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Politicisation of India’s historic Asian Games performance is unfair to our athletes

Indian sportspersons have just returned home after a glorious performance in the Asian Games hosted in Jakarta, Indonesia with a tally of 69 medals, including 15 gold. Several of these medals were won by an Indian athlete for the first time in the history of the games. Vinesh Phogat got us the first ever gold medal in women’s wrestling, Neeraj Chopra in the javelin throw, Saina Nehwal in women’s badminton and Swapna Barman in women’s heptathlon event. Many events, like Sepak Takrow and Men’s table tennis, saw an India winning a medal for the first time.

However, as with any national achievement nowadays, politicisation and negativity seem to accompany India’s remarkable performance in the Asian Games too. Soon after a larger section of social media users and mainstream media started celebrating India’s performance, there were criticisms flowing through.

An article in Shekhar Gupta’s ThePrint, curiously titled “The political reason behind Modi and BJP ministers praising India’s Asian Games winners” went ahead to accuse that PM Modi and the ministers in the central government are praising the winning sportspersons because they want ‘Twitter applause’ and ‘ad campaigns’ will help woo the young generation for the upcoming DUSU polls and 2019 general elections.

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The article in The Print

However, the article in ThePrint did not discuss why the PM and his ministers had shown equal enthusiasm in greeting, praising and awarding the athletes from the Rio Olympics since the general elections were still too far away back then in 2016. Unsurprisingly, the allegation of the BJP’s great plan of using the Asian Games performance as a tool to win DUSU, among other elections was attributed to a ‘source’.

Many news articles and official statements regarding the Asian Games had hailed the performance as India’s best-ever performance in any Asian Games. A tweet by the sports authority of India has claimed that taking total medal tally and the number of gold and silver medals into account, the recently concluded Jakarta Asian games were India’s best ever performance, followed by the 2010 Guangzhou Asian games and the inaugural 1951 Asian Games in Delhi.

A quick search into the veracity of the claims revealed the following facts about the performances of the 3 most successful Asian Games for India.

  • In the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, India had won 65 medals with 14 golds, 17 silvers and 34 bronzes. 625 Indian players had participated in 36 different sports. 45 different countries have participated in the event that saw 9704 athletes compete in 42 kinds of sports.
  • In the 1951 Asian Games, the number of nations participating was only 11. A total of 489 athletes had participated in 8 different sports and discipline. India, being the host nation had the maximum number of participating players.
  • 45 counties have participated in the 2018 Asian Games, too, in 40 different sports and disciplines. India had sent 570 players. More than 11 thousand players from different countries had participated in the event.

Though the 1951 Asian Games meant a lot for Indian sports, as India had finished second after Japan in the medal tally and for a nation that had just gained independence, hosting an international sporting event was a matter of great pride, comparing the performances of the players then and now would be unfair at the least. While the players in 1951 played without much experience, exposure and facilities, the players now are facing stronger opponents, wider competition and the break-neck competitiveness of many nations with state of the art facilities.

Hartosh Singh Bal’s tweet comparing the 1951 and 2018 Asian Games as a  Nehru vs Modi perspective was not received well by many on social media.

A certain section of Indian media has been very sceptical of the 2018 Asian Games’ success and its celebration. There were even certain articles sermonising that India should not celebrate its victories as China has performed better. While striving for a better performance is always good, branding a much-deserved success of our hardworking players, many of whom had struggled through limited means and poverty to achieve success as a mere political gimmick and unworthy of celebration is a very negative mentality. It only reminds everyone of that one sulky relative who would criticise everything and would never let the youngsters have fun at family events. Indian athletes have worked very hard for this success and they deserve every bit of the celebrations, praise and prizes being showered over them.

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