We just don’t have it in our genes. Why blame the sports infrastructure all the time.

Empty liquor bottes for wickets and the female cricketer in rural Himachal, Jan 2012. I have been photographing street-cricket for many years now but this was the first time I saw a girl at the crease. It was no surprise that she was a Himachali. Himachal has been a leading state as far as women empowerment is concerned and its literacy rate among women is even higher than that of erudite Kerala. And of course this was also the first time I saw the genius of using empty beer and liquor bottles for wickets. (sanjay austa austa)

Games like Cricket need little physical endurance and are games we are good at.

One has got  tired of reading articles and watching television debates on our  Olympics performance.  Everyone is of the opinion that our ‘rich’  haul of 6 medals can be further doubled or trebled and we can somehow extract ourselves from the bottom of the heap  to the top of the  Olympic medal pile,  if only we improve the sports infrastructure of our country.

Ajay Maken our Sports Minister went to the extent of claiming we could win at least 25 medals at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics.

At the risk of being dubbed a racist,  I would say we just don’t have it in our genes. Wash a  donkey  a million  years  wont turn him into a horse. What’s the shame in admitting that we just cannot beat them at the games?   And so what if we can’t. Different races around the world have different physical (and mental) capabilities.  We suck  in the physical department so why live in denial about it and blame the infrastructure.

I feel no amount of building up of sports infrastructure can help us win medals.  It will only be such a waste and such a shame for a country like ours where 77 percent of people live under the poverty line. Why not focus on ensuring our hungry masses two square meals a day before we urge them to hop, skip , jump and run?

 (sanjay austa austa)

That we won medals in endurance sports like boxing or wrestling is indeed remarkable.

If indeed we must improve the sports infrastructure then we must do it in the North East (particularly Manipur ) where the gene pool for sports seem to lie. From Soniya Chanu to Mary Kom, the tiny state of Manipur has thrown up some of the brightest of our sporting stars in the last ten years.  And the reason is simple. North Easterns, unlike  us Aryans or Dravidians of `mainland India’ are of  Mongolian origin.

I grew  up in a boarding school where we lived cheek by jowl with the North East boys. We slept in the same dormitories, ate the same crappy food, shat in the same stinking loos and did the same amount of exercises. But they always beat us by a mile at  the races,  punched us blue in the boxing ring,  swam at least a yard ahead in the pool and dribbled like Maradonas on the football fields.  Everyone wanted a ‘Chinky’ on their side. (‘Chinky’ was definitely not a pejorative term in our school).

It’s the same phenomenon the world over.  In fact what race you are also determines what sports you excel in.

  Lets take the example of USA, a vastly multi-racial country. The  sports infrastructure there is excellent.  But it’s exactly the same for the White guys as it’s for the Blacks. American Blacks constitute only  12.3 percent  of the total US population but all the great track and field  champions in America have all been Blacks.  Jesse Owens onwards, the fastest men on the planet have all been Blacks whether they are from  America or  Jamaica. Similarly with boxing. All top fighters  from Muhammad Ali to Tyson have all been  Blacks.

Football is what every Tanzanian boy gets to kick at a very early age. (sanjay austa austa)

A young footballer in the streets of Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Clearly when it comes to running or boxing or basketball the Blacks have it in their genes to beat any other race on the planet.

And inversely when it comes to some other games like swimming, fencing, or lawn tennis, the Blacks are not so good compared to their White brethren.  And there are some events where you see neither the Whites nor  the Blacks.  For example in badminton or table-tennis where you need fast reflexes. Here the Chinese hold the sway.

So should we  feel bad about not winning enough medals at Olympics. Of course not.  We should maybe  focus on sports were physical prowess is not so important for example we do good in sports where skill and not physical fitness is important like  Archery, Shooting, Chess and Cricket.

I think its okay to acknowledge our weakness ( if you see it as that) and work on our strengths. In trying to become like ‘them’ we are only becoming pathetic also-rans . There must be something seriously wrong with us as a nation if getting more medals at the Olympics is the only way for us to assert our national pride.

24 Responses to “We just don’t have it in our genes. Why blame the sports infrastructure all the time.”

  1. pankaj anand says:

    You are absolutely right Sanjay. The fact we just compare the preparation and facilities to nurture the talent. We indians have habit to don’t see the ground reality of genes.
    If you see the same thing in cricket for fast bowlers, pakistan, south africa and Australia ( not including westindies here as they came from different planet i believe 😀 ) all are able to product some real fast bowlers. They are all tall, have broad shoulders, lean structure and six pack abs. Which give them a natural advantage when they start to learn fast bowling. Bowling at 140 kmph comes very naturally to them. But when you see Indian, they don’t have this thing in them, they have to work hard to maintain the speed throughout. Look at zahir khan and Rudra pratap singh, they are almost over weight guys.

