?”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on August 3, 2012 by and tagged , , , , , , , , .


%d bloggers like this: