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How Did India Make Headway In International Sports?

In the last 121 years, India has been able to get 28 medals till 2016. With a 135 crore population in the country, it's a bit challenging for every champion to come out in front, as not everyone has the financial aid required for that training

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While India has an extraordinary tradition of sports, it has been impacted by the invaders or even during independence. But despite all the barriers, the country has stood firm in its global position, encouraging more sportsmen to participate.

"Nation at Play": A History of Sport in India, written by Ronojoy Sen, visiting senior research fellow and a professor at the National University of Singapore, has followed the timeline of sports in India right from its beginning to the current times. In his book, he has mentioned the transformation of sports from the nobility's kingly pastime to a national obsession and has related it to colonisation, nationalism, and free market liberalisation ideologies. 

In the history of sports, no one would have ever thought the role of casteism to be very prominent in social and economic equality at that time. Due to social stratification, people from different castes and religions could not play together or get along well. The great epic books of India, Ramayan and Mahabharat, have also specified hunting, wrestling, swimming, and archery as forms of traditional sports. Cricket was a product of colonisation, which was later adopted by India.

Chinese travellers Hiuen Tsang and Fa Hein have mentioned plenty of sporting activities in India, which include swimming, running, and ball games, which were very trendy among the Nalanda and Takshila students.

India’s Debut in the Olympics and Asian Games (Pre-Independence)

The time when India was not free from the invaders, who were ruling the country and had taken their monopoly. Regardless of their brutal treatment, India still managed to brush with the Olympics in 1900 in Paris. Norman Pritchard was the sole representative from India who managed to take home silver medals in the 200m sprint and 200m hurdles. However, it’s still a debatable matter if he represented India or Britain.

After a nearly two-decade hiatus, India returned to the international stage at the Antwerp Olympics, where not one, but five athletes competed.

The early 90s was also a time period where women were more like shadows whose presence could be felt but not seen in reality. But in the 1924-Paris Olympics, one female made her debut in the tennis championship. The Amsterdam Olympics were one of the most iconic as it actually marked the beginning of the magnificent run of hockey. The unbeatable Dhyan Chand scored 29 goals, making India win its first gold. The trend of winning gold continued in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics and in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Survival in International Sports before 2010

The dominance of winning gold medals was alive till 1960, when Pakistan broke this chain by winning a gold medal. Chasing it back again, India regained it in 1964. But later on, India went downhill. In 1968 and 1969, India snatched the bronze medal, and again secured the gold medal in the Moscow Olympics.

India's first non-men's field hockey gold came in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, when Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav triumphed to win the bronze medal in the men's freestyle bantamweight category. After almost 40 years, India could manage to win bronze in men's single tennis. The period of the 1980s was a rough patch for India as it could not win a single match in the 1984 Los Angeles and 1988 Seoul Olympics.

In 2008, Abhinav Bindra again carved India's name with pride after winning a gold medal in 10-metre air rifle at the 2008 Beijing games. Till date, India has four medals in shooting after Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore took away a silver medal in men's shooting-double trap in 2004.

Winning the Britishers' origin game, cricket, was not a cup of tea. But the 1983 World Cup is still recalled today for its iconic win against the West Indies.

In a country like India, where people breathe cricket, some of them choose a different path. Mihir Sen came into prominence in 1958 after becoming the first Indian to cross the English Channel from Dover to Calais. He became the only person to cross the five oceans in that calendar year. In the 1982 and 2006 Asian Games, India was brought to the limelight by grabbing the top position in the golf sport.

Running like a fire bolt, P.T Usha also won four gold medals and one silver in 1986 Asian Games. 

The Lightning Kid, Viswanathan Anand, made history by being India's first to win the World Chess Championship. In 2009, Saina Nehwal caught everyone’s attention as she was the first woman to win a Super Series Tournament.

Aid from the Government in Contemporary Times

In the last 121 years, India has been able to get 28 medals till 2016. With a 135 crore population in the country, it's a bit challenging for every champion to come out in front, as not everyone has the financial aid required for that training. To support those, government has implemented: 

  • Olympic Action Plan: In 2016, NITI Aayog had presented initiatives which aim at getting 50 medals in the 2024 summer Olympics. The major focus is on sports and physical education that should be implemented in the schools. Most of the players in Germany and China are identified at the age of 4 to 5. Thus, these countries have been very successful in identifying talents.

  • National Sports Development Fund: Established in 1998, NSDF supports the aspiring sports person by providing them the opportunities to be trained under the experts and the coaches of international reputation for global competitions. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) donated 50 crore as funds.

  • Scheme of Assistance to National Sports Federation: It's a scheme available for National championships at senior, junior and sub junior level for men and women, who are willing to participate in the international competitions. Till 2018, it had Rs. 302 crore funds in its pocket.

  • Mission  XI Million: One of the emerging sports in India is football.  It was launched in 2017, with the aim of reaching out to 37 cities and 12,000 schools across 29 states in India. It had initially planned to train about 1.1 million crore children in the country.

India has been producing several sportsmen who have marked India on the global charts and have come a really long way, not just in cricket but in other sports too. Every Indian will remember the moment when Sachin Tendulkar had an emotional retirement after winning the 2011 World Cup and the strong comeback of Mary Kom. 

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