Riding on the coattails of our athletes are a motivated lot who do themselves,and themselves alone, proud


My earliest memory of the Olympics is sitting awestruck in front of the TV with my family, as Carl Lewis won four gold medals at the 1984 Games, and PT Usha finished fourth in the 400 m hurdles. None of this, though, compares to the memory of watching Greg Louganis, four years later, diving off the board and hitting his head on the edge of it, only to return 35 minutes later with a few stitches on his scalp.

He would go on to win the gold at Seoul. Or Flo-Jo —Florence Griffith Joyner — with her painted talons and sinewy muscles, setting a world record in the 100-m sprint, and winning three gold medals at the 1988 Olympics. For people like me who are as far removed from sport as Baba Ramdev is from spirituality, the Olympic Games is an aspirational and visual spectacle, much like watching great cinema. I am transported into a world where I start believing that even I could have been a floor gymnast or a synchronised swimmer. And in a country where more than 135 million individuals are affected by obesity, and sport is rarely given its due, Olympic athletes can become great motivators for youngsters, especially for girls, and for the government to focus on something other than cricket.

But it seems that Madhu Sapre’s wish on being asked what she would do if she was made prime minister for a day at the 1992 Miss Universe pageant — she asked for a world-class sports stadium for the country — has come true. GoI has allocated `1,091.52 crore to National Sports Federations (NSFs) of 18 Olympic and Paralympic disciplines participating in Tokyo. And India has sent its largest-ever contingent this time — 127 athletes across 18 sporting disciplines.

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But it seems that two new sports have been included as well: self-promotion, and riding on the coattails of others. Pizza-maker Domino’s has won gold for self-promotion by using Chanu to clean and jerk its own brand equity by showing up at her doorstep in Manipur with pizzas in tow, promising her a ‘lifetime supply’ of the slicey stuff. Such magnanimity may be great for the fast-food company’s image, but it could also ensure that Chanu never wins a medal again.

After all, putting on weight is a different sport than lifting weight. Not to be outdone, our newly appointed sports minister Anurag Thakur decided to show solidarity with the Indian contingent by sitting on a sofa and waving during the Olympic opening ceremony while smiling beatifically at the TV, a skill mastered by only a few. And the coverage on Sony reflected this reflected glory. As ‘real’ India marched past in Tokyo, the screen split in two frames — one half barely three of the Indian contingent could be seen; in the other half was Thakur waving a paper tricolour, unmasked.

Thakur being Thakur, he also tweeted a ‘meta’ video clip of himself waving while looking at a TV screen showing him waving at the TV screen. Oh, where is Kiren Rijiju when you need him? Speaking of hyper-aatmanirbharta in the form of self-publicity, in a year when India’s only two-time Olympic medallist in an individual event, Sushil Kumar, is a murder accused who is cooling his heels in Tihar, it is heartening to see athletes in the news for the right reasons. It’s especially good to see women athletes representing India across multiple sports, including fencing, which some old-timers remember last seeing in the hands of an Indian when Jeetendra thrust and parried in the 1977 Dharam Veer.

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Thanks to boxer Lovlina Borgohain from Assam and weightlifter Saikhom Mirabai Chanu from Manipur, people now not only realise that women can excel at sports, but they now also know the names of two northeastern states! Maybe it’s time someone informed our corporate brands and ministers that at least during the Olympics, they should leave performance sports to those who know it best: no, not the prime minister, but the athletes.



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