India's largest ever contingent of athletes at an Olympic Games is not quite reflecting in the medals tally. While there is still hope in a few events, things are not looking as promising as they did two weeks ago and are pointing to a no-medal or at best a one- or two-medal scenario.
Is being happy with simple participation good in the long run?
Social media's response is to serve up a mixed cocktail of pride for the athletes and criticism and anger toward the sports federations. Yet, we must also ask ourselves when it would be the right time for us to move from being just "proud" to demanding results.
There are two types of Indian athletes that have gone to the games.
Type 1: Those that broke barriers with no support from administrators or outside organizations. Gymnast Dipa Karmakar is a shining example. We can be immensely proud of these athletes and their participation is remarkable.
Type 2: Those that broke barriers a few years ago, and who have managed to reach the upper echelons of their sport in years past. Deepika Kumari, Gagan Narang, Heena Sidhu and the Indian hockey team are some examples of this type.
A barrier broken is a huge step, and watching Dipa fall short of a medal by a whisker was heartbreaking and a moment of pride without question.
On the other hand should we offer as much appreciation and "pride" for the Type 2 athletes? Or should we demand and expect more?
Heena Sidhu was the first Indian pistol shooter to be ranked world number 1 by the ISSF in 2014, but she failed to qualify for the final of the two events she participated in. Gagan Narang won a bronze in London 2012. This year he failed to qualify for the final of the three events he was participating in. Both of them have been at the top of their game for at least a couple of years now.
Is it OK to criticize their performance? Or is that too much? Are we just allowed to tweet, "We are proud of you Gagan," or can we also say, "We were proud of you in 2012 and we are proud of you in 2016 but come on Gagan, not even one final qualification? You have to do better?"
Before I am attacked, let me be clear, I am not questioning the effort and intent of the Type 2 athletes. I don't doubt these factors for a second. They are focused and determined to do well. But is being happy with simple participation good in the long run?
When can we say, "We're glad you broke barriers 4-5 years ago, but since then you've become world number 1... so go out there at the Olympics and win?"
No one is saying don't be proud, and it is sport, so sometimes you don't win. I get that, but when are we going to call a spade a spade and say that at least some of the Type 2 athletes should win. When can we say, "We're glad you broke barriers 4-5 years ago, but since then you've become world number 1 or won elsewhere, so go out there at the Olympics and win a medal?"
Out of the 100-plus athletes India sent to Rio, so far only Abhinav Bindra (shooting), Jitu Rai (shooting), Dipa Karmakar (gymnastics), Sania Mirza and Rohan Boppana (tennis) and Lalita Babbar (athletics) actually qualified to put themselves in contention for a medal. PV Sindhu (badminton) just joined this list early this morning.
My fear is we are doing more damage as a nation by only being "proud" of the Type 2 athletes. Continue to be proud, but we must also demand more and push them more. The only people that have been successful are the ones who didn't settle for mediocrity. Yes, it is about how you played the game, but shouldn't it be a little bit about whether you win or lose? Or are we over stepping boundaries?
My fear is we are doing more damage as a nation by only being "proud"... Continue to be proud, but we must also demand more...
There is no point in lamenting over medals not won, but if we are serious about Tokyo 2020 then we need to realize how far behind we are.
A recent article in the New Yorker talks about how the US women's hockey team has a technology in their shoes that measures the athlete's fatigue and uses this data to make substitutions. No prizes for guessing that India doesn't use this technology. The various sports federations must be looked into and revamped.
While an overhaul of the federations is the first step, an honest introspection will reveal that a number of athletes that were more than capable of winning a medal didn't manage to do so when it counted most. This is not necessarily a federation issue. There is also enough funding out there in the private sector to support these athletes.
So I ask you, as far as the Type 2 athletes go, is it time to move from just being "proud" to demanding results?