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Sir Dorabji Tata and India’s foray into Olympics

Sir Dorabji Tata and India’s foray into Olympics

Abhijit Nair

Published: 28 Nov 2020 1:02 PM GMT

India’s show at the Olympics is something we as Indians are always proud of. Though, India has not been as successful as a United States of America or a Germany in the Olympics – the performance of the Indian hockey team, Abhinav Bindra’s individual gold and others, is something the sports fans in the country boast of quite frequently.

But do you know the story which put India in the Olympics map? Many of you might attribute it to Norman Pritchard who won two silver medals representing India in the 1900 Paris Olympics – a claim which is highly disputed.

So, if not Norman Pritchard and the 1900 Olympics, then who and when?

The answer to this question might baffle you, for it was not any athlete who paved India’s way into the Olympics. But, it was rather an industrialist who made sure that India has representation at the quadrennial event. Yes, an industrialist – an industrialist named Sir Dorabji Tata.

It was the Tata group’s second chairman, Dorabji Tata, whose tireless efforts made it possible for an Indian contingent to participate in their first ever Olympics!

The tale of India’s admission into the Olympics goes as far back as the year 1919. During this year, Sir Dorabji Tata was attending an Annual Sports Meet of the Deccan Gymkhana in Pune as their Chief Guest. The performance of the athletes – who were mostly farmers, left Sir Tata completely awestruck. Most of these athletes were competing bare-foot and yet clocking time as good as any European did at that time.

Being a sports lover and an athlete himself, Sir Dorabji Tata’s heart yearned to see these people representing India at the Olympics.

Indian contingent at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics Indian contingent at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics

He took it upon himself to send an Indian contingent to the 1920 Antwerp Olympics. He set up a nine member committee led by himself and selected a six member squad to represent India at their first ever Olympics. The Indian contingent included four athletes and two wrestlers. While, PF Chaugle and A. Dattar participated in the marathon and 10,000m run, K. Kaikadi represented the country in cross country run and G. Navale and N. Shinde participated in wrestling. Besides, Purma Banerjee was the flag bearer and ran the 400m race. Apart from setting up a committee and selecting a team, Sir Tata personally funded all the costs as well.

Though, the Indian contingent failed to win any medal, it helped a long way in developing a sporting, Olympic culture in the country.

Since the 1920 Olympics, India has never missed a single edition of the quadrennial event. Besides, the Indian contingent has been on constant rise. If they started with just six athletes in 1920, the number rose to seven in 1924. The 1928 Olympics saw a total of 21 athletes from India, including a full-fledged hockey team. The figure stood at 64 in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics while it rose to a whopping 117 in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Besides, the number is expected to be even higher for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics!

Though he passed away in 1932, Sir Dorabji Tata left a lasting impact in the Indian sporting culture and one must always credit him for his pioneering efforts in this direction for whatever little success India has achieved at the Olympics.

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