As a country, we love to celebrate sporting success but give a damn about what it takes to make a champion. That makes us hero worshippers, not genuine sports lovers. "While most countries spend money on building medal winners, India has a unique model where money pours in after you've won," says a Times of India report.
The report compares money pouring in for successful Olympians and outstanding performers, with what was spent on them during training, and the gap provides some food for thought about the nation's sporting culture.
Badminton silver medallist PV Sindhu, for instance, has earned Rs 13 crore in cash awards after her stellar show in Rio. What went into her preparations, according to the report, is only a fraction of it, Rs 44 lakh. Similarly, wrestling bronze winner Sakshi Malik has been richer by Rs 5.6 crore; a paltry Rs 12 lakh was spent on preparing her for the world's biggest sporting stage. Similar is the case with Dipa Karmakar, the wonder girl of Indian gymnastics, who narrowly missed third place. A princely amount of Rs 2 lakh was spent on her training; she has already earned Rs 15 lakh so far.
Whether Sindhu's earnings reflect the invisible caste system in sporting disciplines, where success in badminton or tennis would always be rated and rewarded higher than others, say wrestling or long jump, or whether a silver medal weighs much heavier in award terms than a bronze is a matter of conjecture. It is possible that Sindhu, with a bronze medal, would still have been richer in cash terms than Sakshi with a silver.
But again, the gap between money spent on preparing athletes and the post-success splurge would always be there, as anywhere else in the world. The report makes none of it clear, but does throw light on our collective mindset about sports.
Why would states be overeager — in case of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the competitive spirit would make any Olympian envious — to invest money on winners? Well, it's the easiest way out! They get the maximum visibility by riding on someone's success. It's an opportunity to go on an ego trip; a godsend when little else they manage allows scope for that.
The bigger the cash award announcement, the bigger the celebration, the louder is the pronouncement of the good they are doing to the world. It wouldn't appear so incongruous if they actually invested real interest in sports.
The problem is their enthusiasm has nothing do with the love for sports or sportspersons. The damage political control has brought to sports bodies is an old story. That politicians and officials accompanying athletes to big events have a pleasant vacation on minds is as old as the mountains. If a country of 1.3 billion people produces only two medallists, then it's a sad statement on how political apathy has smothered our ability to be winners. Success is not always about individual talent, it's often about focused hard work and the infrastructure to encourage that.
For a change, can we expect them to let sportsmen run sports federations and associations and stop using such bodies as spheres of influence-peddling? Perhaps it's a big ask, given how deeply entrenched they are.
And what about us, we the people? We come across as no better. The enthusiasm for sports starting from villages upward is hard to miss. But most of it is from outside the ring. We could be one unique country which produces more sports experts than players. Even with our limited knowledge we know something is rotten about the way sport is run in the country. Many schools have stopped encouraging outdoor sporting activities; there's little encouragement for budding sportsmen.
Our apathy only encourages non-sportsmen to control sports. Frankly, the joyous celebration of Sindhu's or Sakshi's success could be a shameless celebration of our own failure to develop a healthy sports culture. We would be doing the same after four years. It's a routine no country should be proud of. It's infinitely wiser to spend on the process than the end product.