    You won’t see very often that an indian fast bowler is very effective when they bowl quick yorkers, because they don’t have six pack abs or any abs 😀 which helps a bowler to bowl from a lower trajectory. The only indian bowler who used to bowl good yorkers whas Ajit Agarkar because of his flat stomach.

    Definitely a bowler can work hard and have some nice muscles on stomach but when its not genes he will lose lot of elasticity in back muscles. this is the point where the most physical trainers work on each player according to they physical condition.

  2. Nilima says:

    Hi Sanjay,

    I disagree with your article. I do think we have the genes to play sports and win. Look at China.. often times they are just as small as Indians if not smaller.. and they found sports they are good at.

    I am not saying all the money in the world will produce Indian track athletes better than others, but I am sure there are sports we would be good at it if the opportunity to play existed.

    Why can’t Indians play soccer/football. All you need is a ball and a field. It’s not a rich mans sport. We have legs, we can run, kick, etc. My sister was one of the top athletes of her US soccer team – captain (also the smallest). I do think there are skills to develop.

    I believe it is the general sport culture in India that is the problem. They like ONE sport. Kids are also not encouraged to play (most people I know just study all day.. which is fine, but if there was a more balanced upbringing then I think more people would be into sports).

    I agree 25 medals is a bit optimistic. We won’t get 25 medals, not cause our genes prevent us from getting them, but because we just don’t have enough interest in sports to gather a large enough pool of truly skilled althletes.

    In America – I’ve noticed every kid plays some sport. When I was little – I did skating, gymanastics, swimming, basketball, and tennis. I wasn’t very good.. but the point is EVERY kid plays. Eventually there will be a few that are amazing.. including Indian kids. With time and more encouragement and money put in by parents, I think there will be many Indian star athletes.

    Let’s discuss in 50 years. That’s how long I think it will take to change the cultural mindset.

    • sanjay austa says:

      Nilima, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You mention the Chinese. They are of the Mongolian stock. Just like our sport-stars from North East India. And everyone knows (at least now after this Olympics) that there is something in the North Eastern people that makes them so good at sports. I call it the gene-factor.

  3. Vijay Kumar says:

    i really appriciate your article. the points you have mentioned are logical. we lacks genes that facilitate to become good sports person. and sports that stress more on physical capabilities should be promoted more in north east region. and most importantly, we need to concentrate more on those games that requires mental capabilities such as shooting, archery, chess etc.

    but one reason that i see for not having sports culture in our country is ‘we are not physically hard working’. we indians avoids physical exercises(i am talking about general population). otherwise, if all, ok not all, even half of the population step out for morning workout, i am sure you will not find place to even stand in a park or garden. and if they don’t come out for the workout for their own health, how wud they engage themselves in sports that demands intense workout such as football, hockey, basketball etc.

    to excel in a particular sports, it requires mass participation from general population. when more and more number of peaple participate in any sport, chances are more to identify sports telant. and this requires infrastructure for sports activities.

    second thing where we lacks is technology used in sports. from sports equipments to training methods apllied in india are out of date or has been left by european and western nations after applying it on their athletes. the standard of sports medicine in those country are unpredictable. they better knows how to use medicine/drugs without being cought by WADA. on the other hand, our athlete get cought every time uses any unfair mean only because of lack of knowledge or information about drug use. we need sports scientist who analyse the performance to point out strenth and weakness of athletes.

    and third, i feels for development of any field whether is sports or education of marketing, a good standard of research is required in that particular field. we are 50 years back when we talk about sports standard than american and europian countries. but when it comes to standard of research in sports, this gap increases to 100years. a good sports research level in must to enhance the sports standard. research help from technological to analytical point of view. without it we even can not come to know about our strenth and weaknesses, we can not explain our genetic qualities.

    excellence in sports requires a long term plan. an athlete who could win gold medal at world standard are not prepared in just days or in months. infact, it requires 8 to 10 years of undisturbed organised and systematized training.

    have u ever thought why do we every time see picture of children harshly trained in china? because they understand the importance of long term planning. they know when that particular child will grow up, he/she will be master of the game/sport.

    • sanjay austa says:

      Thank you Vijay for sharing your perspective. I agree with you that Indians generally don’t like to work out. We don’t see many people jogging on our roads and most of our gyms are empty. I would not however favor the harsh methods the Chinese employ to train their children. Its actually very brutal and I would say amounts to Child abuse.

