As the 31st Olympics concluded on last week, I reflected on the comments by Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympics Committee that it is the most unforgettable Olympics. The event marked the exits of the irreplaceable greats, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps as also Allyson Felix. Many countries including those like Jamaica, Hungary introduced bright young talent who could help their medal tally in 2020 and beyond. But, the comment also reflected on how the multi-cultural Brazil, despite the many uncertainties; economical, political and medical, united as one and managed to pull off one of the best events.
Almost all countries departed peacefully and I tried doing some research to figure out if there have been have been controversies except the reported cases on drug abuse and Zika. But the augmentative Indians’ Olympics was marred with many topics of discussions from Narsingh to the sprinter not having a pair of shoes, to the other facilities available to the participants, to the size of the official support team, to the class of travel, to the minister trying to gain entry for his staff into accredited areas, to the medals not won to drinking water for Jaisha.
Journalists, politicians, influencers, common citizens have all sat on different seats of judgment. As usual, much like all our other happenings, including the gruesome rape incidents, we took pride in being a country full of great post-mortem specialists. Sadly, I’m yet to hear conversations on what next or any preventive steps. But that probably wouldn’t be sensational enough. I don’t know how many of these “judges” were really interested in anything beyond cricket? Or how many really knew the Sindhus, Sakshis, Dipas, Atanus, Ankits, Ranjits, Lalitas and Sreejeshs. Luckily the controversy didn’t include anyone saying the Hockey team wouldn’t have lost to Canada, which made our onward journey, though we managed to go ahead, difficult, had the captaincy not changed.
This is not India’s first Olympics. All eyeball gathering discussions will soon die down and we will wake up in 2020 for another post-mortem, unless we really try doing something different.
Rio Olympics, in comparison to the events in the past, gathered many additional eyeballs and some real attention in India. We can be rest assured that the interest in Tokyo 2020 would be much bigger.
Based on my interest to view things from a different perspective, I kept aside all the debates and discussions and the need to celebrate our participants, irrespective of the wins and winners irrespective of the color of the medals (am fully in agreement with all these) and asked myself, whether am actually happy with our 67th position from 55th in London Olympics where we had six medals in our possession, particularly when much smaller countries walked away with their heads held high. My answer is, No, not really. Dipa’s 4th position made us indeed proud. I think the country was praying for her safe landing rather than medals. But some of them didn’t perform as well as even the qualifying rounds.
Our players not short of money or facilities also couldn’t finish well. Sania-Rohan played superbly well and collapsed at the Semis. Abhinav who we probably wouldn’t see in 2020 Tokyo, lost out for a minor difference. These are not points of debate.
I understand and appreciate that wins and losses are part of anything competitive. But I also understand that victories will only happen when we try to make it a habit, it is part of our vocabulary and there’s a system supporting it. Contrary to popular belief, no individual wins a business pitch. It is the organization’s win. Similarly no student wins an inter-school completion. It is the school’s win.
I’ve tried personally being present for my children’s inter-school events. There are schools that send the students off on their own for such events. And there are also schools where a whole school support system is present with the children. The body language of the children part of the later group is very different from that of the former. I have also often observed unity among the later group of participants. It is also true that this group invariably wins as well.
All that we have been witnessing around the Olympics and the controversies are manifestation of the different agendas and conflicting beliefs, the participants and the support system are operating from.
When people are left to take care of themselves, the inter dependency which isa great support system also collapses. I don’t think I would be way off the mark in my hypothesis that there wouldn’t have been the spirit of oneness even among our Olympic representatives. I don’t know if they huddled together and carried the “go-kill-the-competitor” attitude. Don’t know if they all met as one team every morning and evening, spent time together, shared from the day, celebrated the little and big moments, consoled each other. None of these will actually happen without a system facilitating it.
If our system and players were on a single page, no media ever needed to know the class of air travel, shortage of water (perhaps these issues wouldn’t even have occurred)
I really think our Olympic mindset needs a complete overhaul. We shouldn’t allow yesterday's actions to affect today's progress. The government needs embark on:
· A thorough analysis of what really happened in Rio, including the contributions from all officials, player behavior, contribution from Olympic ambassador and other feel good positions.
· Develop a Vision 2020 Tokyo under the India Olympic Association or any other relevant body in consultation with representatives from state bodies, players, trainers, eminent sportsmen/women, eminent sports journalists, ministry/bureaucracy, head honchos of private/public corporations and even disruptive thinkers. The vision should also include learning from Rio on what needs to be discarded and what should be carried forward.
· Recruit probable talent (final selection from this pool) who will represent India in Tokyo to underpin the vision 2020
· Appoint trainers
· Expand the Olympic Committee/Association for it to have relevant outside leadership appointed only for a specific period, with very clear KPIs
· Nominate a team to surround a group of players, say team of 4-5 for 10 players. This task force would be responsible for measuring the progress the player group is making
· Conduct various pre-qualifier private events, get other countries and broadcast partners involved
· Conduct other softer trainings for team bonding, positive thinking and overall behavioral trainings
· Organize fun outdoor activities
· Offer player sponsorship opportunities to corporates
· See the team off to Tokyo with an inspiring speech by the head of the Government. Hope we will still have our current PM, who will construct this vision, leading India even then.
As the Chinese proverb goes the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is today. We can’t be thinking about 2020 just few months ahead of the event. I’ve no doubt in my mind with the talent pool in India, if the state and central sports administration can work together cohesively, selflessly and effectively without political agendas, with the participation of others as stated above, we can return like an Olympic superpower from Tokyo with our head held high.
(The author is Managing Director and Co-Founder triggerbridge)