Tuesday, June 18, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: Towards a level playing field

Tokyo Olympics 2020 reveals that podium space is now increasingly distributed among nations

Update : 31 Aug 2021, 12:35 AM

One gold, two silver, and four bronze medals -- the richest haul at the Olympics and one better than the tally of London 2012 for India. India was at forty-eighth place in the overall medal position, the highest ranking in over 40 years.

It is, however, at least mildly tragic that so much was achieved by the global sporting fraternity in the backdrop of a deafening and sepulchral silence. Where were the people, the hundreds and thousands of roaring spectators egging on sportsmen to greater achievement? Did you ever imagine such an antiseptic Olympics, where what little passed for arena atmosphere was generated by the claque of coaches haranguing their wards and clapping the athletes to greater heights? 

Sitting in front of the television set and devouring sport played out in the gigantic shells of empty stadiums was surreal, to say the least. Oh yes, of course, attribute it to King Corona, fighting back determinedly on all fronts, in what may be a final resurgence of the mischief-maker that coincided with the calculated gamble to hold the Olympics, against all odds and even if one year late.

A grand exercise of optimism, because how else would one describe the superlative performance we were treated to under the banner of “Tokyo Olympics 2020,” cheerfully winding the clock back by a year as if nothing had happened? 

For a first-world country located on the final frontier of the third, the holding of the Olympics was yet another exercise in bettering the looming neighbour to the West in the constant battle for prestige and positioning which rages in our corner of the world. 

And the palace politics were played to perfection, what with none other than Doctor Tedros Ghebreyesus, the soft-spoken Director General of the World Health Organization and the favourite whipping boy of the age of pandemic, being persuaded to deliver the endorsement to trump all endorsements by way of an inaugural speech of hope and inspiration that the games must go on in spite of the scourge.

Tokyo 2020 did not disappoint, nor fail to astonish. Podium space is now increasingly distributed among the nations. The honours in track and field are no more a foregone conclusion and will, quite literally, go to the best competitor on the day. 

How else could one explain the most “incorrect” DNA of native Italian blood that tore up the track to beat the Britons by a nose in the men’s 100 metres relay final? Conversely, an Italian national of patently non-Roman origin sprinted to the title of fastest man in the world. Where, oh where, was the all-powerful Team USA? Shockingly, they had imploded in the heats.

The elation of gold reveals in stark detail the performance that could have been. Although we are recognized today as formidable opponents in certain disciplines, India’s performance in wrestling, boxing, shooting, and archery were found wanting in precisely those areas where it was presumed that a brace of medals was there for the taking. 

Clear favourite Manju Bhaker attributed her poor performance to strife with her ace shooter coach. Wrestler Vinesh Phogat caused bureaucratic mayhem. Both clear favorites lost focus and succeeded in disappointing, and Phogat’s attitude after the games has invited the ire of the sporting body at home.

Mental strength, that ultimate leveler and differentiator. Chopra relied on his early attempts to obtain the desired results, but his competitors were later bloomers who chipped away steadily at his seemingly unassailable lead. 

From a layman’s perspective, what was concerning was the despair etched on his features on throwing below par in the next consecutive attempts. As events transpired, he managed to hang on and win. Therefore, while a cohort of favorites in the Indian contingent lost their nerve at the crucial juncture, a Czech javelin thrower appearing in his fourth Olympics won expected bronze.

Compare that to the 4X400 meters relay race for men, in which the Indian team set a blistering pace but, with fourth place in their heats, failed to qualify. What was heartening, however, was the shout of delight from the quartet on realizing that they had set a new Asian record, an achievement picked up and lauded by the commentary box. Podium space is now a feasible reality, and not a mocking pipe dream.

The single greatest revelation of Tokyo 2020 is that international sports is now a level playing field. It is time that South Asia took full advantage of the international mobility of coaching talent, for it is out there just waiting to be picked up.

Barring pandemic and Act of God, we shall meet again in three years in Paris. Dear denizens of our great subcontinent, let us take advantage of the opportunity for achieving excellence that presents itself now as never before.

And for that, we have miles to go before we sleep.       

Sumit Basu is a freelance contributor who writes from India.

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