Why does India perform so poorly in the Olympics?

Amrit Hallan
6 min readAug 4, 2021
Image source: Rediff

Even if a player wins a bronze medal in the Olympics, it becomes a historic moment in India. Someone on Twitter commented that in countries like USA, Russia, China and Japan, they don’t even count bronze and silver medals. The only medals that are counted are gold medals.

Just as I’m writing this, PV Sindhu has won a bronze at the Tokyo Olympics.

There are multiple reasons why Indian players don’t perform much in international sports events like the Olympics.

In certain sports they may win championships like badminton and tennis at junior level (the “junior” is mostly debatable here), but when it comes to bringing the real gold, if I’m not mistaken, our medals can be counted on the fingers of a single hand. 7 medals, to be precise. In the entire Olympic history, India has won 7 gold medals. Chew on that for a bit. If you’re not aghast, if you’re not ashamed, then this post is not for you.

At the time of writing this, China has won 24 gold medals, the United States 20 gold medals and Japan has won 17 gold medals. And it’s been just a few days since the Tokyo Olympics started.

Why is it so? Is it because India is a poor country?

First of all, we need to demolish this premise that India is a poor country. When scams happen in our country, they run into billions of dollars. It was difficult to count the zeros behind the numbers when scams happened during Congress-UPA times. Such mega-scams can happen because that much money is available to scam.

Hence, yes, there may be millions of poor people in the country, but when it comes to the coffers of the government, India is in no way a poor country. So, this is something we must stop saying when it comes to talking about giving to and creating facilities for our players.

One of the biggest problems is that we don’t have a deep-rooted sports culture. When it comes to sports, we are basically a lazy people. In fact, that’s why we are so crazy about cricket, which is less of a sport and more of a reality show.

We go through a jingoistic fervor whenever one of our players hits it big, but we are interested in the fame that comes after the effort, rather than the effort. It’s like, when it is cold and we are in the open, we all want the warmth, but no one is much interested in gathering the wood and arranging the fire.

Another — one of the biggest problems — is that, very conveniently, we get satisfied very easily, may be to create a comfort zone for ourselves. Hence, even those players who somehow are able to scrap the bottom of the barrel and come home with a bronze medal or a silver medal, become legends. They become our national heroes. This is not a statement on the players because we know that what horrible conditions they often have to practice and live in.

It is as if we intentionally keep the bar lower so that nothing much is expected of us. Even the fact that our players are able to reach the Olympics is considered to be a great feat. This is a civilization issue, and it manifests in almost every sphere.

Therefore, we celebrate players like Hima Das but we are not outraged that such players mostly live in poverty. We take it as a good thing: “Look, how despite her poverty, she made the country proud.” When we say such things, we feel morally superior. And then we go on with our lives.

When recently Mirabai Chanu won the weightlifting silver medal the news channel that we sometimes watch interviewed her coach. Guess where was the coach? Somewhere in India. The coach didn’t accompany her!

We have internalized such apathy that even the newsreader or the reporter who was interviewing the coach, didn’t highlight the bizarre situation. What is the coach doing here when his player is participating in the Olympics?!

It is by now well known that our players are accompanied by a team of bureaucrats rather than the coaches who have worked with players for years. The coaches who go with our players are randomly chosen. They’re mostly from this or that association. Sports therapists are randomly chosen. Sometimes the sports therapists who go with the players aren’t even sports therapists.

The official doctor in the Rio Olympics in 2016 was a radiologist and he was giving Combiflam to every player for every problem. And guess what excuse his father, the Indian Olympic Association Vice President Tirlochan Singh gave — “Dr Pawandeep Singh has gone there as an official doctor of an Indian team because he is the chairman of the medical commission of the IOA.”

He didn’t even feel ashamed of uttering such nonsense publicly. In a decent country, the father and son duo would have not just lost their jobs, they would have also been arrested.

The Indian sprinter, P. Jaisha, almost died of dehydration because there was not even a single Indian official present with her. Normally, players from every country have their own officials to take care of their needs such as having water. Just imagine, there was no one there even to give her water. She collapsed. Was anyone held responsible? No news is available. Did the government learn any lessons? It hardly seems so.

In 2012 summer Paralympics coaches and escorts of the Indian team member were denied accommodation in the games village because the permits had been used by the officials of the Paralympic committee. The Paralympic committee general secretary had brought his son, the committee president had brought his wife and the treasurer had brought his wife and daughter. The people who actually needed the passes were denied because these scoundrels had used the passes to stay in the village.

Shamelessly, a big contingent of bureaucrats and their family members go with the Indian team. It is known that the Indian contingent is the biggest in the world and mostly they are bureaucrats and their family members. Once they reach the country where the games are happening, they leave the players to their own fate and go on a holiday and shopping spree.

This is not a government specific problem. This problem has been in the public domain for decades. Every person who reads news or watches TV news knows about this problem, but nobody raises his or her voice. We are very happy when occasionally our players win a bronze medal or a silver medal and in rarest of the rare occasions, a gold medal, but we are not bothered about providing even the basic facilities to our players.

Yes, at the government level too the problem exists. How difficult could it be to make sure that the players go with their coaches and 90% of the contingent constitutes of people who are involved with sports? How difficult could it be to hire world-class sports therapists and sports doctors for our players? How difficult could it be to recognize talent at the grassroots level and then make sure that our sports persons get all the world-class facilities that are available to the players in the USA, Japan, China, and other countries?

No, it’s not about money. The government has lots of money. Only the will is missing. Only the right attitude is missing.

I’m not saying it’s all gloom. Rajyawardhan Singh Rathore and Kiran Rijuju as sports ministers in the BJP-led NDA have done a great job. They have reached out to talented players. Facilities have been provided. The previous “benefactors” mentality has changed and the players — at least the ones who perform — do get recognition.

The attitude of the Narendra Modi government has been drastically different from the previous Congress-led governments that had a very patronizing and condescending attitude towards the players. Most of the ministers these days reach out to the players and provide the needed help.

Maybe results will show after a couple of more Olympics.



Amrit Hallan

I don’t care much about being politically correct. Things are just right or wrong and yes, sometimes there are grey areas in this is why we write, don’t we?