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India needs IITs for sports

August 28, 2008

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Abhinav Bindra, with the first-ever, individual Olympic gold medal win for India, has another achievement to be proud of. He has helped put-away the country's most famous Olympic folklore -- the non-win of Milkha Singh [Images] at the 1960 Rome Olympics [Images].

For almost 50 years, Indians have talked about Milkha Singh's sprint. Like many things Indian, the Milkha Singh story has been contradictory. In towns and villages, Indian kids grew-up talking up Milkha Singh as an athletic hero, less realising, or perhaps acknowledging that in Olympic terms he fell shy of being called a winner: finished in fourth place and thus missed the Bronze medal.

Now the 25-year old Bindra has put that to rest. There is a winner amongst us, the best in the world in a certain Olympic sport. One hopes that for the Indians, who have found Olympic fame illusive, Bindra's gold medal will be the first of many to come in the 21st century.

Besides the raw inspiration that Abhinav Bindra [Images] will help emanate amongst India's youngsters, the country has something else going for it -- economics. The new found economic upturn holds promise for India's future Olympic ambitions.

A close look at the medal tally and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of countries shows that rich countries end up with a richer collection of medals. In many ways, it is as simple as that -- countries with impressive productivity in economic terms are equally productive in the Olympic arena.

The seven leading countries by GDP ended up in the top 10 list of Olympic medal tally at Beijing [Images]. The remaining three -- Spain, Canada [Images] and Brazil [Images] made it to the top 20 medal rankings list. India, number twelve on the GDP charts was ranked fifty-two at the Beijing Olympics.

Of course, there are exceptions to the suggested correlation between GDP and medal tally. Jamaica and Kenya with much less impressive GDP ended up with more medals than India. And yes, GDP is not the sole factor contributing to medals. However, it is one that India can make the most of to prepare for future Olympics.

The spirit of competitiveness in India -- so visible when it comes to military, trade, and technology needs to transcend to sports. Regrettably, but perhaps factually, a leading Western daily recently called India a 'mysteriously non-athletic nation.' The natural reaction to such observations is to tout our cricketing heritage. But, we could do more than that.

India needs IITs for sports. India needs the latest in coaching, technology and amenities to birth sporting legends. A goal should be set to take our medal tally to ten at the London [Images] Olympics in 2012 from the modest three at Beijing.

The private sector needs to help here. Ambitious sporting initiatives need to be sponsored by Indian companies. Also, the Indian tradition that subordinates sports over academics needs to change as well. Parents, teachers, communities, the private sector and the government will all need to collaborate in this endeavour.

The Abhinav Bindra story of a more prosperous India of 2008 will help eclipse the Milkha Singh tale of post Independence India. Bindra's win could be an aberration or a start of something big. Our economic wellness gives us an opportunity to pursue the latter.

Girish Rishi is a Chicago-based writer.

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