  4. Kinshuk Jerath says:

    I could not disagree more. It is all about opportunity, training facilities, reward structure, mentality and tradition. Sure, your genes play some role, but they are not so important that you cannot even find one person in a large population who compares with the best from other (typically much smaller) populations. Note that we are NOT trying to make every Indian an Olympic champion; we are only trying to find the one who will win a medal.

    In India, the focus for the last many decades has been on intellectual pursuit because the way our society is, we have little chance of a comfortable everyday life if we are good at sports but cannot be employed in an office for some desk work. In that sense, I do agree that removing poverty takes first preference. However, you will see that as soon as the common Indian is secure about food and shelter, he/she will have the mental space to think of pursuits such as sports, and our country’s performance will automatically improve.

    Also, blacks in the US are better at running, boxing and basketball because these are cheaper sports to play, and now they have a tradition of taking up these sports. There are many examples in which blacks had access to better infrastructure for other expensive sports and have done well (Arthur Ashe, Tiger Woods, Gabby Douglas, to name a few).

    And how do you explain the Indian hockey situation based on your theory? The very country that was nearly impossible to defeat a few decades ago is now nowhere near the top. Has our gene pool changed in one generation?

    • sanjay austa says:

      Hi Kinshuk, Thanks for your observations. You said it “you cannot even find one person in a large population who compares with the best from other (typically much smaller) populations”. Surely this says a lot to what I tried to convey in my article.
      As for Indian Hockey we were good at it till the time other did not pay enough attention to it. Now that they have we are no-where in comparison. I feel it will be the same with our indigenous sports such as Kabadi in a few years.

      • Kinshuk Jerath says:

        Sanjay, my point is that if we train well, then we can surely find “one person in a large population who compares with the best from other (typically much smaller) populations”. Right now we cannot do it because we don’t have good training facilities.

        The very fact that when India trained more in hockey we won more shows it is indeed about who trains better. Now that other countries have started training more while Indian hockey infrastructure has become worse over the years and the game has been overshadowed by cricket, India does not win any more. At least in this hockey story, genes don’t seem to come into play that much.

  5. ell there are elements of truth , but i still would believe if that was the only way to look at things, it would the probably impossible to do anything. Probably genes do have a part to play, but sidelining sports and stopping all growth and progress just because our genetic makeup is not conducive seems to be a regressive step. If you look at pistorious, let alone his genetic makeup, he did’nt even have legs, but that did not stop him for participating in the olympics did it? Saying it can’t be done is probably the easiest way out and saying we just aren’t capable as a race even easier. I agree science has a part to play and that there might be odds loaded against us and even that ajay makhen has no idea what he is talking about …but stopping and surrendering completely is why as a nation we have stopped growing. I think its a symbol of a much bigger problem called self beleif. If we are incapable of human physical effort…how do we ever defend our hostile borders?? Too often we look at the problem rather than the solution..its important to look at them also…

    • sanjay austa says:

      Hi Surjanu, I agree with you that if there is an issue with the genes we should not give up. My problem is our getting worked up about the medals and correlating the number of medals we win at games with our growth as a nation.

  6. easwarc says:

    I beg to differ Sanjay. I feel the Olympics medal tally in itself doesn’t quite reflect the sporting tradition of a nation. Say for example a sport like Taekwondo has 8 medals up for grabs (South Korea has a distinct advantage in this), whereas an Indian sport like Kabaddi isn’t represented. So comparing a nation’s population or per capita against the total medals won is in a way farcical.

    Regarding the South Asian ethnicity part, I could quote examples like Milkha Singh, P.T.Usha, Karnam Malleshwari ( or this year’s Mohan Khan from Bangladesh in 100m heats).

    Olympics just like any other competitive process needs a strategy.
    Whether it is about targeting a section of sports like Shooting, Archery, women events or training a particular ethnic group (as you suggested) needs to be seen.

    Personally I don’t like highly competitive processes. It is like saying “look you haven’t cracked CAT .. probably you don’t have a good business acumen!”

    • sanjay austa says:

      Hi Easwarc, Thanks for your comments. I am not sure if examples of Milkha Singh and P. T. Usha are good in the context of the Olympics. Milkha Singh finished 4th in the Rome Olympics in 1960. As for P. T. Usha she competed in three Olympics and her best performance was coming 4th in the 400 meter hurdles in 1984.

      • easwarc says:

        My point is if someone gets to be 4th and misses a medal by 0.01 of a second, it has got to do more with the competitive nature of the Olympics rather than the physical capabilities of a particular ethnic group.

