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Tokyo 2020

The morning after the end of Tokyo Olympics

Paris is just three years away. After raising hopes of an unprecedented Olympic medal harvest, our sportspersons have stuttered to a never before medal tally! Seven in all, up by one from London 2012.

Fighter planes flying beside the Eiffel Tower

Paris 2024 Olympics (Source: Getty Images)


Ranajit Bhattacharyya

Updated: 9 Aug 2021 7:09 AM GMT

The Tokyo 2020 is finally over in 2021! A year late! Paris is just three years away. After raising hopes of an unprecedented Olympic medal harvest, our sportspersons have stuttered to a never before medal tally! Seven in all, up by one from London 2012.

India finished 48 out of the 86 countries that got at least one medal in the final tally. In London 2012, our best performance till Tokyo were 57th out of 87 medal-winning countries.

Tokyo 2021 has been an incredible roller coaster ride for us sports fans. Mirabai's great Silver winning effort sent our spirits soaring high! No Indian ever won a medal on the very 1st day of the Olympics. With the shooters and archers to follow, all medal-winning prospects, our imagination was running riot.

The soaring spirits soon came crashing down. Spirits revived towards the end of the week thanks to Sindhu's 2nd Olympic medal-winning effort and pugilist Lovlina's exuberance in her maiden Olympic appearance, both bronze medal-winning efforts. Grapplers Ravi and Bajrang's efforts in the second week added to our meagre coffer, but they were medals, all the same, a Silver and a Bronze.

Neeraj Chopra, after he won the gold in javelin throw (Source: Getty)

No gold yet! Hockey India's bronze medal-winning effort, though after 41 years, felt like a Gold to many of us. Then came the moment that 6 maybe 7 generations of Indians had been waiting for – a medal in track and field event by an Indian (Norman Pritchard was a British, who ran for British India in 1900) – 23-year-old Neeraj Chopra, a Subedar in Rajputana Rifles became the man of the moment.

It was a Gold, which he sealed in his very first hurl of 87.02 metres. The second attempt bettered his already medal-winning effort; the javelin travelled 87.58 metres. Neeraj's efforts sent our spirits to hitherto uncharted heights.

A billion-plus people were rejoicing like never before. Perhaps, for the first time in the annals of modern Olympic history, the Indian national anthem was played in the main Olympic stadium.

India's Tokyo Olympic saga will be incomplete without the mention of some of the performances of the ladies. First, our women's hockey team. A team with great skill, ability, mental strength, grit, and resilience honed in the last 5 years since their insipid display at Rio, where they lost all the matches.

This team, to me, is the most improved Indian team, playing any team sports, in the last decade! Their incredible back to the wall fight in the league stages to earn a maiden entry into the quarterfinals where they beat the strong Australia team to get into the semi-finals, were stand out performances.

They lost a tactical battle to Argentina and subsequently missed the Bronze by whiskers losing to Great Britain 4 – 3! Second, a couple of ladies playing individual sports of which not many people have the knowledge, Aditi Ashok's effort in Golf and C.A. Bhavani Devi in Fencing (sabre).

Aditi missed a medal on the last day after being in contention for a major part of the 4-day event! C.A. Bhavani Devi participated in a game that no Indian has ever entered in the Olympics. She made a winning start in the round of 64 but lost in the round of 32 to the 4th seeded French lady.

With the Olympics now over, this feel-good factor of medal starved Indians, particularly after Neeraj's Gold and some noteworthy performances from particularly our ladies, will not last long! But, this is an opportune moment to sustain the interest generated amongst the masses, particularly the grass root, if we were to become a sports playing nation.

My two-decade experience working in the development sector makes me feel that the least we could do is capture our heroes' heart-wrenching struggles to reach this level of excellence.

Indian women's hockey team captain (Source: Hockey India)

Many interesting stories on the struggle of our exceptional sportspersons, which have suddenly sprung up on print and social media, needs to be taken to the grassroots to inspire our rural children to participate in organised sports. We need to create sports icons for our children, particularly rural children, to emulate.

Short stories on our current heartthrobs like Rani Rampal, Salima Tete, Grace Ekka, Vandana Katariya, Mirabai, Lovlina and more need to be told in regional languages to the children.

There is some common thread to all their stories; most come from a humble, agrarian background who started playing at a very young age to overcome the household hardships; they have all received support from either the government or the private sector or both. The spectacular rise has been after years of unrelenting hard work.

Historically, we have been unable to reach the inspiring stories of our great sporting icons of yesterdays. We did have quite a few. Our school language textbooks strangely gave these stories a skip.

Paradoxically, I remember having read about Paavo Nurmi and Emil Zatopek in my English language books, the only Indian I remember having read about in my Hindi textbook was K.D. Singh 'Babu', who was the captain of the Gold winning hockey team at the 52' Helsinki Olympics, and not Major Dhyan Chand! I wonder how many still feature in our school textbooks.

We cannot create champion sportspersons unless we can inspire them to play sports. Let the development sector help in propagating these stories and start with the rudiments of organised sports in rural India, both in schools and communities.

I keep harping on rural India because just check the background of our high performers; many come from rural India, that is where our great pool of talent lies. Of course, the government still has the onerous task of creating the necessary infrastructure, at least at the district level.

These infrastructures will need not only maintenance but also the facilities that need to be utilised. To my mind, Khelo Bharat is an ideal programme to utilise these facilities at the district level to unearth talent. There are over 640 districts in India.

It is no time to sit back and relax. The momentum created by our Tokyo Olympic stars needs to be exploited to create that elusive sporting culture in our country. We need the children to play organised sport.

We need the parents and communities to encourage the children to play. And, we need the government, private and civil society organisations to work together to make India a great sporting nation.

To end, I would like to add that sport has the trappings of uniting our country too. The caste, communal, socio-economic and gender differences can be evened out. Our sportspersons are the best medium to catalyze this unity. Remember the Olympic medal-winning moments. We all gloated in unison! Can we do the same in Paris!

(Ranajit Bhattacharyya is a member of Pratham Education Foundation and an incorrigible sports fan who has been expectantly following the fortunes of Indian sports for more than 5 decades!)
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