Rio Olympic medals (via Gineersnow.com)

First, a disclaimer: I am not a big fan of winning medals at any level because most folks try to win them by hook or crook. Whole countries have institutionalised the process as they are only focused on false, shallow pride through winning Olympic medals. Even if the medal winners are not cheats, they are not necessarily the best human beings, as highlighted by some American swimmers and by the naughty nine Australians. A couple of years back I had an Indian Olympic medal winner who came to me with a knee pain. Throughout the consultation he didn’t have the courtesy to sit upright. Instead, he had his head on the table. Medal winner. Champion. Really?

Way too much effort, money and infrastructure are being used for trying to win a few medals when they could have gone towards getting the whole society to move. This would then have a far outreaching effect on societal health benefits, leadership skills and holistic education. Being increasingly physically active and participating in sports would get the youth population into far less trouble with the authorities because they would have far better things to do than hurling stones. 

(Photo under CC from philippryke)

Many believe that winning medals at a mega stage will encourage people to pick up sports. But that’s not entirely true. For most of the population, it’s simply a spectacle for a few weeks every 4 years. As Dr Paul D Jackson, President of the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK in his recent blog wrote, “National and international sporting events do an excellent job of raising awareness of the sporting and physical activity possibilities and we support the increase of physical activity in everyone’s day, some of which can be achieved through sport. However, major sporting events alone will not directly encourage enough people to meet CMO recommended physical activity levels.”

In the winter of 2012/13, an under-7 cricket tournament took place in Delhi where different branches  of Delhi Public School (DPS) were fighting it out against each other. My younger son happened to be representing DPS International (DPSI). As it is, DPSs are very sought after schools and only a select few children get in there. Among them, DPSI is ‘crème de la crème’. I am not sure if a school like this is truly better than average private schools but it’s fees are definitely 3-5 times more. DPSI went to the finals, but lost the match. In the ceremony that followed, the chief guest went on and on about how the well-fed simply don’t have the hunger to win. What impression was that very-important-person leaving on those very impressionable minds? They are scarred for life.

He was not a politician. He was an office bearer at Delhi state level cricket association. I wanted to give him a piece of my mind, but I held back.

Photo by Kushal Das from Pune, India

I had experienced similar taunts while I was growing up. When I was 18, I had come third in Delhi University Half Marathon clocking 1hr 18min. I had no coaching at all then. It was purely because of passion for running. The chap who came in fourth was suggesting that I had cheated by taking a ride during the race. Courtesy that sour loser, I had picked up a Thumps-Up bottle for the very first time in my life to settle some scores if the officials were to change the results and disqualify me. It irritated me to no end that my only fault was that I was from ok-to-do socio-economic background. In everyone’s eyes, how could someone coming from privileged class be able to bare so much pain. 

I had walked for last 2-3 km because I was really exhausted. Imagine what could have happened if that raw talent had been identified and given an opportunity to train properly. I ended up in a medical college instead of running for competitive events because I didn’t like the experience one bit.

I would imagine that anyone reading this article would be middle class and above. I am not being elitist. I am being realist. The rest would be struggling to simply make ends meet. The onus is on you to win those medals. Not the system. Not anyone else. Start from yourself.

UK, has done amazingly well in the Olympics, inspite of having a very small population of 65.17m, as compared to India’s mammoth 1329m. Around 615,000 children, some 7% of all British children and 18% of pupils over the age of 16, attend independent (private) schools in the UK. One-third of the medal winners in Rio from UK were those who had studied in private schools.  That’s the same percentage as those who become MPs or play cricket in UK, both activities of the privileged class

In India 29% students go to private schools. In urban India that number rises to 50%. Rather than sitting in our comfortable drawing rooms and demonstrating our patriotism by rubbishing the sports set-up in India, let us for once do something about it ourselves.

Athletes from 78 different universities won medals at Rio Olympics, 15 of them won four or more medals. Stanford lead this tally with 25 medals, a university that ranks number two in US and three globally.

Athletes from 78 different universities won medals at Rio Olympics, 15 of them won four or more medals. Stanford lead this tally with 25 medals, a university that ranks number two in US and three globally. Point being that excellence in academics and sports need to go hand in hand, and not be exclusive to each other. Not all students can win medals, but it is very important that all are made to be more physically active and do justice to their bodies. Today there is ample evidence to show that increased physical activity helps students to excel in academics too.  

Somehow this made complete sense a few millenniums ago in the gurukuls during the Ramayan and Mahabharat era but doesn’t anymore in the super-specialised modern India. In aping the west, we have forgotten what they learnt from us.

I am not comfortable when my mentor in running from my alma-mater says that my school doesn’t produce champions. Why not do justice to potential of all the students? I am sick to my gut when the principal from my son’s previous school very proudly tells me that she made her daughter quit dancing in class 9th, the activity which her daughter loved, so she could focus on academics to get in to medicine. I am actually appalled when master-architects of an Indian university aspiring to compete with the very best out there tell me that it’s not a sports university, when all I ask for are very basic changes in plans, so that I could have got all the students to be active.

No government policy or politician was coming in the way there. It was one of us who every four years, for a few weeks, wishes that India had won a few more medals. 

Some would argue that it cost UK Rs 55cr per medal won at Rio, something India can’t afford. I completely agree.

But we have the population on our side. We need to start investing in changing the mindset and simply getting everyone more physically active. We’ll have a far larger broader base. It was one of us who came 4th in Gymnastics, a sport totally alien to Indians. Of course we can do it. We need to celebrate all our athletes who represented India at Rio and not only the two girls who won there. We need to encourage sports and increased physical activities rather than making our stars feel like losers. They went there to win. 

I personally would not be interested in the medals. For me the other benefits that physical activity and sports in particular bring are far more important. Medals are purely a by-product. But I am also not allergic to them either. It would be wonderful to win some.

Want medals? Stop complaining! Start contributing.

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