OPINION

Beijing Olympics - Indians and Desis Missing in Action

August 10, 2008
commonsense

With the Beijing Olympics well under way, we are yet again bombarded with the usual myth-making machines in overdrive. The biggest myth of course is that these games are actually about sports not business. None of us is stupid enough to understand this simple point. However, the irritating advertisement blitz notwithstanding, it is a lot of fun to watch the games. For sure it gets my goat when the TV screen is constantly bombarded by the alleged “official product car/paint/drink/condom of the Games” etc. And when the hypocritical so-called “world leaders” make the usual noises patronizing noise about China’s “behaviour” vis-à-vis human rights while simultaneously signing up as many business deals as they can.

When some gold-medalists will test positive for doping, as surely they will, there will be the usual breast-beating about cheating and lack of integrity, as if other spheres of our global existence are beacons of the same. And of course, there will be the usual commentaries on the crass commercialization of the games. As if sophisticated commercialism or consumerism might be any better.

Back home in desi-land, the usual question, raised every four years, will be prominent once again. What exactly explains the spectacular absence of desis from this mega global display? Why are they always missing in action, when it comes to the Olympics? What are the best possible explanations? The usual suspects will wax eloquent about the alleged fact that desis are a cerebral lot and couldn’t care less about such trivial corporeal pursuits. Some will contend that only those who are supremely lacking in confidence really need to shamelessly strut their stuff for the world stage. The Ministry of youth affairs and sports in India and their equivalent in other South Asian nations will be blamed. They in turn will perhaps blame corruption that allows our athletes and officials to treat the Olympics like a free foreign junket, a shopping spree that might be otherwise beyond financial reach. Some will argue that we need not waste our precious resources on such trivia as sports. Others will point out that since we are apparently already on our way to becoming a superpower, who cares if over a billion people are conspicuous by their absence, not just on the medals tally, but in most of the events too. Not even the proverbial “also rans.”

It is difficult to pick a specific cause or determine what are the plausible explanations for this puzzling situation. Perhaps it is not at all a big deal after all. Any plausible, tentative explanations for this state of affairs?

Commonsense is in the business of peddling commonsense or so he believes, since others think of his wares as patent nonsense or even worse. He is committed to diversity, secular humanism and a live and let live attitude until he encounters religious or culturalist fundamentalists.
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Beijing Olympics - Indians and Desis Missing in Action

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#1
Temple Stark
URL
August 10, 2008
02:29 PM

A little to cynical here for my tastes. You've forgotten the athletes, many of whom have trained and worked hard for years to get here (not counting NBA and WTP stars of course)

#2
commonsense
August 10, 2008
02:51 PM

Temple Stark,

I agree with you. Any unintended insult to the genuine athletes (and yes, most of them are just that) is sincerely regretted.

The main focus of the piece (with the predictable typos) though, is on the missing desis (and I include all south asian countries, not just india) from most of the events. Over a billion people. Surely, the olympics, whatever else it may or may not be, is an index of something....

#3
temporal
URL
August 10, 2008
03:06 PM

cs:

there are many reasons...not the least significant is official patronage...(read: moolah)...athletes need sustained official support to train and to excel...the priorities of south asian governments lie elsewhere

btw...why is cricket not there yet?

#4
commonsense
August 10, 2008
03:20 PM

Temporal:

""btw...why is cricket not there yet?""

not as exciting as beach volley-ball, is it?! :)

#5
commonsense
August 10, 2008
03:26 PM

Temporal:

""btw...why is cricket not there yet?""

yet, (field) hockey, so-called "our" sport is there, but we are not even on the radar-screen. it's been a few years since we were. however, china, japan, korea, etc. etc. (with official patronage and investment of course) will pick up pretty much any sport, and not just events they are traditionally good at, and excel in it.

your point about official patronage and interest is the main issue.

#6
Chaitanya S
August 10, 2008
07:40 PM

Yesterday when I checked the medals table at 11:30 am EST, the US had 3 medals. I told my friend, "damn we have a lot of catching up to do. These guys have won over the last 12 hours what we've won over the last 12 years" !

