India is the world’s 2nd largest country, with 1.2 billion people–four times the size of the United States. But in the 2012 Summer Olympics, they won just six medals–2 silver and 4 bronze. Which is actually good, considering that their pre-Olympics goal was to win five medals.
India has competed in every Olympics since 1900, yet has won just 26 medals (9 gold, 6 silver, 11 bronze). In other words, India has won just a few more medals than Michael Phelps.
A Google search showed that this subject fascinates lots of people around the world. And a variety of reasons–or excuses–have been cited for India’s lackluster Olympics performances.
- Not a priority. Sports just isn’t a priority among Indian families. Education and job training–and survival in general–take center stage. Athletics is viewed as something you do for fun. India certainly has people with potential world-class athletic skills. But it is rarely developed, or at least not developed at a young enough age.
- Infrastructure. India doesn’t have a widespread sports culture with athletic teams at all school levels. They lack a system where the best athletes rise to the top, along with skilled coaches and trainers.
- Money. Though India is developing economically, families lack the money to invest in high-calibre athletic training for their children, and local governments lack the funds to invest in good practice and competition facilities.
- No economic safety net. An American can spend many years de-emphasizing school and, if athletics doesn’t work out, still live a good middle class life. But in India, you’re taking a very big chance. It’s tough to make up ground.
- Caste system. A large part of the population is automatically excluded, because they come from lower castes. If you make the Olympic team, you’re probably a member of a higher caste.
- Not a national priority. Developing countries that do well have high investment from the central government–China, North Korea, Cuba. The Indian government has too many other concerns.
- No dominant sport. Developing countries usually excel in a particular sport–track (Jamaica, Ethiopia, Kenya), wrestling (Turkey), weight-lifting (Kazakhstan), boxing (Cuba). No such sport has emerged in India, unless you count cricket.
- Childhood malnourishment. Too many of India’s people begin life as undernourished children, and they never develop the physical qualities needed to excel in athletics.
- Corruption. The Indian athletic bodies are ridden with corruption.
- Tribalism. India has numerous ethnic identities with distinct languages, not to mention the divisions of the former caste system. North Korea, by contrast, has a single ethnic identity.
- Gender issues. Skimpy outfits–a staple in many sports–is frowned upon in Indian society.
- Cricket rules. India is a one-sport nation, obsessed with cricket. Which is not an Olympic sport.
Something else I found interesting.
Between 1928-1968, India won the field hockey gold medal all but two times (when neighboring Pakistan won). In 1976, the Olympics switched from natural turf to synthetic turf, which is more expensive. Indian localities lacked the money to switch fields to synthetic turf. Consequently, Indian players continued growing up on grassy fields, learning skills which weren’t suited for synthetic turf.
So there, an explanation of why the world’s second-largest country, it’s largest democracy, and its largest English-speaking country just can’t cut it in the Olympics.