India: A Graveyard For Athletes?

“If you want to be the best, you have to do things other people aren’t willing to do.”

This motto followed by undoubtedly the greatest Olympian of the Modern Games: Michael Phelps, holds utmost importance in the field of sport, especially in a global event as that of the Olympics wherein athletes from all around the globe, train rigorously to participate in this sport extravaganza. Every athlete qualifying for this event has undergone in-numerous hours of training. Another common proceeding that is seen without exception is the dominance of the Western Countries in the overall medal tally.

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Is India on par with the world in terms of sporting prowess?

Why is it so that the Indian athletes do not give their Western counterparts a stiffer competition? Out of the 63 men and the 54 women that were participants at the Rio Olympics this year, we managed to only bring back 2 medals, one being silver (P.V Sindhu in the field of Badminton) and a bronze (Saakshi Malik in the field of Wrestling) medal. Although the likes of Saina Nehwal, Abhinav Bindra have made a significant mark in their respective fields over the years, they too have not been able to sustain these performance. Why do we not have a household name like that of Michael Phelps or a Usain Bolt in our ranks whose performances are not paralleled by any athlete and upon whom the expectations of the people are that of how many gold medals: rather how many of the existing Olympic Records will be overhauled by him? The basic difference lies in the mindset of the people of the various countries. In a country like India where the major emphasis is given to education and is more career oriented, sports training is not given enough importance and athletes are not nurtured.

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Sports Is Not Given Enough Emphasis In The Country.

Proper direction and emphasis is not given the development of sports and the root of this problem is graver than what meets the eye. Initially during childhood, parents are hesitant to make their child pursue sports because according to what they think, ‘Sports does not have future in India’ and it is there that we lose the plot. In countries like China, it is mandatory for every child to participate in a sport of his choice and also by the age of 6 if the child decides that a particular sport is that of his interest, Government aid is given to the family to promote their child’s interest and also state of the art facilities are at the future sportsperson’s disposal. Along these lines are the ideologies of the Western Countries, champion athletes and sports persons are nurtured and developed from young ages and are exposed to various intensive training regimes to achieve results which can only be dreamt of. That is the first drawback in India, proper direction and clarity of thought is absent in individuals; and the multiple engagements that they take up for various reasons such as financial stability, are the reason that individuals are not able to dedicate themselves wholly towards their goal: leading to mediocre results and performances.
The education structure followed in India is very rigid in its academic flexibility thereby allocating time towards training and practices for individuals in India becomes a challenge in itself. Emphasis is given towards academic grades and more often than not, sport becomes a mere liability and Is also treated by the individual in the same manner.In America, Athletic Training has been recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA) as an allied health care profession since June 1991. That is where the difference in mindset and ideologies lies. In India, athletic training is not taken seriously whereas in the US, it has been given importance of a full-fledged profession. The large population of India coupled with its high illiteracy rates also hinders the propagation of sport in the country; diminishing its appeal to individuals in the country. To nurture and develop the muscles of the body, proper training along with the requisite diet is essential especially during an individual’s teenage years. However, this is not the case in India. In contrast, the plight is much deeper.

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Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 medals.

Just to take an insight of the story of an athlete’s preparation to the Olympics, who better to discuss than the swimming sensation Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 medals, holds the all-time records for most Olympic gold medals in individual events (13).In winning eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, Phelps broke fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz’s record of seven first-place finishes at any single Olympic Games. At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Phelps won four gold and two silver medals, and at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, he won five gold medals and one silver. This made him the most successful athlete of the Games for the fourth Olympics in a row .Phelps is the long course world record holder in the 100 meter butterfly, 200 meter butterfly, and 400 meter individual medley as well as the former long course world record holder in the 200 meter freestyle and 200 meter individual medley. He has won a total of 83 medals in major international long course competition, totaling 66 gold, 14 silver, and 3 bronze spanning the Olympics, the World, and the Pan Pacific Championships. Phelps’s international titles and record-breaking performances have earned him the World Swimmer of the Year Award seven times and American Swimmer of the Year Award nine times as well as the FINA Swimmer of the Year Award in 2012. His unprecedented Olympic success in 2008 earned Phelps Sports Illustrated magazine’s Sportsman of the Year award.

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Phelps practicing the Butterfly Stroke.

Such herculean feats must be a result of some rigorous training regime, which is as follows. Michael Phelps swims an average of eight miles a day during his six hours of swimming. He begins his training at 6:30 a.m. Phelps’ sets when swimming are between 50 to 800 meters. Certain sets are timed, such as his 200 meter sets, which have to be done within three minutes. He practices the backstroke, butterfly, freestyle and individual medley.

Phelps is coached by Bob Bowman as of 2016 and has been training under him since he was 11 years old.