#7
commonsense
August 10, 2008
09:12 PM

Chai:

""These guys have won over the last 12 hours what we've won over the last 12 years" !""

True. The last hockey gold, 1980. And this year we even failed to qualify.

#8
Tanay
URL
August 11, 2008
01:19 AM

sometime back, abhinav bindra won the gold medal in men's 10 metre air rifle event of the shooting competition at beijing olympics. the gold medal is india's first since 1980, when the hockey team emerged triumphant in moscow.

kudos !!!

#9
Chaitanya S
August 11, 2008
01:38 AM

Congratulations to Bhindra !!! Now all those bloody losers who accused him of "buying" national awards can go screw themselves. They were just jealous since he hailed from an affluent family and wasn't the typical "rags to riches" story.

#10
Chandra
August 11, 2008
01:54 AM


What a wonderful result...Good morning India!

#11
Chandra
August 11, 2008
02:25 AM


and congrats Saina for knocking out the world no.4 to enter the QF of badminton

#12
Ledzius
August 11, 2008
03:08 AM

The only events where India has any chances of winning are rifle shooting, archery, badminton, and all the other sissie non-contact, non-muscle power sports.

It is high time they included billiards, chess and even spelling bees in the Olympics, so Indians have a better chance at winning more gold medals.

PS - In the US, I have never seen chess events in the sports pages of most newspapers. Only in India do we try to classify chess as a sport, since we are sorely lacking in real stuff (except for maybe cricket).

#13
commonsense
August 11, 2008
04:49 AM

great! hopefully an early inspiration for the rest of the contingent!

#14
anand
August 11, 2008
06:32 AM

i agree with ledzius

it will take atleast a generation AFTER providing world standard medical and health facilities, nutritious diet & sports facilites to the MASSES before india can win at football, tennis, swimming, athletics etc, volleyball.

just one good player here and there is just a coincdence. we dont have a pool of athletes. it takes time for the human breed to improve.

#15
Chandra
August 11, 2008
08:52 AM

Ledz, Anand

Can you explain how Zimbabwe wins more medals than India?

#16
anand
August 11, 2008
09:16 AM

they are more athletic naturally. same reason as north african countries are good at athletics.

#17
commonsense
August 11, 2008
09:24 AM

Anand:

""they are more athletic naturally. same reason as north african countries are good at athletics"'

really? so why don't they "naturally" win all the medals, without even training?

#18
smallsquirrel
August 11, 2008
11:12 AM

OMG... so anand... you're also a racist? you truly believe that africans are naturally more athletic than indians.

holy SH**.

I do not know where to start with your comment. it is so inane I have no response. common, someone... pls help me. I am too busy laughing and guffawing to type....

#19
anand
August 11, 2008
11:48 AM

atually you should do yourself a favour and stop worrying about political correctness all the time.

why are most NBA players black?

i have already recognized that india lacks behind because of lack of training facilities and the whole sporting culture. but racial differences matter if you look at the bigger picture. and im not saying racial differences are statiic, we are evolving and we have been a lazy race. today if we start a sporting culture and regularly do strenous physical activity we will pass this to our offspring who will have more athletic bodies naturally and so on and in a generation or 2 we will be at the same level as other countries. so there you go i took account of nurture.

do you know that the average male height in france 100 years ago was 5.6 feet. and today its like 5.11. why because they have evolved given better nutrtion, better medical care and physical activities. and if i say that indians are shorter on average and european race is taller you'll brand me a racist. but its not so much of racial difference but nurture that plays the role. thanks to improvements in china now their average height is increasing.

everybody is an individual i know but you have to look at trends and 'the average' sometimes.



#20
smallsquirrel
August 11, 2008
11:59 AM

uh, my comments were not based on being PC. if you knew anything about me, you'd know that is not on my agenda by a longshot.

and another thing... you've not confounded your "natural" argument with exercise and nutrition, both of which have nothing to do with your first argument. you're backpedaling!

#21
commonsense
August 11, 2008
01:33 PM

Anand:

""why are most NBA players black?""

ouch! here we go again! no time for pointless drivel...Anand, please claim that you are not into PC and then issue forth whatever comes to your mind.

