GAME PLAN: A flop show of Olympic proportions

Jaideep Ghosh

India's Sakshi Malik poses with her bronze medal for the women's wrestling freestyle 58-kg competition during the medals ceremony at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday. Photo-PTI

India’s Sakshi Malik poses with her bronze medal for the women’s wrestling freestyle 58-kg competition during the medals ceremony at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday.
Photo-PTI

Even as we write this, a few thousand people in India are going ballistic about Sakshi Malik finally winning a medal for India in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

There was a time, when we were younger, when kids playing cricket at any level (beginning from inter-school tournaments) would get a mention in the newspaper columns if they got three or more wickets in any match.

Now, while this was a great thing for the kids, there were times when the less than discerning city sports news reporter would put your name in, even if you were three for 60 off ten overs or, even worse, five overs.

India’s predicament is similar.

While we are now of the medal table, a possibility that looked remote before the four girls – Dipa Karmakar at the vault, PV Sindhu in badminton and Sakshi and Vinesh Phogat in wrestling – made us sit up and hope.

At the same time, we are now at the fag end of a table which actually is a glaring condemnation of the all-round disaster this Olympic journey has been.

A county of now a disturbingly-large 1.3 billion people, who sent 119 people to Rio, is floundering with one bronze. One!

I wonder what the celebration is all about.

We share the exclusive one-bronze club membership with nations like Estonia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. Without casting aspersions on any of these nations, I can wager all of them together wouldn’t have sent 120 athletes to Rio.

Let’s not even discuss the gold medal winning countries. Just this that they include Independent Olympic Athletes contingent (which was set up to allow sportspersons from derecognised Olympic associations to participate). They also have a bronze, by the way.

Rio de Janeiro: India's Vinesh Phogat reacts as she is attended to by a doctor after getting injured in her match against China's Sun Yanan during the women's wrestling freestyle 48-kg competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. Photo: AP/PTI

Rio de Janeiro: India’s Vinesh Phogat reacts as she is attended to by a doctor after getting injured in her match against China’s Sun Yanan during the women’s wrestling freestyle 48-kg competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016.
Photo: AP/PTI

Not for a moment are we taking away from Sakshi’s achievement. It was a sensationally brave performance, from her as also from Vinesh, who was so unfortunately injured and cruelly left to the mercy of the Indian Olympic Association ‘doctors’.

There is a much abused phrase in Indian sports. “Went down fighting”. This is used if our football team loses 6-1 to some insignificant island nation, or if our hockey team surrenders a two-goal advantage to lose.

But what happened to Vinesh is the true meaning of went down fighting. She was up for the challenge with her Chinese rival, and it was a horrendous injury that stopped her on her tracks. She did indeed go down fighting.

You can exonerate failure if you see a fight. But what you see in the Indian contingent is these many faces that have been part of every contingent for the last four, or even five Olympics, whose sum total presence as competitors would be close to the time spent by Vinesh in her second bout.

We have names like Manavjit Sandhu, Renjith Maheswary, Mouma Das, Achanta Sharath Kamal and several others who have been regular features in the big games for between 12 to 20 years. They have achieved nothing, but they are there nevertheless.

A lot is said about the lack of infrastructure and Dipa Karmakar’s was a classic case. But she still went as far as she could, which is the fight we are speaking of.

Abhinav Bindra had some interesting statistics to mention about how Great Britain spends something close to 5.5 million pounds for every gold medal won.

Notably, he didn’t mention how much Ethiopia spent for their gold. Or Vietnam, for their gold and silver.

At the same time, he says it’s not a comparison between Britain and India. So leaves us wondering, why mention this at all.

We don’t have the best facilities, that is no secret and our officials and dignitaries have done but make us look stupid.

But at the same time, when you’re facing Lin Dan in a crucial match of badminton, it won’t either be the Government or the officials who will come and win those crucial points to seals off victory. Especially when you are leading.

It is a classic case with our athletes to be all too pleased about the adulation but not ready to accept the minimum of criticism. But I guess they only reflect our traits as people.

Rio de Janeiro : India's Dipa Karmakar Participates in the vault during the artistic gymnastics women's  final at the 2016 Summer Olympics at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, August 14, 2016. Photo - PTI

Rio de Janeiro : India’s Dipa Karmakar Participates in the vault during the artistic gymnastics women’s final at the 2016 Summer Olympics at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, August 14, 2016.
Photo – PTI

Some went down fighting. Lalita Babar fell during the 3000-metre steeplechase, but got up to finish fourth and qualify for the final. We have seen what Sakshi and Vinesh did, or Dipa.

Sindhu is fighting too.

We may still end up with a medal or two more, which would be more relief than rejoicing. It is also an open letter on the despicable show that was our Rio de Janeiro show, on and off the field.