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MENAFN - Khaleej Times - 28/08/2012

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(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) INDIA'S PERFORMANCE in the recently-concluded London Olympics is still reverberating in the Indian media. Just six medals, none of them gold, from the world's second-most populous nation, some 1.2 billion people strong?

Believe it or not, this was India's best performance to date in the Olympics. To put this into some kind of perspective, here is another statistic.

Just one sportsman " US swimmer Michael Phelps " has won almost as many Olympic medals " 22, 18 of them gold " than the total number of medals won by India, 24, in all the Olympics!

To me, that embarrassing statistic alone highlights the pathetic standards of Indian sports at the international level (forget cricket which is played seriously by just nine countries).

In 'Indian Express', the Maharaja of Patiala and former chief minister of Punjab, Amarinder Singh, lamented that his state did not win a single medal, whereas in the past it had been India's leader in sports. Milkha Singh, the 'Flying Sikh' as he was nicknamed, came fourth in the 1964 Rome Olympics, a feat unmatched since then by an Indian male athlete.

The strange and inexplicable part is that Indian shooters, archers and wrestlers, currently rank among the world's top. They were expected to bring back a good haul of medals. They did miserably. Abhinav Bindra, gold medalist in shooting at the Beijing Olympics, did not even qualify for the finals.

In the signature field and track events, India was nowhere, except in the women's discuss throw where Krishna Poonia ranked a commendable seventh in the final. Perhaps worst of all, in hockey, a sport in which India once excelled and won several Olympic gold, out of the 12 teams in the fray in London, we got the wooden spoon, losing all the four matches we played, thus ending up at the bottom of the table.

The USA led the medals tally, as it has in most Olympics, with China coming a close second. Britain did surprisingly well, coming third, ahead of sporting powers like Russia and Germany.

Despite India's poor showing, I was glued to my TV set for the fortnight of the London Olympics. Danny Boyle, the director of the Oscar-winning 'Slumdog Millionaire', did a fantastic job of the opening ceremony, with his quirky and humorous mix of what has made Britain such a great and loveable nation.

'Mr Bean', actor Rowan Atkinson, made an appearance as part of the symphony orchestra and also ran along with other athletes on a beach, in a scene from the iconic film, 'Chariots of Fire', much to the amusement of the audience. 'James Bond' Daniel Craig was there with a mock-up version of Queen Elizabeth (the real Queen was in the stands).

The closing ceremony had too much 'pop' music to my liking but the Beatles' greatest song, 'Imagine', sung by the late John Lennon, in a never-before-shown film clip, moved me to tears.

The 'Queen' band, famous several decades ago, were brought together to play a couple of their greatest hits. Their lead singer, Freddie Mercury, who died of AIDS, was shown on screen belting away.

I wonder how many in the audience knew that he was actually Indian, not British, and his real name was Faridoon Balsara. He kept his Parsi and Indian origin a well-guarded secret. No matter. He was one of the greatest singers of our time and his 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and 'We Will Rock You' remain classics.

How can India improve its miserable sporting standards?

Firstly, by overhauling the various sports federations, dominated by politicians and bureaucrats, who know little about sports and are there only for the foreign travel and other perks they get. These federations, if they are to exist at all, need to have more sportsmen in them. Cricket gets too much attention and funds, thereby detracting from other sports.

Finally, a far better sports infrastructure has to be put in place in India, which means more stadiums, gymnasiums and public playgrounds.

India could take a leaf out of China's book.

The difference is, Beijing has a ruthlessly efficient government. New Delhi sadly doesn't.

Rahul Singh is the former Editor of Reader's Digest, Indian Express and Khaleej Times


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