If a tree falls in a forest and there is no there to hear it, does it still make a noise? If an unknown woman walks alongside the Indian contingent during the Olympic opening ceremony and nobody complains, would anyone have noticed?
I watched the opening ceremony and have no recollection of Madhura Honey aka the mystery woman. My attention was drawn first to Sushil Kumar holding the Indian flag and then to the rest of the athletes. She never entered my consciousness. And even if she had, there would still have been no reason to suspect anything was out of the ordinary.
Unfortunately, if there is one thing Indian officials are good at, it is being officious and expressing outrage over faux controversies. Acting Chef-de-Mission Brig PK Muralidharan Raja was quick to make it clear that a terrible dishonour had somehow been perpetrated. "She had no business to walk with the Indian contingent and we are taking up the issue with the organisers,” Raja said on Saturday. “We don't know who she is and why she was allowed to walk in. It is a shame that she was with the athletes in the march past."
The real shame is that Raja’s response resulted in attention being drawn away from those same athletes and exemplifies all that is wrong with the attitude of Indian officials: appearances are everything; results are nothing. There have been years when the Indian contingent was made up of more officials than athletes, but that never seemed to bother anyone. Neither did India’s lack of results. When Leander Paes won a bronze medal in the 1996 Olympics, it was the end of a 44-year individual medal drought. Where was the outrage then?
And where is the outrage now over India’s poor start to the Games? The anticipation and expectation for London have been unprecedented in the sub-continent. Much ink has been spilled on how 2012 could end with India’s best ever medal haul. While that may still turn out to be true, four days in, India have only Gagan Narang’s shooting bronze to show for its efforts. Yet more time and effort has been spent on unravelling the mystery of Honey than on analysing the performances of our athletes. Meanwhile China already has 23 medals (including 13 gold) tied for first with the United States.
Two of those golds have come courtesy of China’s 16-year old swimming wunderkind, Ye Shiwen, who has set one world record and one Olympic record. In contrast, India’s lone swimmer, Gagan AP Ulalmath, is only part of the competition because of FINA’s universality quota: a country that would otherwise be unrepresented at the Olympics can enter one male and one female swimmer, with the condition that the swimmers should have taken part in the last World Championships.
The 20-year-old Ulalmath competed in the 800m freestyle at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, but will take part in 1500m freestyle in London. Essentially, and this is not meant to disrespect Gagan, his is a token prescence. Yet our officials feel no shame over this state of affairs. It is just business as usual. As if that isn’t bad enough, the Indian Olympic Association is yet to formally remove Suresh Kalmadi as it president, despite Kalmadi’s arrest on charges of fraud related to the Commonwealth Games. Apparently that does not bring dishonour to Indian sport.
The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, or LOCOG as its commonly known, apologised to the Indian contingent yesterday for Honey’s presence. The more important question is when are those responsible for running Indian sports going to apologise for the way they have mismanaged it?