Here lies the underlying difference between athletes and great athletes. The determination and will to practice for prolonged periods of time with regimes of such high intensity. Indian athletes must be inspired to do the same in order to achieve the pinnacles of success that the ‘Flying Fish’ has achieved.
Due to the unavailability or rather inaccessibility of trainers and other of such personnel, individuals tend to look into sources via which they obtain have information regarding training regimes. This translates into adopting short-term performance increasing agents like steroids in addition to practicing exercises which produce great stress on muscles, leading to muscle injuries or inadequate development of tendons and ligaments. It is here that the role of the trainer assumes precedence. Trainers identify talented individuals at an early stage in order for them to nurture the athlete all the way till the professional level.

download (15)This personal interaction helps the individual to learn correct techniques of his respective sport and to execute them on the field. Unfortunately in India, such kind of personnel is absent due to a couple of factors. Owing to the immense population of our country, it is feasibly impossible to develop a structure of training with the involvement of such a large personnel of sport trainers and coaches. Secondly, due to the vast difference in the urbanized and the rural parts of the country, the set-up of such a system which functions effectively is a tedious and a long-term investment in which the Government of our country is not very interested in.

Thus, the absence of a ‘Sports-Management’ mindset in India has created a problem for athlete whose cause is so deep-rooted that a responsive action will not have any immediate visible effects with exceptions being few and far between.

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Emotional Quotient (EQ): A Critical Factor In Performance.

Another important aspect that must be noted is the emotional (EQ) and psychological quotient of India athletes. Although this may seem to be an inconsequential matter, many a race or event is won or lost with the impression that an athlete or team has on its opponent team. Factors like intimidation, positive outlook, attitude, intensity and ability to deal with pressure situations play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of a bout. Unfortunately, especially in India, the feeling that we as a race are inferior to the western races is very predominant directly translating to poor results in major competitions.
Indian’s are fond of spices and sweet in their cuisines.


Delicacies consisting of these ingredients are present in abundance which also leads to the excessive consumption of sugars by athletes. According to the data taken from the website here are some of the ill effects that an athlete is likely to face due to excessive consumption of sugar .

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Indians are fond of their sweets!

Sugar is one of those substances that you might ingest too much of without knowing. One 12-ounce can of pop contains approximately 39 grams of sugar, amounting to a total of 140 calories. As you move from a can to a bottle, the sugar intake only gets disgustingly higher [65 grams]. And that’s assuming that you stop after one drink. Given their complete lack nutritional value, soft drinks and other sweet foods aren’t worth your time. Another problem is that most people love the taste of sugar and often don’t care whether they consume an unhealthy amount. This presents a risk for the general population, but emphatically for young athletes looking to improve their game and get noticed by a college coach. Like many things in life, there’s a fine line between too much sugar and just the right amount. For those looking to take their athletic careers to the next level, regulating sugar intake is essential. While some sugar is okay, many abuse its use to make their food taste sweeter. Abuse can lead to addiction, and an athlete addicted to sugar is not a pretty picture. Every athlete is familiar with the “leave it all out on the field” speech. Athletes addicted to sugar might risk that literally, since sugar gives a rush that eventually leads to a crash, due to rapid rises in glucose and insulin levels. The world’s top athletes are able to maintain a high level of performance throughout every game of every season. This is impossible when experiencing sugar crashes. The body has approximately five liters of blood. Only one teaspoon of sugar per day is needed to maintain normal, non-athletic activities. When sugar enters your bloodstream, your body releases insulin, which stimulates the blood cells to convert the sugar to energy. Excess sugar is converted into fat tissue, resulting in weight gain. If you consistently indulge in sugary foods, your body becomes resistant to insulin, leading to even more fat gain and a risk of diabetes. It’s hard to make it off the bench and into the starting lineup with a lot of newfound weight holding you down.Thus the consumption of these sugars by budding athletes hinders the capabilities of the muscles to develop at a rate which can be comparable to their counterparts who’s staple diet is consistent of a better array of ingredients, which in the overall scheme of training are considered to be more beneficial.

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India being a tropical country, is very dependent on the Monsoons for the harvesting of their crops. Potatoes and other carbs form the staple diet of the majority of Indians. Thus, this serves to be a drawback for athletes who tend to consume more carbs than the necessary amount. The margins between a good athlete and a great athlete is very slim in this day and age and thus even this marginal ingestion of excessive carbohydrates can prove to be the difference while competing against these phenomenal athletes.
India’s cultural and caste traditions play a role too and the country’s poor Olympic record has deep roots. Indians have traditionally seen themselves primarily not as individuals, but as members of their caste, tribe or region. Even when people excel in sport, they are often discouraged from pursuing it to top levels, by their families and wider community. And social stratification has meant different castes tended not to play sport together.

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Social Hierarchy.



