The Olympics only come around once every four years, and the two weeks of excitement seem too short to make up for all of that waiting. Although I am not much of a sports fan, I love watching the Olympics, because to me, the Olympics is a competition celebrating our global interconnectivity. Athletes from all around the world come together to celebrate sports.
As I do every time, I watched most of the Olympic coverage this year. Since I don’t have a TV (I’m a poor graduate student), I timed my exercise schedule so that I could watch the Olympics while running on the treadmill. It was a lot of fun watching athletes compete on an international stage, and even though I normally don’t have a lot of “American pride,” I found myself getting caught up in the spirit of the games and cheering for my fellow countrymen in the competition.
As closely as I follow the Olympics, I almost never see an Indian presence at the games. Sure, there have been a few Indian competitors here and there over the years, but the Indian delegation is never very substantial. I’ve always wondered why.
Economic development is, of course, an important factor. The majority of athletes in the Olympics either come from developed countries or live and train in developed countries. India is still very much a developing nation, and because of this, it is reasonable to assume that many Indians do not have the financial resources to pursue sports. Until India fully develops a socioeconomic middle class, its athletic presence in the world will be minimal. However, I think that there are other equally important reasons.
Growing up in the United States, I’ve noticed that there is a strong emphasis on athleticism. Nearly all of my friends in middle school and high school played some kind of sport, and whether out of peer pressure or actual liking for athletic activity, I was also fairly involved in athletics throughout much of my middle and high school career. It was sometime in middle school when I realized that my cousins’ school life was much different than mine. When I visited India, I noticed that none of them were involved in extracurricular activities. In India, the emphasis seems to be on book learning, not a well-rounded education. Because of this, there are relatively few Indians on the global stage.
My friends and I joke that we Indians are notoriously unathletic. Too much physical activity makes our bodies hurt, so we say that we are better at using our brains than our bodies. I, for one, have never been any better than terrible at any sport that I have ever tried, and I don’t have a problem with that. I hypothesize that this is because modern Indian culture does not value athleticism very much. Education is highly valued as a means of escaping poverty and and securing a financially comfortable life, but little thought is given to the importance of physical health. One of the advantages of playing sports is that it provides regular exercise. Playing competitive sports instills a competitive spirit and an appreciation for teamwork in people, and this is useful in all facets of life. Despite this, Indian culture seems to place relatively little emphasis on athletic prowess.
With the increase in emigration from India seen in recent decades, Indian culture is starting to absorb elements of global cultures, a product of NRI influence. Sports are a part of global culture that already seem to be catching on. For example, there is a professional cricket league in India now, similar to American sports leagues, and this shows that Indian culture is changing and coming to value athleticism more strongly. I have no doubt that in future generations, we will see more Indian athletes competing both in Indian sports and on the international stage with more success. Then when I watch the Olympics, I’ll have two countries to cheer on.