Indian boxer Lovlina Borgohain stepped on Wednesday the 4th female to win a gold medal in 40 years of Olympic competitions.
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The task proved unattainable in the face of a boxer who was too fast, too agile, too powerful. But the bronze medal brought back by Lovlina Borgohain still filled a purse that remains hopelessly empty year after year: two days before the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, India, the second largest country in the world, only two silver and three bronze medals are displayed on his counter .
As many medals as Michael Phelps
The picture only gets darker if we go back in time: of the nine gold medals that India has officially displayed on its hunting table since 1900, 6 were won by the hockey team between 1928 and 1954. Between the 1984 Los Angeles Games and the 2016 Rio Games, the country won only one gold medal – it was in shooting at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“Until recently, we were always grim about the Olympic Games” pays tribute to G. Rajaraman, an experienced Indian sports journalist. “India needs to start competing instead of just participating in the Olympics”, was the headline of the news channel India TV before the competition and added this unsparing comparison: In 121 years of the Olympic Games, India had won 28 medals at the beginning of the Olympic Games, as many as the medals of the only American swimmer, Michael Phelps.
How can one explain such a deficiency? The economic situation of the country is undoubtedly already to be considered: Despite the development of the last few years, the Indian GDP per capita of 2,100 dollars remains a long way from its neighbors and Chinese rivals (10,200 dollars), not to mention a western country like the former Colonial power Great Britain (US $ 42,000).
For a very long time, these economic difficulties have been accompanied by a general disinterest of the population and the government in top-class sport: “For a long time, Indians focused on three things: food on the table, clothes on their bodies, and a roof over their heads, so the pool of athletic talent was very small.” explains G. Rajaraman.
The Indian government is also neglecting the issue of sport, not investing in infrastructure or in supporting top athletes. Another problem: cricket, a national sport but a non-Olympic discipline, monopolizes a good deal of the country’s attention … and funding.
But things are changing, as the historical medal table shows: of the 28 medals the country has won since 1900 (excluding the Tokyo Olympics), 12 were won between 2004 and the late awakening of the Indian government.
Khelo India, the federal government’s premier sports development program, has seen its budget decline from one billion rupees (around 11 million euros) in 2015 to nearly nine billion (100 million euros) in 2020. Corruption, the chaotic distribution of resources and the disinterest of part of the population in the practice of sport remain real problems. But the tide, the sports sponsors in India hope, could turn: “I expect good results in Paris”, in 2024, assures G. Rajaraman, “And I think we can go for the top 20 in Los Angeles”, in 2028.
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