Why Does India Not Win At The Olympics?

February 17, 2006
Pratyush Khaitan

With India's population, it surprises many that India is not a force at the Olympics. R.J.Elliott wonders the same in a comment in Aaman's recent article:

I've always found it a bit baffling that India, with over one billion citizens, doesn't seem to have much success in either the Winter OR the Summer Olympics...and that they don't seem to have many (any?) nationals playing at the professional level in the US in any of the four major American sports. Surely there is a 7-foot 6-inch Indian fellow out there who would like to make millions playing in the NBA. Or a 35-pound Indian who would make a good offensive lineman in the NFL. But where are they?

Winter Olympics

Most Commonwealth nations have performed poorly at the Winter Olympics. Apart from Canada who had won 31 golds and was at number 10 in the all time Winter Olympic medal table before the games started, Commonwealth nations have had little to show. Poor performances at the Winter Olympics is not an India specific or South Asia specific phenomena.

Great Britain have won 8 golds in all, and among them are medals from an era when not many nations competed in the Olympics. Australia hadn't won a medal before 1994. Australia loves its sport passionately and evidence of that is its improvement in the Winter Olympics. 40 athletes are competing for Australia at the Torino games, almost double the size in recent times. However, I might add that the latest gold medal winner for Australia, Dale Begg-Smith, is Canadian born.

What about the other nations? New Zealand is at number 36 with a solo silver in a tally of 38 nations which had won medals before the current Olympics started. Countries like Norway, Austria, Finland and Sweden have extreme cold conditions unlike a Great Britain or Australia which explains the vast difference in medal counts in winter sports.

The fact that India has sent out 4 participants for the Torino Games is a big enough achievement considering the bare facts. India does have the Himalayas, but how many skiing resorts exist?

Summer Olympics

The wonder cannot be put to rest with the Winter Olympics, however. With a population of 1.1 billion, India still has not managed to win a single individual gold at the Summer Olympics.The reason which is usually given? India is a one sport nation.

Is India really a one sport(cricket) nation?

Cricket is played on every street in India. Go to the cities,villages, sea beaches, deserts or mountains - everywhere you will find children playing cricket. Why then can India not produce cricketers who are better than cricketers of the rest of the world combined, if all its sporting resources are going to cricket?

To begin with, there is hardly any infrastructure, and talent is not tapped. If it is tapped, it is not groomed well enough. This has changed recently with cricketers coming from outside the major cities like Sehwag, R.P.Singh and Suresh Raina. The fact remains though, that for every Sehwag there are countless kids playing with rubber balls whose talent is not tapped and do not know what playing with a proper cricket ball is.

At the first class level in India, there is no support system for the players. A former India player told me once when I went to meet him that his biggest mistake was that he did not finish education before going on to pursue cricket. Obviously, if he had the qualifications, he would have retired much earlier than he did, trying to earn a proper living.

Hardly 5-6 players can command a place in the national team for a span of 10 years. There is money in the game yes, but is there really money then to support the careers of at least the state level cricketers? The way the money is currently distributed, the answer is no.

The plight of other sports in India

Rajyawardhan Rathore, silver medalist at Athens, 2004, in the Men's double trap event did it with an attitude few people have or are expected to have. He did not receive much support. Despite that he did not criticize the authorities and made the best of what he got, staying undeterred. When people see a Sania Mirza in India sport today, they do not realize the expenses players have to deal with when they are not 'stars'.

To gain points a player has to travel far and wide and for it the player requires money. Add to that the money required to be paid to the best coaches from the world for proper grooming. Sponsors are necessary. The tragedy is, sponsors only come in once the player has become a star or is on the verge of becoming a star. Even after some one has achieved success, a sponsor can back out as was the case with Konery Humpy, India's finest young chess talent. (though chess is not an Olympic sport, this shows the difficulties players face)

Why does money and infrastructure need to come up in a country where so many people are poor?

Sport brings in joy which is priceless. The joy the Brazilian kid gets playing football or the Indian counterpart gets hitting a six is unmatched. In that moment he forgets all hardships. Another argument brought up was regarding money invested in sports. Gaurav commented in the same article:

I believe spending money to compete at top athletic events that require insane amount of money is perverted for a country coming to terms with over 300 million people living below poverty.

If India had that attitude, India would not even have had the base for winning the World Cup in 1983. That victory propelled a cricket craziness in India and money coming in through privatization of broadcasts in the mid 90s, the Wills World Cup happening in 1996. Hosting a big sporting event means the growth of infrastructure, tie ups with companies and jobs to many people. Sport is an industry in itself, even if you leave aside that it also brings joy to many people in the process.

