Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games coincide with India's Independence Day. Indians were hoping to celebrate it with some Olympic medals but it looks like they will have to wait. India is still medal-less at the games. Indians nevertheless have been proud of their athletes. Especially of Deepa Karmakar who won the heart of millions after making it to the finals and finishing Fourth in the Women's vault category. There have been several other inspirational stories. Rower Dattu Bhokanal, who hails from a tiny village in Maharashtra, became the first Indian to qualify for the finals in this sport. Lalita Babar became the first Indian to qualify for an athletics final after PT Usha. That was 32 years ago. She will be competing in the 3000m steeplechase event.
The disappointment Indians feel about going medal-less in shooting, hockey, and tennis is justified given the presence of top notch athletes such as Bindra, Mirza et al. But if you keep the harsh metric of 'medals won' aside for a moment, things are looking up for India at the Olympics. And this is not some blogger at the Ministry of Sports putting a positive spin on things. Just look at the contingent size India sent to the event this time around- 124! The Indian contingent had 83 athletes at the London games in 2012, 57 at the Beijing games in 2008, and 73 at the Athens games in 2004. It is no mean feat to send 100+ athletes to the games. Qualification criteria for the Olympics are getting tougher with each passing event. Indian athletes have been doing incredibly well with the limited resources at their disposal and despite the best efforts of the Indian babus to undermine them.
As you can see from the chart, the US has the biggest contingent of over 550 athletes. There are 23 nations that have bigger Olympic teams than India and 34 nations that boast a team size of over 100. The Russian team is a mere 282 strong since more than a third of their original contingent was barred from competing due to the state-sponsored doping scandal. Even tiny Netherlands and Poland have teams twice the size of India's. Clearly there is a lot of room for India to grow the team size.
After the games are over, there will be a lot of debate in the media about why India cannot win more medals and the meaningless factoid that the country has a population of over 1.2 billion. Regardless of the medal count the Indian contingent manages, we genuinely believe the Rio games are a turning point. The large group of Olympians will come back with a wealth of experience to share with the up and comers and a desire in their hearts to better their last performance. The athletes have done their part by giving their best at the world stage. It is maybe time for the non-athlete Indians to come up with innovative ways to empower promising athletes. Could crowd-funding be the answer?