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Home News 1982 Asian Games — How sports brought colours to Indian television

1982 Asian Games — How sports brought colours to Indian television

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India has tightened its footing in global sports hosting some of the major sporting events of the world including Cricket World Cup, FIFA World Cup, Commonwealth Games. However, few of us really remember the event that helped India vault into the international sports arena for the first time, generating prestige abroad and pride at home.

Despite enormous economic concerns, India managed to host the ninth Asian Games in 1982. The 32-nation event panned out at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi between November 19 and December 4. Former Prime Minister Morarji Desai, who was in power when the Asian Games Federation awarded India the games in 1977, believed hosting the event would require extravagant preparation the country could not afford.
Desai, an inward-looking ascetic in the tradition of Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi, came close to canceling the games before his government crumbled in June 1979. The construction work only began after 1979, which left a relatively short time to get things done.

The Asian Games 1982 Postal Stamps (Image: roook76/Flickr)
The Asian Games 1982 Postal Stamps (Image: roook76/Flickr)

The Asiad 1982 not only produced a new crop of champions in India, which finished fifth in the overall medals tally, winning 13 golds, 19 silvers and 25 bronze medals but also introduced colour television in the country.

The event was initially planned to be shown in black and white on television screens, however, a Union Cabinet decision changed the way people saw television forever. Although Doordarshan didn’t have the means to telecast shows in colour, it got a time frame of 18 months to shift to colour technology.

Doordarshan purchased four Outside Broadcasting (OB) vans to provide live colour coverage of at least two events at any point of time. Engineers from different Doordarshan centres across the country were chosen to undergo training in India and abroad.

The OB vans were placed outside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and one each at Indraprastha Stadium and Talkatora Swimming Pool.

The live colour coverage of the Games led to a craze. As colour televisions were not manufactured in India, imports were allowed. Union Government allowed the import of 50,000 colour television sets by November of that year. The imported colour TV sets were priced at Rs 15000, almost double the cost of Indian ones at Rs 8000, but most people were ready to pay for them anyway. The government raked in the money, earning Rs 70 crore in customs revenue from imported sets, with one lakh sets imported into the country.

PT Usha, from Kerala, first gained international attention at the Games as she won the silver medal (Image: PT Usha/Facebook)
PT Usha, from Kerala, first gained international attention at the Games as she won the silver medal (Image: PT Usha/Facebook)

Critics called it India’s taste for modern consumerism, a hand-maiden of the commercial film industry. But for the Indian consumer, it was much more than that. It was an opportunity to see the world in all colour.

The gold winners for India at the Asiad 1982 included Charles Borromeo, who won the 800m race with a timing of 1:46:81 seconds. MD Valsamma, from Kerala, became the second Indian woman to win an individual gold medal, winning the 400 metres hurdles race with a timing of 58.47 seconds.

PT Usha, from Kerala, first gained international attention at the Games as she won the silver medal in both the 100 metres and 200 metres events.

Praveen Jolly won the bronze medal in the 110 metres hurdles race, losing out on the silver medal by 1/100th of a second. Indian women’s hockey team beat South Korea to win the gold medal, but the men’s team lost to Pakistan in the final of by the humiliating score of 7-1.

Also read: Throwback to 1940 when another Olympic games to be held in Tokyo were cancelled

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