Pratyush Khaitan is a young entrepreneur. Off the clock, he is a movie buff and a sports writer. He analyses sports at Sportolysis.
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Why Does India Not Win At The Olympics?


Author: Pratyush Khaitan


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February 17, 2006
10:41 PM


Summer Olympics

The wonder cannot be put to rest with the Winter Olympics, however. With a population of 1.1 billion, India still has not managed to win a single individual gold at the Summer Olympics.The reason which is usually given? India is a one sport nation.

what about this?

Hockey is the oldest known ball and stick game. Records exist of it having been played in Persia in 2000 BC. The name hockey probably derives from the French hocquet, or shepherd's crook, and refers to the crooked stick which is used to hit a small ball. The game became more organised late in the 19th century and became an Olympic sport in 1908. Until the 1970s, the game at international level was mainly played on natural grass, but has become an even more exciting and Skilful India dominated the sport for three decades, winning all six Olympic gold medals and 30 consecutive games from 1928 to 1956. The first Balbir Singh, who was followed by four more players of the same name who also played for victorious Indian teams, scored five goals in a 6-1 gold-medal victory over the Netherlands in Helsinki in 1952.

February 17, 2006
11:05 PM

That is a team gold medal.. not an individual gold medal..

In Hockey too the situation has gone down hill from the golden days.

February 17, 2006
11:10 PM


you are right on both counts:)

if chess makes it anand could be a shoo in

February 17, 2006
11:33 PM

if chess makes it anand could be a shoo in

And similarly for billiards. And if kabaddi cud make it, knowing thats one medal we manage in the Asiad!

Abrar Siddiqui
February 18, 2006
03:46 AM

Its surprising how China with a similar population size turns out so many athletes during Olympics. I mean, it shows that this is a big country when so many of thier athletes step out. However, India always send a small squad. This has baffled me as well but I am not sure what the issues are on the ground level.

February 18, 2006
08:44 AM

From a generation where only two routes were considered kosher - Engineering and Medicine - and if you failed there then IAS.. to a generation where playing tennis and if good, bagging millions is a possibility I believe it will be soon that we have companies sponsoring good sportzy youngsters.

Recently, btw, a Premier Hockey League has been started on ESPN in India.. on the lines of US Baseball with teams having names as "Sher-e-Punjab" etc. Its, I believe, a faster paced version of hockey... and marketed well...can those frm India verify and analyze that?

And, temporal, you forgot to mention the score of 28-1 by Dhyan Chand's team against US - which is till date the highest margin ever recorded in the Olympics against any team. But bygones and bygones.

So things will change... but values need to change first which will bring in more avenues!


February 19, 2006
04:13 AM

@ Abrar - There is one word to explain it in short. Infrastructure. China is seeing a seriousness in sports which is unprecedented in its history. Even the Chinese cricket team (China has no history of cricket as opposed to say Holland) is making fast progress!

@ Desh - The Premier Hockey League's main drawback has been it is being held in a single city. To popularise the sport you have to travel to various cities bringing the league every where and creating an excitement, not just through TV. Last year people were taking notice of the league. But this year as it's start has collided with the Indo-Pak series and ESPN-star weren't intent to pre pone the schedule, there has been little interest.

That said the Nimbus deal was bagged recently to telecast domestic cricket, shooting got a boost last year which I mentioned in my blog http://sportolysis.blogsome.com/category/shooting/

As you said, "So things will change... but values need to change first which will bring in more avenues!"

RJ Elliott
February 19, 2006
07:10 PM

"The fact remains though, that for every Sehwag there are countless kids playing with rubber balls whose talent is not tapped and do not know what playing with a proper cricket ball is."

So...perhaps as a sign of good-will, relatively well-off Americans could donate to a charity that would then purchase tens of thousands of cricket balls for poor, rural Indian youth?

And, yes, I'm quite serious. I think such a charity would improve the image of the US in India, and therefore further enhance relations between our two countries...

February 20, 2006
02:11 AM

How about a look at the sports management aspect? Do we really have a sports structure? And as has been rightly pointed out, its either medicine or engineering as our career option.

We do come across great writers/journalists who write down what should/shouldn't be done to end our sporting woes(mostly pre and post olympics), but sadly, we hardly have any performers willing to go out in the middle and do the cleansing act.

February 20, 2006
02:55 AM

Good point Amar.

We have discussed this countless number of times.

anyways welcome to DC!!!!

February 20, 2006
05:58 AM

@ Amar - Yep. There isn't a structure and performers do not want to come in and take sport seriously. And I do not blame then because there is hardly any support/money (which I indicated in the article).

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