Every four years, there is always a frenzy around the Indian squad going to the Olympics, carrying huge expectations, and every four years a depressingly familiar narrative plays out. I have written about this in 2012 and frankly, what has happened so far in Rio 2016 is no different to how it was going back then. That being the case, I could have just reproduced my post from four years ago, but there is something else that seems to be a trend at Rio about how we are reacting to our athletes’ performances. There have always been detractors in the Ramadhir Singh (or Piers Morgan, but I’d go with the ruthless killer from Gangs of Wasseypur here; he’s the nicer guy) mould (“Beta tumse na ho payega” Rough translation: Not your jam, son.) who come flocking out the moment the first medal prospect tanks and usually the rest of the narrative is about some soul searching about sporting administration, our sports “culture” (or lack thereof) and what needs to be done for the next Games.
Then there is a sensible minority, usually sports journalists or those in the know about the athletes and their struggles who spring to their defence and put things in larger context and perspective, which while being temporary succour to those stung by defeat, nonetheless provide a sobering assessment. There seems to be a feeling that this Olympics, this encouragement and mollycoddling of our athletes has gone a tad too far. That we are somehow being ‘apologists’ for the athletes out there. There’s this insidious thought process of a no-win situation creeping in which damns you if you criticize the athletes (“You have no idea what they have gone through. Swim a lap, run a mile, or shoot a round before you talk”) and damns you if you don’t (“They have gone there to win, participation is for pansies”).
The extremes are fuelled by a sense of shame and guilt. The second one stems from the shame of watching our nation sidelined on a global stage, reduced to a mere footnote as we watch hours upon hours of live footage of how a tiny Fiji or a “Infosys like” Singapore win medals. The first one stems from a sense of guilt that we have not followed these sports or these sportspersons for four years and now suddenly we expect them to win everything. And that is how it begins, the endless spiral that repeats in four year cycles, the genesis of assessing sports ad hoc. I am here to try and balance the two points and put together a few thoughts to give you a broader context and possibly a middle path. I have no special knowledge (I am not an insider, or a journalist, or even a sportsperson) but I am passionate about sports in general and a fan. My heart also aches when I watch an Indian athlete lose, I also let criticism (fair and unfair) loose in the heat of the moment. But the Olympics are a great unifying spectacle that bring the world together and they should bring us together as a sporting nation. In some senses the Games do but then the labels start creeping in the moment the exodus of our athletes begins.
So, in the next part, I’ll start by considering exactly that – the road to checking into heartbreak hotel, and how to deal with it.