#22
blokesablogin
August 11, 2008
02:48 PM

CS- I believe this is a first- an actual article by you rather than your acerbic comments!LOL! And with that we can celebrate the 1st ever Indian Gold in the Olympics;)
India is rich enough to support sports now. Media should be able to improve the talent scouting around the country. Our rural brethren who bike manually across rough terrains for a livelihood should be inducted and trained for bicycling and such!

#23
kerty
August 11, 2008
04:52 PM

For decades, India knew of only Lata, Asha, Kishor Mukesh and Rafi as singer talent. But advent of TV shows have exposed large pool of singing talents in India. Similarly, IPL has exposed large number of cricketer talent that was up until now hopelessly focussed on handful of big names. India needs similar catalysts to expose its talent in sporting arena. It is just matter of time before India arrives there too.

#24
commonsense
August 11, 2008
08:17 PM

meenakshi,

i finally decided to graduate from the wimp i was, sniping away at others while never writing anything substantial!

#25
blokesablogin
August 11, 2008
08:50 PM

truly commendable- you have much to contribute with that sharp brain of yours.

#26
sridhar
August 12, 2008
01:19 AM

commonsense,
Enjoyed reading your post.

Neil Postman, author and academic, says that TV is a cash cow with a symbiotic relationship between TV programmes and Advertising.He also points out if anyone wants to learn about the world by watching TV, he/ she would be seriously misinformed.

If we are aware of this fact we could enjoy world soccer or the Olympics over beer without the risk of irreversible brain damage.

#27
Chandra
August 12, 2008
03:05 AM


I think we will win more medals in the next 20 years than in the last 100 years.

All those who think genes matter so much in sport....here is an article that disputes that hypothesis

http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/0056.htm

#28
Ayan Roy
August 12, 2008
03:34 AM

In my opinion, lack of athletic ability, and muscular strength, for average Indians stems from vairous factors like genes, climate, DIET and fitness culture.

Genetically Indians have very low levels of IRON and HAEMOGLOBIN in their blood, even lower compared to Africans in general. This is probably due to the vegetarian and iron poor (rice/roti dal subzi) diet which has been prevalent for centuries.

There are very, very few good/rich sources of PLANT PROTEIN and IRON, unfortunately, and this is the medical TRUTH. A hard-core non-vegetarian (meat/fish/liver/eggs) diet which is much richer in protein and iron which is necessary for muscular strength and stamina.
Incidentally, most Africans are hard core non-vegetarians.
(If you undertake a statistical analysis of top sportsmen and atheletes all over the world, I think 95 % and above will be naturally non-vegetarians, unless of course they take protien powders and supplements which are highly expensive for the common man.)

Pre-natal and post-natal nutrition is very cruical for the growth and development of a child, and the most important person here is the mother, who has to be healthy and well fed.

Unfortunately, most poor and middle class Indian women (not including the rich affluent class) suffer from iron-deficiency, calcium deficieny and anaemia, due to poverty, ignorance and social attitudes.
Thus, they give birth to sickly, weak babies, and even these poor babies are subjected to a lot of deficiencies in nutrients in their crucial early growth stage. Thus most kids are already at a disadvantage with stunted bone and muscle growth and poor blood quality, due to poor genetics and nutrition.

Climate is a minor factor (one can work out and exercise much more in cold weather without getting dehydrated or exhausted, compared to hot-humid conditions), but it cannot be a strong argument as many African countries which do well in sports have similar hot-humid climates.

Lastly, the lack of sporting proficiency in Indians could be due to the lack of a fitness and sports culture. You do not associate the words 'active, fit, running, jumping, buzzing with energy' to most Indians. I don't know why, but most Indians, including me for a long time (somehow I managed to change myself lately and am working out very hard these days) are lackadaisical, lazy and don't want to move around too much.
The inherent desire to have fun throught hard sports and work out and have a strong body is missing in most of us.

So if India has to do well in sports, it has to improve diet and nutrition for women and young children, concentrating espeically on an iron, protien and calcium rich diet; Also, a sporty, fitness culture has to be ingrained in the minds of all Indians, young and old.