The lower castes constitute the bulk of India’s population, and these lower castes are also the ones who don’t have access to education, don’t have access to good nutrition, health which is a major concern. India does not have a sports culture. Indian athletes who have achieved international success are exceptions rather than products of the country’s sports system. Unless there is a synergized sports culture as a country, we will never win a string of medals. A fundamental overhaul is needed and urgently so. Education tends be the highest priority for the average Indian household instead of extra-curricular activities such as sports. A popular Hindi saying roughly translates to if you study hard you will live like a king but if you play sports you will ruin your life. Indians, over the decades, have been mostly pre-occupied climbing the socio-economic ladder. Consequently, the pool of talent created at the local community, school and university levels, leaves much to be desired both in terms of size and quality. Moreover, there’s little support for those who display athletic prowess. Scarce public investable resources have eluded sports. This is further compounded by misallocation, lack of transparency, poor asset management and an absence of a framework for measuring impact of public spending. This is unlikely to change, despite the government’s best intention.
Female participation in sports is considered to be a taboo in our society. The overall perception of the women who participate in sports is that of not much esteem. Indians over the generations have developed a thinking that women folk of our country are supposed to only be in the kitchen making food and at all times “serving” their male counterpart. The rapid modernization of the country has led to the shift in mentality of the country’s women and with the emergence of role models like Saina Nehwal, P.V Sindhu in the fields of badminton, Saakshi Malik, Geeta Phogat in the fields of Wrestling, there is an excessive increase in the number of the country’s female population who are taking up sports, not just as a hobby but a profession.



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Geeta Phogat.

With so many inspirational women athletes, the one I would like to discuss is that of the cycling prodigy from Australia, Anna Meares. Currently residing in Adelaide in South Australia, Anna has been the 500 metre track time trial world champion on four occasions, and a gold medalist at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games. At the 2015 UCI Track Cycling World Championships Meares took the gold in the Keirin – her 11th world title in total, which made her the most decorated female track cyclist of all time.

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Anna Meares.

She was the flag-bearer and captain for the Australian team at the 2016 Summer Olympics, where she won a bronze medal in Keirin. This made her the first Australian to win individual medals in four consecutive Olympics.The trait that makes her unique is her ability to not get subdued by injuries and other drawbacks, instead to overcome these through sheer grit and determination. Here is the situation that had arisen in her life and how she overcame it. ‘Meares made an astonishing come back from a very bad cycling accident at the World Cup in January 2008 when she broke her neck. Meares crashed in the third round of the World Cup circuit in Los Angeles in January 2008, seven months out from the Olympics. Meares fractured her C2 vertebra, dislocated her right shoulder, suffered torn ligaments and tendons, a heavily bruised right hip and skin abrasions as a result of skin sliding on wood when she crashed at 65 km/h. Astonishingly she was back on the bike just 10 days after the fall and went through intensive rehabilitation. With the points Meares had secured prior to the crash, she was able to fight her way back and qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.images (12)[9] [10]Meares had an eventful semi-final in the sprint at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Having lost the first heat to her opponent Guo Shuang, she won the second heat. The third heat saw Guo come down the banking too steeply and her front wheel slipped from beneath her. The heat was re-run and although Guo won by a few millimetres, she was relegated for coming down the track and pushing Meares onto the côte d’azure on the final lap. This put Meares through to the final ride-off for gold against Victoria Pendleton, where she was beaten and received the silver medal.

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Anna Meares at her comeback victory.


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Saina Nehwal.

In hindsight of these inspirational women, the interest in Indian teenagers in the participation of sports and athletics is increasing in leaps and bounds, bringing the promise that the future of sport in the country is extremely bright. Today’s youngsters have the tendencies to easily get lured in practices or professions that yield large rewards on small investments; high results without working hard for them. Due to these pompous professions, the intrinsic motivation in individuals that is required for continual rigorous training regimes to achieve results at the Olympics, is absent thus leading to fluctuating results or under achievement at this global event. Youngsters are more interested in the professions that yield high returns on small investments; professions that require minimum effort and in return give maximum results. Today’s generation only wants to achieve the results by one way or another, be it the adoption of corrupt methods too.

India’s situation in the present may be bleak, in terms of medal prospects in the near future, however long-term investments are being made by the Government with views of creating athletes Vis a Vis herculean stature. Positive results are being obtained in the Paralympics, if not the Summer Olympics. India capped off a successful Paralympic Games campaign in Rio de Janeiro by procuring their best ever haul of four medals, including two golds and a silver and bronze medal apiece. Thus, the future is bright in terms of sporting prowess and the results will slowly but surely reflect on the global level and most definitely at the Olympics. It is only a matter of time in which, India will displace the positions of the present ‘Olympic Powerhouses’ like it has in the fields of Economy, Capitalization and employment of its citizens.  With grants and aids being given in plenty to the athletes and with the increase in facilities for training by the Government, the future is only dependent on the individuals of the country on whether they are willing to utilize these opportunities and are intrinsically motivated to bring laurels to their country.


Thus, rather than getting demotivated by the poor results of our country at the Olympics (India has the second lowest medal conversion rate per athlete, which reflects the lack of preparation of the athletes sent by the Indian contingent), we must not compare our beginning to someone else’s start and, must on the contrary, increase our training regimes in order to excel at the future games. I would like to conclude by saying it sure requires a lifetime of training for 10 seconds or so, but the honor and pride one feels while representing the country is unparalleled to any other feeling.

Thus, instead of only criticizing the policies of the Government, we must play our parts on an individual level and support the young Indian athletes in every way whatsoever.









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