To say that India’s performance at Rio Olympics 2016 has been dismal until now, will be an understatement. Except for a few glorious exceptions, it has been a depressing sight to see player after player wilting under pressure when faced with tough competition, sometimes not putting up even a semblance of a fight. The “star” players have disappointed in particular. At least one of them, shooter Jitu Rai, a former world number 1, who has won quite a few gold and silver medals in world championships, performed inconsistently and could not even qualify for the final when under pressure. Another one, Deepika Kumari, apparently one of the top archers in the world, blamed India’s defeat in the team competition to Russia on the wind. It’s as if the Russian archers were shooting their arrows in a vacuum. Yet another, Leander Paes, a Grand Slam winner and one of the most well-known names in doubles tennis internationally, made more news for his starry tantrums than his game before losing India’s doubles match in the very first round. In stark contrast was the professionalism displayed by the world’s topmost singles tennis players such as Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Raphael Nadal et al. They rose above their egos, arrived early, acclimatised themselves with the conditions in Rio and practised hard before playing for their respective countries—things that were expected of a seasoned veteran like Paes, but in vain. Lack of seriousness or commitment does not a champion make and this became painfully obvious in the case of these three “stars”.
Add to this the inept handling of every sport possible by the ineffective and short-sighted Indian Olympic Association and sundry bureaucrats, and it is no surprise that several Indian players at Rio are looking under-prepared. As gymnast Dipa Karmakar’s coach, Bishweshwar Nandi has revealed, his protégée received an Olympic-centric training for only three months, when the American gymnasts have been preparing for Rio for the last five years. That Karmakar, the girl from Tripura who is the first Indian woman gymnast to qualify for the Olympics, has reached the final of the vault event, is solely because of her own dedication, hard work, and the sacrifices made by her family and coach. The gymnastics body under IOA is mired in debilitating politics, like most other sports bodies, and does not have any time for the sport or sportspersons like Dipa Karmakar.
Indians may not have much interest in sports other than cricket, however, India is not short of sporting talent. That over a hundred athletes have qualified for Rio 2016—a quantum jump from the 50-60-odd participants in previous Olympics—is proof enough of India’s potential. But at some point, nature, that is potential, has to be nurtured to turn raw talent into world class athletes who can hold their own under extreme pressure. For that IOA needs to build the required infrastructure and clean up its own house. After all, IOA infighting did lead to it getting temporarily banned by the International Olympics Committee, thus hurting India’s medal pursuit to an extent. Over a hundred Indian athletes may have qualified for the Olympics, but those days are gone when participation was more important than winning. Even puny Vietnam and Fiji have won gold medals. India is yet to win even a bronze.