Curtains rise today on the Tokyo Olympics, ending a long delay and months of uncertainties caused by the Covid’s deadly sway. The glittering, action-packed events will engage the world for 16 days even as the shadow of the pandemic looms large. India is putting its “best foot forward”, but the expectations are tamed by the poor shows of the past. Projections are that India will do better this time, as against the tally of one bronze and one silver at the last mega show in 2016 at Rio. This itself was a draw-down on the six medals that the nation won in the London Olympics in 2012. Notably, there have been some attempts from the Modi dispensation since 2014 to change India’s poor record at the Olympics as also at Asian Games and other international competitions. These attempts did not make any impact in 2016. NITI Aayog has set a target of winning 50 medals at the 2024 Olympics. Tokyo must show that there is considerable momentum towards achieving this goal.
In tune with the tendency to make a comparison between India and China in matters of national achievements, Rio too presented an example. China carried with it 26 gold and a total of 70 medals, against India’s two medals a silver and bronze respectively, while the US topped the show with 46 gold and a total of 121 medals. In the haul of medals, the UK stood somewhere in between the US and China. A similar trend could be expected this time too. While India talks big about a likely economic super power status, ground realities should enlighten us that this is a mirage. India lacked good leadership after the end of the Nehru era. Faced with the worst, Narasimha Rao did some fire-fighting and Manmohan Singh effected a turnaround in the national economy. This too is by now a washout. At the root of India’s problems is the play of nepotism and favouritism. Merit is hardly a criterion across the spectrum. This tendency reaches out to the arena of sports and athletics too. The results are there for all to see and fathom.
The training and selection of athletes should be in competent hands and those trainers must be given a free hand to identify and nurture talents in sports and athletics. Politicians should play no role in deciding who should represent the country in such events. In fact, politicians should neither head nor be involved in governing bodies of sporting bodies. How far has NITI Aayog succeeded in such matters is open to public scrutiny. As the curtain falls over the Tokyo Olympics on August 8, it will again be time for stock-taking.