Sport & Culture

India Steps Up For 2012 Olympics

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Sport & Culture

India Steps Up For 2012 Olympics

India’s Olympic past has been a mixed bag. This year could see some measured progress, writes John Duerden.

India and China account for around a third of the world’s population and are rivals in many areas. Sport, however, is not really one of them.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China won 51 gold medals, 50 more than its neighbour to the south-west. OK, it was the host nation but a look back to Athens in 2004 reveals 32 golds, 17 silver and 14 bronze medals.

India managed just one silver in Greece. The 2008 gold was, understandably then, greeted with some delight back home. Abhinav Bhindra won the men’s 10-metre air rifle. It was the country’s first-ever individual gold.

The celebrations did not last long as there came a realization that one gold medal is simply not good enough for this giant of a nation. In 2008, China invested around $2 billion in sport, almost nine times more than India.

It is not just about money. Speaking just before the Beijing games, K P Gaekwad, a former athlete, who established a training academy complained at the lack of long-term thinking.

"A long-term national sports strategy is vital for success in the Olympics which India sorely lacks," he said. "In India, intensive training of selected Olympians begins a few months before the start of the Games. In this last-minute scramble, athletes are sent abroad and foreign coaches hired. Is this any way to win Olympic gold?"

In hockey, a sport in which India once ruled the world, a medal would be something of a surprise. The country is also strong in tennis but the build-up to London has been one of chaos.

There have even been problems finding the right person to carry the flag at the opening ceremony.

Despite that, there is hope that 2012 will be a relative success. In 2011, the government announced it would invest an extra $53 million in the athletes.

This follows a good showing at the 2010 Commonwealth Games which were held in New Delhi. Then, India finished second behind Australia but above England.

"Sport was not, and could not have been, a priority in a developing country like ours," Indian former field hockey captain Viren Rasquinha told AFP. "Forget medals, taking part in the Olympics was itself a big deal."

"But not anymore. Increased government and private funding has ensured our sportspersons get the best.”

With increased investment come greater expectations. Over a billion people will be watching events in London with great interest.