Why a billion strong Indians can find only one person who can win medal ? There's a reason why Indians do badly in sports that require high levels of physical fitness ONE of the most lavish parties thrown in London this week to mark the start of the Olympic Games was that hosted by the London-based Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal for India's Olympic team. It was in effect a celebration of a larger investment that the billionaire has made in Indian athletics. Since 2005, he has been funding the $10 million Mittal Champions Trust to support 10 Indian athletes with "world beating potential". However, it's a risky investment in an historically feeble enterprise. For India, despite its vast population (1.22 billion at the last count) and genetic diversity, has had an astonishingly unimpressive record in international athletic achievement.
Mittal started his trust after seeing India win only one medal each year at the Games in 1996 (bronze), 2000 (bronze) and 2004 (silver). In Beijing in 2008, the Indian team won three medals including a gold, but was ranked 50th among all the nations participating, behind tiny countries like Belgium, Finland and the Dominican Republic.
So why is India so bad at games, with the obvious exceptions of cricket, hockey and, to a lesser extent, squash?
Although people like to explain it in terms of poor sports infrastructure and the corruption that undoubtedly afflicts sports administration in India, it is much more a matter of culture. In general India is weak in sports that require high levels of physical fitness. This largely reflects caste and class attitudes to physical effort. This is a society in which even middle-class people will have a servant bring them a glass of water from just a few feet away: for centuries, high status has partially derived from lack of physical effort and the abundance of other people to take the strain for you. It is only very recently that elite Indians have started jogging...
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