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A Long Way Up Mt. Olympus or a Wrong Way Up?

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
September 2012
A Long Way Up Mt. Olympus or a Wrong Way Up? SATYALOGUE
with PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas


Dear PMG,

As I write this, India has won a “hat-trick” of Olympic medals: a bronze in badminton and a bronze and silver in shooting. This is a far cry from the “century” of gold, silver, and bronze hardware that superpowers, America and China, are likely to take home.

What would Gandhiji make of India’s lackluster performance?

Dear Friend,

““Winning or losing is no concern of yours. You will simply try your best.” (M. K. Gandhi quoting Kevalram Dave)

Substitute “Arjuna” for “M. K. Gandhi” and “Krishna” for “Kevalram Dave” to hear the Bhagavad Gita’s sacred song that Gandhiji’s life echoed. As Arjuna’s charioteer on the battlefield, Krishna espoused karma yoga and counseled the despondent prince to do his duty without attachment to results.

So be not despondent as long as Indian athletes are trying their best. But is India trying its best to win Olympic gold?

While it may be a stretch to think of sport as a metaphor for the battlefield, how can we not think of the medal count as a less bloody arms race between nations? Indeed, there is a correlation between economic might and sporting power. At the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, when American might was at its apogee, the USA won 174 medals and China took home 32. A quarter of a century later in Beijing, a rising China celebrated with 100 medals and a declining America slipped to 110. Of course, there are many factors besides GDP at play (e.g., the USSR boycotted the 1984 Olympics). And micropower countries such as Jamaica can go up and down based on star performances by athletes such as Usain Bolt. But the evidence is in: Olympic gold follows economic gold.

So the natural follow-up question one might have is, “Why hasn’t Indian Olympic performance gone up with the country’s economic rise?” This is a fair question for sports economists, but the question that is in keeping with the spirit of this column is whether India should expend the requisite human energy and financial capital to succeed on the world sporting stage. Gandhiji would have thought it folly that the Chinese spent $40 billion to stage the 2008 Olympics. Even the more frugal British are likely to spend $17 billion for this year’s sports extravaganza. In the false promise of prideful propaganda, countries spend like parents who go bankrupt while sparing no expense at their daughter’s wedding. A classic case is the $16 billion 2004 Athens affair which contributed to Greece’s debt crisis.

An academic study from Australia concluded that one gold medal costs $37 million in training budget. Imagine those dutiful dollars (responsible rupees? karmic coins?) training Indian students on something less violent than boxing and more meaningful than swimming laps faster than Michael Phelps.

[Dr. Rajesh C. Oza serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at raj_oza@hotmail.com.]


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