If Italy still belongs to the Olympic G8, then India doesn’t even make it into the G20. India’s final medal count is a meager six medals, two silver and two bronze, putting the country in 55th place. The rare successes were had in relatively minor sports like target shooting, wrestling, badminton, and boxing. Despite the poor showing, India’s performance in London was the best to date. Rarely have Indian athletes stepped onto the podium; half of the cumulative 20 medals that India has taken home in past games have been in field hockey, a sport long dominated by the Sikh, while the rest have been mostly in field and wrestling events.
The results of India’s most recent Olympic mission have been controversial and have been unable to resolve the fundamental question that experts and the international press have been asking: why does India lack athletic tradition, and why are its athletes so inferior, among the worst in the world?
The answers are understandably many, complex, and interconnected. Physical shape is not a plausible answer; although the Indian population is generally small in stature, the sheer quantity of citizens means that statistically there will always be strong and fit specimens to choose from. Underdevelopment also does not hold up as an explanation. Lack of funds to dedicate to facilities and other requirements of high-level competition is a barrier, but other poor nations have nevertheless been able to amass impressive medal collections. African nations in track and field, for example, or Middle Eastern countries in heavy athletics like judo, wrestling, and weight lifting. Also a factor is India’s national sport, cricket. It is an authentic popular pastime, and many Indians follow and play cricket themselves, but it is not yet an Olympic sport.
Perhaps the primary cause of India’s Olympic shortcomings is the government’s lack of desire to harness sports as a measure of India’s success. Despite a strong nationalistic sentiment, India affirms itself in cultural or spiritual ways. The characters of success in India’s collective imagination have always had other strengths. And yet, other Asian nations with strong cultural roots (think China, Japan, and the two Koreas) have used the Olympics as a nationalistic engine to celebrate their determination and success. India evidently has other priorities, although building pools or bicycle tracks for emerging talents can turn out to be more profitable and far-reaching than simple administrative measures.