Love and peace to all,
Ayan

#29
Ledzius
August 12, 2008
05:38 AM

Ayan Roy - "You do not associate the words 'active, fit, running, jumping, buzzing with energy' to most Indians."

couldn't agree more. And more so with the girls. How many young girls in Indian cities who claim they are "highly talented" on social websites have ever rode a bicycle? Or played volleyball? Or know how to swim? I'm afraid the answer would be close to negligible.

The "talents" and "hobbies" they list would typically be "surfing the internet", "listening to hindi film songs", and "free-lancing" (whatever the hell the latter means).

In my apartment complex which has treadmills, I see 90 percent of the women only walk, not jog. And these are supposed to be the "fitness conscious" kinds.

#30
Chandra
August 12, 2008
10:12 AM

Ayan Roy

So how do you explain all those medals won by poor countries in Sub Saharan Africa?

#31
commonsense
August 12, 2008
10:35 AM

Sridhar,

I remember reading Neil Postman's _Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discouse in the Age of Show Business"_ ! He was always right on.

Certain I am that one of these days even for world soccer or the olympics, some announcer will come on and say: "sorry to interrupt with some games now; please don't go away. we will be right back with the commercials".

That was partly my point. Of course the olympics are partly about sports, but completely shaped and driven by the mega-bucks to be squeezed out of them.

#32
commonsense
August 12, 2008
10:58 AM

Chandra:

""All those who think genes matter so much in sport....here is an article that disputes that hypothesis

http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/0056.htm""

Chandra, thanks for providing this important link. This issue of "its in the genes" that explains performance refuses to go away, despite all the scientific refutations. Sooner or later, this debate veers into plain racism ("blacks naturally run faster, jump higher") etc. although whoever makes this argument will always claim that they are simply stating scientific facts that have nothing to do racism.

Somebody, Anand (?) above asked: "so how come there are so many blacks in the NBA?". Retort: so how come there are some Chinese players in the NBA? (See, from "genes" it slowly becomes "black")

The commonsenseical point of course is that genes do play a role! But not as these folks make it out. Without specific genes I will not be able to acquire ANY language, but my genes do not determine WHICH language I learn in my childhood. It is a matter of the social context I am born into. My family could have language X for generations, but if I were abducted at birth and taken to Ukraine and raised there, I would speak Ukrainian wihthout a hint of desi accent. Commonsense. Same with sport: a mix of genes that make us human and social context, structure of opportunities, encouragement etc. etc.

As for blacks over-represented in NBA. Empirical facts have to be INTERPRETED. Perhaps one could reverse the argument and claim that American blacks are bad at basketball, since for the hundreds of thousands that aspire to play NBA, just a handful make it. Perhaps another way of looking at it is that not all, but most blacks are economically deprived due to a history of slavery, racism, lack of a head-start (civil rights movement only in the 1960's), and professional sports is one way out to economic security and stardom. For every real Kobe Bryant, there are many trapped in ghettos, dreaming the hoop dream. There are few upper middle-class whites OR blacks lusting to be NBA players. Ask yourself: why is it that despite the exceptions (arthur ashe, the two sisters), so few blacks are in professional tennis? Lack of genes for strong arms and detectign small balls? Or golf?? These sports/events require much more money and are accessible to the upper middle class. Just another way of looking at the "fact" of blacks over-represented in the NBA, not the ultimate answer to the query by Anand, but a more plausible way of looking at the situation.

Then a desi will surely come along and say: really? Don't blame slavery, racism etc. for the condition of the blacks. How come I just got here and have this nice job in such a short time? Silly question because:

1. You probably came to the US as a grad student, with both legs up on the game already.

2. Your are probably blind to the thousands of desis who did not come in a similar situation and are plying taxis in the big cities on minimum wages, exploited by other desis who control the cab fleets.

3. You are a victim of the "model minority" myth that is exploited by conservatives such as Jesse Helms who point to desis and koreans etc. "success" to attack, taunt and label the blacks as "lazy" in order to justify further cut backs to social programs that will enable them to move out of the ghettos.

4. You are probably smug in "well I don't pretend to be PC, so I call a spade a spade" and then spew forth racist claptrap without possibly even realizing that you are being a racist.

