BOOK REVIEW

India at the Olympics

S. THYAGARAJAN

OLYMPICS — The India Story: Boria Majumdar, Nalin Mehta; HarperCollins Publishers India, A-53, Sector 37, Noida-201301. Rs. 695.

Meticulous research and scholarly presentation of facts and figures laced with an emotional tinge are the essential ingredients of this excellent work. Timing the release of the well-compiled volume on the eve of the 29th Olympiad at Beijing gives it a nostalgic touch, taking the reader through a labyrinth of lingering memories and moments that are truly momentous. On August 11, 2008 India won the first individual gold medal when Abhinav Bindra captured the 10m air-rifle event at Beijing.

It is not easy to thread a comprehensive and authoritative history of India and the Olympic movement. So complex and confusing have been the fecundity of sport in the country. What makes the whole subject totally driving one to the edge of despair is not merely the mediocrity of the showing in the world’s biggest stage, but the inadequacy of authenticated documentation of events. The authors deserve to be complimented for taking upon themselves the onerous task of piecing together information from diverse sources including spending considerable time, effort and energy at the International Olympic Committee library, a treasure house of Olympic history, in Lausanne.

Essentially, India’s Olympics history cannot be but anything more than a narration of the rise, decline and fall of hockey. Understandably, the book attempts, and successfully too, in portraying the panegyric to the pathetic state of our hockey since 1928 at Amsterdam. The glorious era from 1928 to 1956 when India won six gold medals in a row was effectively linked to the rise of the national identity, infusing pride and nationalism that was interlinked with the challenges of marching towards independence.

Governing the sport that was bringing the country the speck of glory became a bone of contention. The no-holds-barred fight to capture the administrative apparatus, both at the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the Indian Hockey Federation over the years forms the nucleus of this narration in lucid prose. “While the administrators argued and jostled, the game continued to suffer. The immutable fact is that vicious infighting was true of almost all Indian sports, and was always seen as an example of India’s regional differences by international officials,” notes the authors when detailing the factional feuds in the IHF and the confrontation with the IOA over administrative control in the mid-1970s.

Olympic movement

The blossoming of the Olympic movement in India, the constructive role played by the YMCA in shaping its direction and the pioneering efforts of Sir Dorab Tata to stabilise, systematise and sublimate the concept of Olympism as propounded by the great French pedagogue, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, have all been dealt with a rare touch of sensitivity; equally also, the early squabbles involving the IOA on the one side, and the swimming and soccer administrations, on the other, are portrayed in great detail leading to the conclusion that “the relationship between the IOA and the federations at the helm of individual sports spread across the country — was hardly stable in the 1930s and 1940s.”

How sport became an instrument to project the aura of nationalism and political power has also been discussed well. The authors argue, somewhat convincingly, the success of the first Asian Games in 1951 to enhance and establish the image of Nehru and later in 1982 when India hosted the Games again during the government of Indira Gandhi.

There is also an account of the futile attempt by Indonesian President Sokerno, to fashion a separate Games (GANEFO) after the 1962 Asiad in Jakarta.

Replete with interesting information and anecdotes supported by statistics, this endeavour of the two authors fulfils the need for an authentic document about the history and growth of Olympism in India.