Citius, Altius, Fortius (faster, higher, stronger)
This evening, as the flags are lowered and the flame extinguished, the London Olympics 2012 spectacle will come to an end. From tomorrow, we would have one topic less to talk, debate, discuss, analyse, follow, share etc. For the last two weeks, most of us suddenly saw ourselves following a host of sports, reading about them, cheering the performers, watching them break records and create new ones. And, somewhere deep in our hearts we were hoping and praying that Indians get their share of medals. If only prayers could get more medals, we would have been richer by some gold. Sadly, that wasn't the case; we had to contend ourselves with silver and bronze, making it the highest medal tally so far. Cheers to all the winners and participants!
Undeniably, the number of medals may be in no way proportionate to the number of participants and the total population of our country but is this the only way to judge our participation? Aren't we tired of telling ourselves repeatedly how badly our sports are affected because of the lopsided treatment? So what, if Cricket is the game of the masses, what about our 'national game' hockey which has been reported extensively in the media as a 'national shame' after the defeat in Olympics - what ails us and why we fail? Isn't it also the opportunity to look inwards and reflect to understand what stops us from 'excelling' in what we do (not only in sports) and fight the forces that forbid us from realizing our talent and potential. Why do we often satisfy ourselves with mediocrity and not raise the bar and learn from constructive criticism and our failures. In the absence of such soul searching it is easy to fall prey to undue negativism and cynicism - which, unfortunately, is dished out in plenty, especially through the popular social media channels.
Games of this magnitude may mean different things to different people. For technologically and economically advanced nations, it may be 'normal' to expect the number of medals over the years. Whereas, for countries like India, the sporting event is synonymous with unrealistic expectations, dreadful dreams and pressure-filled performance - what with the cynical media and the over-the-top analysts! Olympics or any games of this stature are also a reflection on the way we treat sports and sportsmen (strictly not including Cricket and cricketers). It seems as if this is the time we wake up from our slumber on how little attention is paid to sports and games, our attitude towards them, how we need new policies for including sports in schools, how our mindset needs to change to encourage our children, appreciate them, need for assistance from state and central government while we hear other countries preparing their performers almost eight years in advance. We start the blame game which we are very good at...blame the infrastructure, the coaches, the players and get defensive at the sorry state of affairs.
And, when it comes to rewarding the performers, we have very predictable ways to recognize the winners when they are back home - monetary and other forms of awards etc (I don't mean to undermine this, but would expect us to think deeper and wider). All this seems to happen instantly without any vision for long-term engagement with the winner and participants. We hardly know anything about the participants who could not win the medals in spite of their sincere efforts. Look at the way popular media makes use of the 'celebrity' status of the winners. Why don't we pay equal attention to all the sports? Can't Mary Kom be promoted as 'glamorously' as Saina Nehwal or Sania Mirza for endorsing brands and other social campaigns? We badly and consciously need to promote our sports stars hailing from different backgrounds and playing in different competitions at different levels, nationally and internationally - without any discrimination. This could be a good way to create awareness, encourage and solicit participation, ensure sponsorship and support. After all one cannot 'force' people to pursue something like sports that is still considered secondary to earning degrees in higher education to make a living, especially in the middle class and lower classes.
The sad part of the story is that most of the winners - Sushil Kumar, Mary Kom, Yogeshwar Dutt, Vijay Kumar, Gagan Narang (except Saina Nehwal) may soon fade from our memory - only to be remembered again at the next Olympics. Saina, apparently because of the popularity of the sport and her glamour quotient has mostly remained in the headlines and catches the attention for her product endorsements. We don't find a similar effort to create more visibility or 'cash in on celebrity' status of other medalists. A lot depends on how we consciously create a culture of sports and competition. If it had to end with gifts and awards as a token of recognition (like our government does so very promptly) we would not have had sports persons struggling to eke out a living after they fade out of the competitive horizon. The life and contribution of a sportsperson is a much larger story - it's a journey filled with challenges, sacrifices and rigorous discipline. It cannot be 'compensated' with a one-time cash award or other short-sighted gestures that fail to build and strengthen sporting culture. If we really believe in the Olympics motto citius, altius, fortius, which, in Latin means 'faster, higher, stronger' we would do much more than leave the message in these words to become the slogan of a popular health drink advertisement on the television.