Finally, if genes really DETERMINED sporting outcome, the nation-wide medals tallies should be stable for a few generations to catch up with genetic mutations, and the Olympics would be truly boring since the outcome would be known in advance due to so-called genetic determination. The marathon event would still be won by the progeny of the legendary Flying Finn, Pavo Nurmi, hardly a "black", (sarcasm alert) and hardly a sub-saharan african. And there would be NO Chinese player in the NBA since only apparently black men can jump that high.

I now wait impatiently for the genetic determinists to back-pedal and to add the social context and social institutions to their so-called argument.

#33
Chaitanya S
August 12, 2008
11:25 AM

CS: I would not like to dilute this interesting thread on genes and racism. But after seeing you mention golf and tennis, just a few names came to mind. Tiger Woods & the William's sisters.

Btw one of my desi friends was awarded a basketball scholarship in a US university. I don't know whether it is related to the thread but I'm just going around boasting about it anyway !

Cheers :-)

#34
Chaitanya S
August 12, 2008
11:26 AM

CS: I would not like to dilute this interesting thread on genes and racism. But after seeing you mention golf and tennis, just a few names came to mind. Tiger Woods & the Williams sisters.

Btw one of my desi friends was awarded a basketball scholarship in a US university. I don't know whether it is related to the thread but I'm just going around boasting about it anyway !

Cheers :-)

#35
commonsense
August 12, 2008
12:11 PM

Chaitanya,

Thanks for your comments:

""But after seeing you mention golf and tennis, just a few names came to mind. Tiger Woods & the Williams sisters.""

As you will notice in the cut/paste below, I did mention the williams sisters as "the two sisters", (in my hysterical frenzy, i could not recall their names, go figure!) together with arthur ashe who blazed the trail a few decades ago. Tiger Woods is also from an upper class family. Besides, tough luck for the genetic determinists, he is half-thai to boot.

""Ask yourself: why is it that despite the exceptions (arthur ashe, the two sisters), so few blacks are in professional tennis? Lack of genes for strong arms and detectign small balls?Or golf??""

My point is NOT to dismiss genes or natural abilities. Of course they are the necessary, but NOT sufficient conditions. Without legs I cannot walk, without strong legs i cannot run fast. However just because I have legs or strong legs, does not necessarily mean that I will aspire to be a track/field athlete. Especially if my options are many. I MAY chose to become an athlete despite many options though. This is where the mix of natural abilities AND social factors come to play. I guess I don't take mono-causal explanations too seriously!! The social world and the natural world is way too complex to be reduced to "genes for basketball" or "genes for dominating the financial markets and controlling the world", "terrorism" etc. etc.

Those who talk about genes for this to this, SHOULD NOT bring in social factors as it is truly trying to have one's samosa (not to mention gulab-jamun) and eating it too. Commonsensical it is that without genes we wouldn't be human, so it is a major factor. However, would these genetic determinists seriously contend that White Protestants in the US have some gene for presidential abilities? (Kennedy the Catholic exception notwithstanding). A bizarre fixation with genes continues nevertheless, apparently explaining everything from sports to crime and infidelity.

Congratulations on your desi frined getting a basketball scholarship! (I assume he is not "black", my tongue, firmly in MY cheek). It's official: desis can jump high too!

#36
Chaitanya S
August 12, 2008
01:00 PM

Some more fodder for you guys to chew on:

http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/099200808121621.htm

:-)

#37
commonsense
August 12, 2008
02:09 PM

Thanks Chai. I have been following Raj on the TV, but did now know about his success until I heard from you.

And before Morris dutifully reminds me of my tendency to drift from the main topic, i will restrain my verbal diarrhoea about "Genes are Us??" and the murky terrain of genes and racism and try to bring the topic back to sports and the desis missing in action....or in action elsewhere...

#38
commonsense
August 12, 2008
03:05 PM

Ayan Roy:

""Love and peace to all,
Ayan""

Ayan, you forgot to exclude the West Bengal CPM types from your "all". Or, am I needlessly bringing up a RED herring?

