Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on June 25, 2008
Readers of this blog sometimes like to point to the dearth of Indian Olympic medal winners as some kind of big reflection of the country’s problems. Surely if India had its act together, the reasoning goes, then Indians would, like Chinese athletes, win lots of gold medals at the games. The argument is silly on its face; if Olympic success was such a great indicator of national greatness, then East Germany would still be around as a country today.
Some economists at PricewaterhouseCoopers who seem to have a lot of time on their hands decided to have some fun and make predictions about the Beijing games that start in August. Using as their criteria past performance, economics and political planning, they not surprisingly conclude that host country China will win a lot of medals. Conveniently, their number crunching has China winning 88 medals; 8 of course is a lucky number in China and the Games themselves start on the 8th day of the 8th month of 2008.
All those auspicious 8s, however, won’t do much to help India’s team, according to PwC, which projects a grand total of six medals for Indian athletes. The country is, in the firm’s words, “a significant underachiever,” having won just one medal in Sydney and in Athens. What gives? China may have moved away from old-style central planning for its economy but still emulates the old Eastern bloc model of sports factories focusing on Olympics sports. Not so in India. “The most plausible explanation is that, with the exception of hockey, Indian sport tends to be focused on events that are not included in the Olympics, most importantly cricket,” says PwC.
In other words, when it comes to sports India is a free market. And it just so happens that the Indian market doesn’t much care for basketball, swimming and track & field, not to mention Greco-Roman wrestling, kayaking, synchronized swimming and other more obscure Olympic sports. To its credit, the Indian government also has decided that it shouldn’t be wasting money nurturing athletes who can compete globally in these things. Something Indian sports fans should remember in August when they grow tired of hearing other countries’ national anthems at the awards ceremonies.