South Asian Games: A lost opportunity

The first major international competition in the North-East culminated in a hugely successful result for the host nation. No surprises there. The giants of the region, India, have been the dominant force in the South Asian Games ever since the inaugural event in 1984, topping the medals table in 11 previous editions. The story went on predictable lines in Guwahati and Shillong – the two venues – with India winning a record 308 medals – 188 gold, 90 silver and 30 bronze. That the second-placed Sri Lanka could win only 25 gold medals underlined the yawning gap between India and the rest of the nations in the region in the sporting arena.

Of the 23 sports disciplines that were contested for at the two venues, many a time, the challenge for the Indians came from their own team-mates, making it appear like a national championship event. Medal sweeps were a routine occurrence as India’s rivals struggled to play catch-up. Heavyweights pitted against lightweights, it hardly made for exciting contests and as the sporting fiesta ended last week, questions were inevitably raised about the way the country should approach the Games. The successes in the South Asian arena mean little in the larger perspective. For a nation that has bigger ambitions in the sporting sphere, the medals won at Guwahati and Shillong can hardly be called milestones in the journey towards excellence. It didn’t offer any pointers to the future as well, with many athletes complaining that the timing of the event cut into their preparations for the Olympic Games in Rio August this year. In fact, before the start of the Games, many national federations were in favour of selecting second string outfits, aware of the lack of challenge that awaited them. Many proceeded with their plans but a few fielded their leading lights, featuring even their athletes preparing for the Olympic Games, thanks to a directive from the Sports Ministry which wanted India to flex its muscles on home turf in an authoritative fashion.

Admirable though the sentiment might have been, it failed to view the Games from the right perspective. Against the lacklustre challenge from their neighbours, fielding junior teams would have been the right option for India, as it would have given the youngsters an opportunity to gain valuable experience. Matching wits with their senior counterparts from other nations would also have given them the right exposure in their quest to break into national reckoning. As such, despite the big haul of medals, the Games must be looked upon as a lost opportunity for India, for the glow of gold only masks the true nature of the competition.

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