By Shujoy Dutta
Why can’t India win more medals at the Olympics? Well, because the Olympics isn’t designed for us. If instead of running 100m in 9.63 seconds, we had to produce a 1000 people to run it in 12.5 seconds, I think we would do very well. We’d do it the right way of course, spend time studying how the Jamaicans run so fast and then replicate it — cheaper and by the thousands. China would win in such games of course, but we wouldn’t be that far behind.
I heard Harsha Bhogle say something to this effect on TV, “When the country celebrates Jugaad how can it pursue excellence?” He seemed upset. Whether it was because he wanted India to do better or because he can’t match this kind of profundity in his commentary wasn’t immediately apparent to me. But there has been so much econometrics thrown about our performance that I felt I should add my two bits.
I guess we’re irked that our sense of India as the next Superpower just doesn’t fly when we look at India’s performance in global sporting events. Facts and figures are thrown in our faces on why not. We’re poor, we’re not totalitarian, it’s too hot, our genes are poor, we don’t have short twitch or long twitch muscle fibre, our government makes athletes sweep and swab instead of eating and exercising, sporting-facilities-per-thousand figures are abysmal. They may all be true, but I think Harsha Bhogle is truer still.
As Indians, we love economy. And since Manmohan Singh released us from the License Raj and quick growth seemed possible we love economy and our national economy even more so. Who’s the guy we love most in class? Not the swatter who tops, but the guy who seemingly effortlessly comes second or third. Ditto for office. We don’t like the workaholic who does well. We put up with her, because her team’s profits help pay our salary. No we harbour a secret crush for the chap who jokes his way to average growth.
And jugaad, what is jugaad if not the celebration of economy? Take someone else’s technology, tweak it and make it do something else, for which the available technology is too expensive or unwieldy. It’s innovative, problem solving and has a sense of humour about it. Alas there are no Olympic medals in it. So as a newspaper article claims, it being hot and we being poor must have something to do with our performance in sports. It’s too hot to work in the afternoon for nine months in a year and we’re too poor to waste resources, so let’s jump off the shoulder of someone else’s hard work. It makes sense. Now all we have to do is design sports around our strengths.
Say piggy back high jump. Or cycling while sharpening knives on a whetstone spun by the rear wheel. (Gold for more knives sharpened and not for speed.) A 1000 people run a 1000 metres. Or heck, even Mathalympics or Spellbee if it comes to a push. These are the sort of events we can crack without a real increase of government spending in sport or public-private partnership. Alternately we could campaign to get Cricket into the Olympics. But in our hearts we know it’s a short term- strategy. The Chinese, Scandinavians and Americans would be thrashing us out of the park once they set their sights on it.
Because the other option is just too much hardwork and wastage. Say you want to produce Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte, whoever. First we’ll have to selectively breed our tallest folk. Then get them to take up swimming in their local ponds or tanks. All that we can perhaps manage. But who’s going to feed these beasts. Michael Phelps consumes some 12,000 kcal of nutrition a day. That’s food for a family. Three families during the drought season in some states. And with the grain rotting in the warehouses across India that would involve some serious belt-tightening from all of us. And for what? A gold medal that we could replicate in Dariba Kalan, or Crawford Market in a week.
Just not worth the effort.
There’s a picture doing the rounds on the social networks. It shows Olympians with their medals and Indians with their jewellery and the caption proclaims “We have more Gold”. That should sum it up.
Why waste any more breath arguing about National Pride and GDP vs Medals won? I think the pre-Olympic predictions were 7 medals, we got 6. Spot on, given the error rate of most of our econometric predictions. So why this carping about the state of affairs?
I really don’t think it’s about sport at all. I didn’t see any more people running than usual. I think it’s because from time to time we’re shown where we stand in the world, on indexes other than the GDP. Unfortunately, we’re so sold on the 1.2 billion demographic-dividend that’s going to storm workplaces across the known world, that this rankles.
We’re poor and mismanaged. And the favourable PR of Bollywood and India Inc aside, we’re too lazy to be world beaters. So let’s instead celebrate our six medallists who are world and culture beaters. They’ve done brilliantly well against the odds. Let’s throw them a big party, give them a few awards, perhaps an apartment or two.
Meanwhile covertly, let’s work at starting the Jugaad Olympics, where participants must create their own infrastructure and equipment before competing.