#39
Man Singh
URL
August 12, 2008
05:18 PM

Prusharth is the key to make fortune.
Indian parents stress their kids to become Engineers, Doctors, management professionals and many other `High paid naukars' with opportunities of becoming `good naukars' all over the the globe.

And we become. We are almost the best naukars all over the world.

The day on which our parents will start focussing on making their kids the best bussinesspersons, sportspersons and musicians, I am prety sure we'll strat producing the same.

As such it is not genes, it is not diet, its is not any thing else, it is `ATTITUDE' that is the real issue.

There is nothing imposible in this world for those who put `Purusharth' behind some aim.

Yes as per today, we are missing in action in Olympics becasue we never put appropriate effort in that field.

#40
temporal
URL
August 12, 2008
05:21 PM

cs:

you're mellowing or off the wagon (again)

;)

the reply to this full toss "why are most NBA players black?" should be

"...because one or both of their parents are black"

q.e.d.


#41
commonsense
August 12, 2008
07:16 PM

Temporal, #40, I haven't had laughed so much in a while!! :). (I could held back on my earnest and laboured explanation :))

#42
commonsense
August 12, 2008
07:19 PM

damn! after pointlessly correcting the absurd typos:

Temporal, #40, I haven't laughed so much in a while!! :). (I could have held back on my earnest and laboured explanation :))

#43
commonsense
August 12, 2008
08:15 PM

Man Singh:

""As such it is not genes, it is not diet, its is not any thing else, it is `ATTITUDE' that is the real issue.""

As such, you have once again hit the nail on the head. However, altitude can have a multitude of negative or positive effects, depending on the training, acclimatization etc. That is one of the reasons why the records established in the Mexico City (hight altitude) Olympics are not too accurate. Higher altitudes help jumpers but not long distance runners; or perhaps it is vice versa. However, altitude, together with humidity,is indeed critical.

#44
commonsense
August 12, 2008
10:59 PM

Man Singh:

""Yes as per today, we are missing in action in Olympics becasue we never put appropriate effort in that field."'

in other words, we villagers done a poor job of beating back them dacoits?

#45
Ledzius
August 13, 2008
02:14 AM

I think that if there is one international sport besides cricket where Indians could dominate in the future, it is golf. There are several factors-

1. It is an individual (not team) sport, which goes down well with the massive egos and celebrity culture that our sportsmen revel in.

2. Not too much physical strength and stamina are required.

3. Has a good dose of elitism to it. What more could affluent Indians ask for?

4. We have an example (like Vijay Singh) to emulate.

5. And bigger bucks than other individual sports (except tennis).

6. Long career.

We should have massive funding for new golf courses and training camps. It would pay itself off better than investing in any other sport.




#46
Chaitanya S
August 13, 2008
02:29 PM

Talking about victories in "real" sports, I don't know what the exchange rate for this achivement would be in comparison to Bindra's gold.

Nevertheless, atleast I am proud of it :-)

http://www.rediff.com/sports/2008/aug/13afc.htm

#47
Chaitanya S
August 20, 2008
08:38 AM

We won another medal !!!!!

For all those who felt that Indians were bad at contact sports....Up yours !!! ;-)

http://www.rediff.com/sports/2008/aug/20sushil.htm

#48
Ayan Roy
August 20, 2008
10:52 AM

More good news for India in boxing! from Rediffcom:

'Vijender Kumar ensures another medal for India - India's Vijender Kumar beat Carlos Gongora of Ecuador 9-4 in the quarter-finals of the 75kg middleweight category of the boxing event on Wednesday to guarantee India another medal at the Beijing Olympics.'

Let's hope he goes on to win the Gold!

O.k., I eat some of my words about Indians being physically weak and un-sporty :-)

With good diet and nutrition, proper rigourous coaching and training and a never-say-die attitude, a whole new generation of sporting winners is slowly coming up. Hopefully the sports authorities in vairous sports will take note of this success and more and more top-class atheletes and sportmen will be MADE and TRAINED.

#49
Ledzius
August 20, 2008
10:56 AM

Congrats to Vijender Kumar. To me, this is a far greater achievement than Bhindra's gold.

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