Great show at CWG
The healthy medal tally proves our athletes are getting there and are Olympics-ready
India’s performance at the just-concluded Commonwealth Games (CWG) has indeed been commendable, considering we broke new ground with stellar team performances in badminton and table tennis — where we have taken on some of the world’s best like Malaysia — and added a new sheen to our traditional disciplines. Though experts might argue that this is not the Asian Games or the Olympics, where China, the US or Europe are in contention, the gold haul does show that we are coasting towards a confidence to convert our abilities to medal prospects. And that is the bigger story of the Games, the triumph of a scientific, result-oriented sports policy of recent years and world class training modules, both Government and private. A quick analysis reveals a map of our sporting abilities and the need to refine our core strengths to be the world’s best. While we are making rapid strides in power-driven sports, the tally clearly demonstrates our skill set in indoor disciplines and mind games. Wrestling has been our traditional forte, Indians having had a civilisational connect with Malla Yuddha, and the boys and girls from Haryana have polished what has been encoded in their genes. Boxing is an acquired skill which has grown out of our grappling ability and mental agility to fool the opponent. Our shooting medals are ample testimony of making the cut with our patience, calm and concentration, something that has worked for us in chess and archery too. And while kabaddi is an inherently Indian discipline, its quick on-the-spot athleticism has found expression in some outdoor disciplines like javelin and shot put, both of which incidentally involve focus and concentration, and in sparring duels of table tennis and badminton. These two racket sports are our colonial legacy and though not exactly involving muscular displays or run-ups, draw on stamina and the consistency of keeping the eye on the ball. Weightlifting is another of our home-grown strengths, the gene pool of the North-East naturally more attuned to scoring success. This is not to say that we need not culture and curate newer disciplines but our traditional skill set can be used to set world benchmarks and retain them.
The second big revelation is that of power women, from the 16-year-old Manu Bhaker to the magnificent 35-year-old Mary Kom, proving that India has finally empowered women through sports. Our teen shooters and consistent weightlifters show that no matter how humble or privileged the background, families are encouraging young girls to choose combat sports as a profession over conventional education. Of course results bolster confidence and one must, therefore, credit the competitive readiness offered by the third most important aspect, the government’s revamped sports policy. So if we have a 15-year-old Anish Bhanwala as a gold medallist, credit must go to the talent-spotting by the Sports Authority of India and the Khelo India mission, which has started an annual national championship of grassroot games for under-17 schoolkids. Topliners will be given an annual scholarship of `5 lakh for eight years. States like Haryana and Maharashtra need to be emulated as they have implemented training laboratories and made sports a key driver of the school curriculum much before we could nurture hopes of a medal. And though there is the overwhelming shadow of cricket, the IPL lookalike hockey, football, badminton and kabaddi TV championships and their endorsement by cricketers themselves have lent these disciplines the status of spectator sports. That has brought in corporate endorsements. Meanwhile, our evergreen champions like Prakash Padukone, Pullela Gopichand and Mary Kom are nurturing better clones of themselves at their academies. Rio may have been a disaster but we might yet get our Olympian feat.
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