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By Sunil Gavaskar
Firstly, many congratulations to those athletes who brought medals to the country and commiserations to those who tried but could not. Losing is no bad thing for after all in sport there is going to be a winner and a loser but the honour of representing the country and wearing its colours at the Olympics is given to few and if among those few there is a medal then it is even better. Yes, there were some who talked more about how they were going to get a medal and ended up looking silly and it was evident that those who got the medals simply got on with their training and practice and did not make any brash predictions before they embarked on the flight to London.
There will be the usual chest beating that a country with 1.2 billion peoeple cannot win gold and it’s medal tally is so poor compared to countries with lesser people, but if one looks dispassionately at how many of those 1.2 billion are exposed to sports and how many of them actually play any sport one will find that its probable a mere fraction of the huge population that plays sport. Today with the National Games being played in different parts of the country the infrastructure is there but not too many youngsters take advantage of that and participate in sport. The reason is simple. Unless a sport becomes a viable career option not too many parents and elders are going to encourage their children from participating in sport. They would rather have their children study and make a career away from sport for that would be longer lasting than a sporting career which has a short span. The reason why cricket is encouraged by parents is because in India it has become a terrific career option and even if a player does not play international cricket or the Indian Premier League he can still make a good living playing just Ranji Trophy and first class cricket in India. He will certainly earn more doing that than be employed by the railways or airlines or banks and so parents are quite happy to encourage their children from taking up cricket. The prizes being offered to the medal winners is tremendous incentive and maybe that will also inspire others to take up Olympic sports but there is no guarantee that he / she will reach international standards.
Other sports suffer from a lack of patronage from the corporate world and that means that the funds required to get advance training is not always there. The Government can do only so much and not much more and there are some other trusts that do their bit so maybe there needs to be another way to raise funds for the other sports. Not too many know that the BCCI has generously given funds to some sports from its profits but they cannot do it all the time and so other ways have to be found to raise funds.
This year’s Olympics saw the host nation win many more medals especially the Gold than was earlier anticipated. Sure the support from a very partisan crowd was there but they also had the kind of training that made them into world class athletes and competitors. These athletes were funded to a great extent by the national lottery and maybe that is the way forward for Indian athletes too. It is quite clear that most of the administrators of other sports do not have the ability to pull in the kind of sponsorship that can sustain and maintain its sport, so some part of the lottery can be used to support other sports. India is a big country so just imagine how much funds the Government can raise through a national lottery. It would help take care of not just sport but so many other necessities that the common man needs. Even if 10% of the population buys a lottery ticket every week there will be huge funds generated and it would definitely be more popular way of raising funds than through taxes. I am sure there are other ideas too but there is no question that with advanced training methods India will fare much better at the Olympics than they have done so far.
The question that is often asked around Olympic time is why cricket is not an Olympic sport. The answer to that is not an easy one but it will need sacrifices by some Cricket Boards to reschedule their season so that they can participate in the Olympics. It surely must be a special experience to be able to stay in a big village where the worlds greatest athletes also are living and to be able to share breakfasts, lunch, tea or dinner must be fantastic. Not just athletes from other countries but also champions from other sports of your own country would be there with you and that can only be inspirational and uplifting.
London is gone. Now to Rio de Janeiro.