Saturday, 23 June 2012

Why I Don't Care Whether Paes or Bhupathi Plays for India in the London Olympics

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 23 June 2012 

Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 2012.  All Rights Reserved.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author alone, and of no one else, unless specifically mentioned otherwise.


For the last week, the airwaves have been saturated with coverage of the All-India Tennis Association’s decision to ask Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi to play together as a team to represent India in the Olympics.  It seems as though, for TV channels in India, the world has stopped but for this event.  What does Leander have to say?  What about Bhupathi?  What about Leander and Bhupathi’s dads?  What about Lara Dutta?  Who will give in?  Will they play together?  Won’t they?  It’s bordering on the insane.  Seeing all this, you’d think that nothing else of significance in the world of sports was happening.

Yet, so much is!  We in India have so many medal contenders in the Olympics, which will start in London in just over a month: Deepika Kumari in Archery, Saina Nehwal in Badminton, Krishna Poonia in discus throw, Vijender Kumar in boxing, Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang in shooting, Dipika Pallikal in squash, Vikas Gowda in discus throw, Sushil Kumar in wrestling, Tintu Luka in 800 m track, and Mary Kom in women’s boxing, to name just a few.  Yet how many programs are the country’s TV channels devoting to even one of them?   A big fat zero.  But hour after hour is devoted to whether Bhupathi will play with Paes or not.

This whole episode confirms for me why, sports such as tennis, cricket, golf, and football (soccer in the USA) should NOT be part of the Olympics.  Think about it: Tennis has the four grand slams – Wimbledon, the French Open, the Australian Open, and the US Open, which millions watch on TV.  Their stars get paid millions just to participate in tournaments.  Golf, too, has its majors, the British Open, the US Open, the Masters, and the PGA Championship, which have millions of dollars in prize money and billions in TV sponsorships.  Football has the World Cup, the UEFA Cup, the English Premiership, the Champions Trophy, and many other money-minting machines. And, of cricket, the less said the better.

So these sports get plenty of exposure; they have lots of people who will spend hours on end watching them on TV, and there is no dearth of sponsors for them.  Their stars are highly paid, both through salaries and endorsements.

In contrast, who watches the discus throw or heptathlon except at the Olympics?  What other showcase do these events have?  In track and field, except for someone like Usain Bolt, who is really well-known and watched?  In the past there were people like Carl Lewis and Sebastian Coe; but the names are few and far between.  These hard-working athletes are heard of once in 4 years.  Sure, there are international track and field meets, but let’s be honest: how many of us sit and watch the TV waiting for the ITF meets?  How much is it even advertised?

The same goes for the water sports in the Olympics.  We never watch swimming or diving except at the Olympics or similar events such as the Commonwealth Games or the Asian Games.  You hear of a Michael Phelps or a Matt Biondi or a Greg Louganis or an Ian Thorpe once in 4 years – and then forget about them for the next 4 years.

Or think of a great pole vaulter like Sergei Bubka. Or a decathlete legend like Daley Thompson. Or a gymnast like Nadia Comaneci.  And would we ever have heard of the great Naim Suleymanoglu – the weighlifting champion at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games who defected from Bulgaria to Turkey to compete in the Olympics and win his dream gold medal - if it were not for the Olympics?

So it is these people, who work hard, day and night, for no reward except the dream of participating in the Olympics, and the hope of getting a medal, who need the Olympics; not the tennis players who have their grand slams, the golfers who have their majors, the soccer players who have their World cups, or the cricketers who have their Ashes or Border-Gavaskar or IPL trophies.  Let us not take the glory and the spotlight away from these athletes, who get their chance to shine once in 4 years.

Let’s stop talking about Paes and Bhupathi.