Saturday, August 23, 2008


Much opinionating to do, but regretfully haven't had the time and mental space.

The Indian Olympic results are a deep mine for commentary. Why is it that us commentators :-) cannot take an event at face value without immediately trying to set a context to it and a perspective to it ? I am sure there was tons of commentating about Abhinav Bindra that I missed. I did catch a editorial piece in the Times Of India by Shobhaa De. She was saying that the newspaper that she heard the news about the gold from a ragged newspaper boy at a traffic light and let us not forget the starving millions in the ecstacy over this gold blah blah ... good grief ! She intensely irritates me, but I did/do have a grudging kind of respect that within her particular worldview she has something interesting to say, but this position is completely at odds with that worldview. Perhaps she instead should be talking about how the newspaperboy told her the news about her recent new book, but we must not lose perspective of the starving millions. There was another piece by Jug Suraiya in the same estimable paper, forget the position there, but it was as stupid.

Okay, so the first point to make is -- give the event its due. Its India's first gold medal after a looong time and the first single-particapant or whatever-its- called gold medal. Given all our angst about how badly we do at the Olympics, this is great, fantastic and time for a huge celebration. I think that should be the position for the first thirty days (at least). Then we can start perspectivizing and contextizing and philosophizing.

But... let me get a headstart.
First -- the strangeness of this entirely coming at private expense. Papa Bindra bluntly said -- "The IOA has no role in this" and I say right on ! But wait, I forget. One of the olympic officials was widely quoted as saying that he had never prayed as hard in his life as when Abhinav was taking his final shots. Thank you, we couldn't have done without that contribution from you. Fire the idiot.
The Bindras spent several crores on Abhinav to make this happen. If that is what it takes to make it happen, one wonders whether in a country like ours, whether it is appropriate to spend that kind of money on one person for a gold medal. Definitely, the sporting establishment is vile and probably we do mis-spend a whole lot more than that. So practically the question is irrelevant. But perhaps in the ideal world, winning gold medals at the olympics should indeed be left to individual and private sector particapation.

I've been compusively watching the medals ranking. With the 1 gold and now 2 bronzes, we are now around 44th in the ranking. We'll probably slide some by the end of the Olympics unless we have some other surprise wins. After the initial gold by Bindra and the understanding that it was a 'private' gold, I did not think that this heralded any real change in how we do in the Olympics and that we would be more-or-less back to square 1 in the next Olympics. But our surprise showing in wrestling and boxing gives new hope. Those were done with public money and the athletes did make a point of saying that there needs to be more facilities etc. etc., and after these wins there will some pressure on the officials to deliver. So perhaps we have indeed turned a corner and will start doing progressively better. Looking at the medals tally, I would just like for us to consistently get 3 or 4 golds and several silver and bronzes. That would put us in the top 20 or 30 and I'm contented (Are you?). I don't think we need to do any better than that.

More generally, I feel the Olympic thing is so skewed in favour of the rich countries. I mean -- hey if you're a rich country and can afford to spend lots of sports and get a lot of medals -- big deal ! We in the developing countries shouldn't care. In fact, lets create another kind of medal tally where we factor in the per capita GDP of a country and scale the country's rank down appropriately. Lets see who does well then !

Although its painfully obvious, I can't stop myself from pointing out how frustrating it is that we spend so much of our energy and attention on stupid cricket. How great it would be if sportspersons in other fields get as much attention. What's even painful, is that looking at myself, I don't follow any other sport (and don't follow cricket much too either anyway), so I'm also following the general pattern in this. I don't even understand what some of the events like skeet shooting are. The media takes a lot of blame for this of course. And why is it that they are so clueless in having any idea of where are medal prospects are ? All the medals were a big surprise (to me atleast). Why the **** couldn't the media have done the homework and pointed out the real sports to watch.

The whole deal with the Bhiwani Boxing Club and the wrestler from Najafgarh is fascinating and romantic. How do these tiny islands of excellence function ? How come they survive and produced champions in the morass that is the Indian sports establishment ? Are they more such institutes that will produce champions with a little more luck, timing or support ? Hats off to them.

Hats off also to Papa Bindra and Mama Bindra. Mama had some nice things to say -- how when her son's shooting was off, she would be the one that would bear the brunt of his frustrating. She also had some much-needed advice for Indian mothers -- not to put pressure on their children but to be the emotional support for them.


!!! said...

I must add - its worth congratulating Bindra family...Yes they had the crores to spend. At some places... some critics made it sound like affluent parents pampered their kids desire and interests and contrasted how any other athlete in India was not so lucky.

But isn't it so much better that Papa Bindra bankrolled his sons path to a shooting glory - instead of letting him be another rich-spoilt-brat shooting a Jessica Lal or Nitish Katara... or driving drunk in his latest BMW...

BTW... I have a different take...

Arvind said...

Many thoughts on this:

I think we should simulataneously examine bindras shooting skills and the IOA officials prayer skills with the following experiment
( a ) All officials of the IOA are lined up except the one with the best prayer skills
( b ) Bindra shoots all those in line from a distance of 10 meters.
( c ) Official with best prayer skills requests God that those who are killed are brought back to life
( d ) If no one is brought back to life, said official is brought to the line and will be fired upon

On a more serious note, ask yourself the following question that Noam Chomsky asks "How does it matter to you if your school football team won?" Same shit here. It really doesnt matter that India wins nothing, what is important is the lack of a sporting culture in India. I think sports are good in general and fun and much more preferable to sitting in coffee houses and chat (what the kids in India seem to do). Thats whats important not that we win medals in idiotic events like synchronized swimming, synchronized diving and synchronized nose picking. Frankly shooting too is an ultra elite idiotic sport that is open to so few. The boxing medal silver, is infinitely more difficult.

However, shooting is useful if the object being shot at are IOA officials, IHF officials or officials of any other governmental organization in India.


Arvind said...

BTW, your suggestion to divide by GDP is extremel stupid. How about India doing something to increase GDP and since that is positively correlated with medal count, thereby hope to increase medal count. This assumes you, unlike me, attach some importance to the medal count.


VK said...

Sidharth -- absolutely. I don't know of any millionaire dad who instead of pushing his son to join the family business and make more money, will pour significant amounts of money into realizing his child's dream for this.

I'm kind of conflicted by the point you make in your first comment. I completely agree with Chomsky that NFL, NBA kind of sport is basically a distraction and an effective distraction from real solidarity and community. (I don't think he was talking about things like school football or Olympics but the argument would transfer to some extent). However, I separately feel some interest and angst at India's performance. I think there is a useful case, that the performance at the Olympics is a useful metric to the state of sports in the country (the sporting culture which you talk about, and which I agree is the really important thing). So the Olympics are not relevant by themselves but as a reflection of sporting culture.

As always with Arvind -- the honest and sincere interest in bumping off sporting officials does not do much to change actual things on the ground.

Re. GDP -- your point is irrelevant. Sure we want to increase the GDP, at the same time, one can also reflect on the nature of the systemic bias in an event such as the Olympics.