        That could possibly explain why China has these factory like child training camps and many American athletes failing dope tests.

        • easwarc says:

          I’m sort of uncomfortable with the racial undertones.. this article has been assuming all along that South Asia is an insulated region with a unique mix of these races, while forgetting the fact that Iranians & Kazakhs who have historically won more medals have a higher ‘Aryan’ (or call what you will) gene pool than Indians 🙂

  7. S M ALEEM says:

    Notwithstanding your valid point of view, as Harsha Bhogle also commented – “I am not really sure why we are ending up feeling all gloomy every time we compare ourselves with all those rich-haul sporting superpowers. In my opinion, each medal is an excuse for rejoice because each Indian winner has won the medal in spite of all odds in lack of facilities and our relatively poor inclination for sports as a society! These people have stood strong against the negativism of ‘every Indian disinterested in sports’.” 🙂

    So I guess while we acknowledge that many sports are beyond us, we to also need to celebrate the individual achievements of each medal winner. I personally feel that we have the capability to raise the tally to around 5G-10S-10B, say by 2050…with a consistent dominance in those sports going forward! 🙂 If one observes, every ‘great nation/society’ also has a strong presence in sports to boast, and it is anybody’s guess how much part healthy bodies play in building a nation (of course, by ‘healthy bodies’ I imply ‘healthy minds’ too)!

    Having said that, I feel that we need to first becomes civilized in the true sense – that is, rise above weak emotions like hate, envy, greed & prejudice and learn to focus on the positives of universal love. Because only positive energies can truly help any nation grow and become great in the true sense!

    And just to add, comparisons of medal-tallies is not officially encouraged by any sporting body including Olympics. It has been a creation of our crazy media, who loves to pick up anything for that ‘spice at all cost’! 🙂

    • sanjay austa says:

      Hi Aleem, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree with Harsha Bhogle here. Every medal winners effort should be applauded. It is indeed their individual effort and they win with despite the odds.

  8. Vijay Vikram Singh says:

    Hey Sanjay , Nice Observation but your opinion here doesn’t seems logical , I don’t know how much you are in to the Sports but except Athletics (up to some level ) and few other events its nothing to deal with Genes , the countries Improving there performance with each Olympics are not going through some genetic mutation, In my view In spit of genes and region its more of :
    Passion -> (Social Security -> Infrastructure) and Training.

  9. Indian says:

    Sorry, but I disagree with your “findings”. Ultimately, it’s down to nutrition when it comes to getting the athletic body. We are not genetically predisposed or it’s has nothing to do with our genetics.

    Unless, you suffer from a medical condition that prevents you from gaining muscle(lack of Testosterone), then you don’t have to worry about it.

    The reason why there aren’t many Indians who look athletic is, because it has never been part of our culture. No one in india wants to look like an athlete. It is only now that many have started to realize that looks are important.

    There is the case that many of us lack protein which many indians and others fail to see the importance. Our diet unfortunately lacks protein and it’s mostly high carb fast food nonsense. Yeah, sure a lot of indian food tastes nice but most of the nutritional value is lost after preparing the meals.

    • sanjay austa says:

      Oliver.. but lot of our Indian are settled abroad and supposedly get good nutrition? We haven’t seen any miracles from them either.

      • Indian says:

        That’s where you are wrong! The way to get a lean muscular body is through proper eating and exercise. Many don’t get the body they desire because they get the nutrition all wrong. The most important thing about eating comes down to getting the 3 crucial macronutrients(Essential fatty acids(Omega 3, Carbohydrates and Protein).

        I am sure you’ve heard of Aamir Khan? He happened to defy the odds of getting a ripped body at the age of 40 which is pretty hard to do at that age and he didn’t use steroids at all according to him.

        • Indian says:

          Problem with a lot of indian food as mentioned above is, that it’s incredibly high in complex carbs which can take a lot of effort to burn off. It’s just as bad as eating a burger at McDonalds etc.

  10. Sahil lodha says:

    I disagree & i would say this article is one step in the backward direction! Not all Chinese & Americans are physically strong…your article is partially valid & may work in a few cases but i don’t think indians don’t have it in their genes. Self-belief, encouragement, infrastructure, good support & role-models all play a vital part & just the general attitude towards sports & the body (physique) needs to change. Americans have mastered the art of pushing people & inculcating a sense of self-belief & “can-do” attitude, genes & physical capacity not withstanding. Indian’s tend to think only a certain section of population can do well & others not,i think its a very indian thing to categorise people that way & i don’t blame the author one bit. I agree when he points out that people from the north-east far much better at sports. I wish they get the infrastructure that they deserve! Just my two cents.

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