New Delhi, July 26 (IANS) Indian sportspersons no longer go to the Olympics thinking of the old dictum that participation matters, not winning. They have gone to London talking of gold, not a mere medal. That's the level of their confidence.
The opening of the economy in the 1990s brought about a sea change in the approach and attitude of Indian sportsperson. The controls had gone and the athletes could venture out to train and compete in any part of the world. The impact of liberalisation was felt pretty soon and the results gradually got encouraging.
It all started at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when Leander Paes won an individual medal, a bronze, 44 years after Kashabha Dadasaheb Jadhav returned with a wrestling bronze from Helsinki in 1952.
Four years later, iron lady Karnam Malleswari became the first Indian woman to win a medal, again a bronze, in weightlifting.
After another four years, it was silver from Athens, double-trap shooter Rajyavardhan Rathore becoming the first Indian to so win. In the next Games in Beijing, Abhinav Bindra struck gold for India and boxer Vijender and wrestler Sushil Kumar swelled the tally to three with two bronze medals.
Suddenly, from footnotes of media reports the athletes have started giving a look-at-me stare. Gone are the days of apologetic looks after a quick exit from the competition. Also, the days when the Indian athletes used to hide behind the hockey team and the media piggy riding the eight times gold medallists. Hockey itself had fallen on evil days and for the first time in 80 years, the Indian team failed to play at the Olympics, in Beijing.
The next leap into global sport was the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. Money was poured into a bottomless pit, as it were, to train the Indian competitors and go wherever they wanted to compete, The athletes did not let the country down. India finished second in the medal standings behind Australia and ahead of England, albeit by a narrow one gold margin.
The momentum carried into the Asian Games a couple of weeks on at Guangzhou where India had their best ever medal tally of 64 - 14 gold, 17 silver and 33 bronze.
Now, the government has also realised that there are no short-cuts for excellence in sports, the athletes have to train relentlessly and compete globally. The sports federations, some of which quietly worked for the growth of their disciplines, and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) have also fallen in line, though they continue to haggle with the sports ministry for public consumption and to make their presence felt.
It has also been recognised that the best way forward to promote sport and help sportspersons is through public-private participation. The corporates have started looking at sport as a gravy train. Some of the top industrial houses are willing to pump in money provided sportspersons are ready to monitor the programmes, not careerist officials.
Organisationally, India has come a long way even if cutting corners is a national malady. This is best illustrated when the Indian athletes started comparing the Games Village, facilities and logistics in London with those offered by the Commonwealth Games organisers. Their rating is 5-star for Delhi and 2 for London!
Thus, the people have started seeing virtues in the New Delhi Games and are giving a lot more credit than they did at the time of the event, the alleged corruption notwithstanding. So much for our appreciation of our own work!
People who cried hoarse from the television studios and the anchors who took a vicarious pleasure wishing that the Games ended in a fiasco are today muted in carping about the unprecedented security or restrictions on the use of public utility services at the London Games.
In 2010, you didn't hear about a private company contracted to recruit security personnel failing to muster enough numbers, forcing the British military post-haste step in at the eleventh hour to fill the enormous gap.
Imagine the screaming TV anchors hauling over coals their favourite whipping boy Suresh Kalmadi for all the ills of the Games if the organised union workers from pilots, airport staff to metro drivers had threatened to go on a strike or cut their working hours during the Games as it is being done in London. It would have been chaos even if these are the signs of a changing impatient world.
The metamorphosis of the Olympics began 28 years ago when the United States, riding high unlike the recession-hit country today, stunned the sports world by announcing that no public money would be spent on the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
The organisers hired a CEO by the name Peter Uberroth, who brought into the Olympic movement the no-free-lunch concept. He himself took a hefty pay cut and sold his lucrative budget airline and hotel management business to take up the challenge. At the end of it all he left a $300 million surplus and from that corpus the state of California is still funding youth programmes.
The Barcelona Olympics eight years later restored the free breakfast for all as a gesture for allotting the Games to the International Olympic Committee chairman Juant Antonio Samaranch's home city. The Games were also the first in three decades not to witness a boycott. Athletes from the new countries of the former Soviet Union competed as the unified team and so did the Germans. Apartheid-free South Africa was back in the Olympic fold.
The Barcelona Games proved a watershed for sport as the sham amateur rule, which was dropped at the 1988 Olympic Games, allowed the United States field its basketball Dream Team with all its famous professionals.
The commercialisation of the Olympics developed firm roots at the 1996 Atalnta Games and they became the template for the future Games, though the state had to chip in and still paying for the Games in Sydney and Athens. The Beijing Olympics are the most expensive ever, though figures continue to be speculated about.
The Olympics are still unwieldy despite the cap of 10,000 athletes and 28-discipline restriction. The churning is still on and the changes are more aimed at countries like India also to have chance of hosting the Games in the foreseeable future. For that to happen in India, the political management has to shed imaginary fears.
(Veturi Srivatsa is the sports editor of IANS. He can be contacted at email@example.com)