Chocolate and Gold Coins

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Why Are Indians Sports Underachievers?

India has a population of over one billion people but India usually comes up empty when it comes to sports. In the Olympics, no Indian has ever won an individual gold medal and it has been decades since India won a team gold medal. In soccer, India regularly loses to some country no one ever heard of. In tennis, India was all-abuzz that Sania Mirza won a single round in the Australian Open. In cricket, India has produced some legendary sportsmen (Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble, Gavaskar, Kapil Dev), but they are more likely to lose to puny Zimbabwe than to win against small but mighty Australia. Why is this?

In the spirit of Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution, I will outline some possibilities:
1. All of the people who settled in India thousands of years ago were short and un-athletic.
2. The people who settled India were great athletes at one time but years of marrying cousins damaged the gene pool.
3. Indians eat a poor diet, low in protein.
4. Indians have poor footwear. This damages their feet.
5. Indians really are good at one sport. That’s why there’s one billion of them, (duh).
6. The Indian government runs sports in India. The Indian government makes a mess of everything it touches.
7. Indians are not that into sports. If software engineering were an Olympic event, Indians would kick some serious butt (metaphorically speaking).
8. Indians are not that into sports other than cricket. Cricket supremacy in Indian culture robs all other sports of promising athletes.
That’s enough.

Now for some comments:
1. This is absurd. It might explain why Andaman Islanders are sports underachievers but not a region the size of India.
2. Not everyone in India marries his or her cousin. Maybe this practice should be discouraged, nevertheless.
3. Lots of Indians eat meat and diet is not an issue for the large Indian middle class. Vegetarians can become excellent athletes.
4. This may have been true 50 years ago. Today the middle class can afford excellent footwear.
5. Yes, but I wasn’t talking about that.
6. This might explain the Olympic failure, but not tennis and cricket.
7. Maybe there’s some truth here, but Indians really like cricket.
8. Definitely there is some truth here. But it begs the question: why are Indians cricket underachievers? That looks like another post.


  • hehehe.....
    But really, the causes (I don't claim to know any of them) might be deeper. There is no career/job security or financial viability for a budding athlete, not much infrastructural support, few scholarships available, and more than any of these...the early days are important. And very few high schools in the country have worthwhile sport infrastructure......

    By Blogger Sunil, at 12:56 PM  

  • Hi Sunil
    I think it's fair to say that most Indians really aren't that into the Olympic sports. Failure begets apathy which begets more failure. Someday some Indian will win gold in some sport and that will be the Indian sport for years to come.

    Indians will probably do better in tennis soon. Actually, Indians are great in the obscure sport of doubles tennis. It's a matter of time before they start improving in individual tennis. Tennis is a real middle-class sport. You need to have a club membership that provides decent courts. Twenty years ago, few in India would have spent money on that. Today, there is much much more wealth. The Indian middle class has more disposable income, and they're spending it on stuff like this. Sania Mirza is at the crest of a wave.

    Cricket is another story for another day.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 3:29 PM  

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