Destined Underdogs? The sad story behind India’s Billion unfulfilled Olympic dreams

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Destined Underdogs? The sad story behind India’s Billion unfulfilled Olympic dreams

India, the second-most populous country in the world with the highest youth population is largely considered to be an underdog in the Olympics and sports in general. Since 1900 India has only managed to win 33 medals while India’s neighbor China from 1952 has won 608 medals so far. Today we take a look at the sad story behind India’s disappointing performance at the Olympics and sports in general which ironically has the odds of success in its favor and what can be done to improve it.


When I was a kid I saw all my classmates and cousins aspiring to become Doctors, Engineers, and in some rare cases joining the military. Children passionate about sports were largely considered black sheep if not complete outcasts. Teachers and parents would advise children to concentrate on studies rather than on sports. Phrases such as “Men’s Sana in corpore Sano” (Healthy mind in a healthy body) would only remain words to be used in essays rather than being applicable in real life.


As I grew up most of my classmates and cousins just like me ended up trying their best to climb up the corporate ladder and some ended up in the medical profession making millions out of their private practices as Doctors. Most people that I know of have become Engineers, Scientists, Accountants, Doctors but athletes.

Do I know anyone who has taken up sports as their full-time career? Unfortunately No.

Excellence at sports like everything else requires a strong foundation to be built upon. However, in the case of India, that foundation is nothing but a feeble construct. So much so that Indian athleticism has been a subject of mockery and ridicule in the foreign media. India’s consistent critics such as BBC and China’s state media have often tagged India as “Losers” in the Olympics. India can do very little to prove them otherwise. As said before the biggest reason for the poor performance can be attributed to the preparation for sports that don’t quite happen at grassroot levels.

Indian kids are most often taught and told to become Doctors, Engineers, or have a respectable white-collar desk job if they want to have a better future for themselves. Parents and teachers are not totally at fault either since Indian society is a largely underpaid middle-class labor force and hence affording a comfortable lifestyle with a sponsor and cash-starved sports is a risky proposition. Indian sports so far have received only so much attention and those who do choose sports as a career mostly take it as a ticket for an attractive prospect of the “Sarkari Naukri” or Government Job.

India’s poor performance at the Olympics can also be attributed to the limited scene of Sports which too is vastly overshadowed by the immense glitz and glamour of Cricket. India is known for launching multi-billion dollars worth of Cricket events such as IPL and different formats of the game in form of ODIs, Tests, and T20’s. Majority of Indians under the sheer influence of the viral marketing of Cricket rush for making a Dhoni or Tendulkar out of their children rather than making them aspire to be the next Abhinav Bindra or PV Sindhu.

Finally, the biggest problem is the lack of sports culture in India. In Chetan Bhagat’s famous novel “Three Mistakes of My Life” it is said that a person in the Australian society is known by the sports he or she plays while in India the person would be known and be measured on the job he does or the money he makes. While the novel is a work of fiction the statement holds true in the Indian socio-economic context. As I said before, I, like all other kids my age, grew up to take up desk jobs. If in India we took sports as a means for recognition maybe things would have been different.

However, things are not as bleak despite India’s poor number of Medals in the Tokyo Olympics. The sports scene in India has vastly improved from what it was 5 or 10 years ago. Narendra Modi India’s prime minister has pledged to improve the country’s image by its performance in the global sports arena. Thus all sports such as Hockey, Tennis, Badminton, Archery, and Football most of which have been neglected so far are slowly getting the much-needed sponsorship from Government and private organizations alike.

Every change takes time and an improvement from decades if not centuries of impoverishment is no different. While India may still be considered a loser or an underdog in the Olympics, India’s performance in other sports events such as Commonwealth and Asian Games has improved in recent years. Need of the hour for Indian athletes is the encouragement from us the Indian masses.

The same celebration and stardom bestowed upon Ganguly and Gavaskar need to be shown for Indian Hockey Team, Mirabai Chanu, Lovlina Borgohain, Ravi Kumar Dahiya, and others. If only we can show the same excitement in making the stories of these impoverished Indian athletes who against all odds give their best and inspire Gen Z and Gen Y into action only then we can be sure of losing the century-old “Loser” tag from our backs.

Arunava Bhattacharya, DNI:

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