There is no doubt; India is growing as a sporting nation. In the recent Glasgow Commonwealth Games, the Indian contingent put on a creditable performance finishing fifth with a haul of 64 medals. A repeat can be expected from the Incheon Asian Games starting Friday.
However, how many medals will be enough for a country with a population of 1.2 billion? This has been a nagging question for the cricket-obsessed nation for some time. Despite its rising interest in other sports, India continues to fail in multi-sporting events like Asian Games.
In the planet’s second biggest sporting jamboree, India cannot pack a punch. Instead of giving a direct fight to China, India will fight for a mid-table position. In contrast, smaller countries like South Korea and Japan will take on the might of the Chinese juggernaut this time too.
In the previous edition of the Asiad, India finished sixth in Guangzhou, bagging their best ever medal haul of 65 medals including 14 golds. But China won 416 medals including 199 gold, with both the far-east countries crossing 200-mark.
Like any other field of human endeavour, comparisons among the nations are required to understand where a particular country exists vis-a-vis the spheres where the development is required, especially for the countries in the tail-end of the tally.
When India sent a jumbo size 625 athletes to compete in 36 different events four years ago, it was hailed as a positive step.
Athletes, besides the medal hopefuls, also need constant exposure, thus helping them find a measure of their standard against the best in business. Indian contingent returned happy from China, winning medals for the first time in previously alien sports such as gymnastics and roller sports.
The Indian contingent for the XVII Asiad will consists of 516 athletes and will compete in 28 events only. The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) had previously proposed a list 662 athletes for the Games. But the list was pruned to the current number by Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, in consultation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Sports which have been left out include baseball, bowling, cricket, fencing, karate, modern pentathlon, rugby, sailing, softball, soft tennis, and triathlon. India’s absence in cricket competition is beyond everyone’s understanding, but not sending promising athletes in fencing, sailing and rugby is disheartening.
Despite the pruning and notable absence of medal favourites like wrestler Sushil Kumar, boxer Vijender Singh and host of tennis players including Somdev Devvarman, the country is expecting an improvement in the medal haul.
India's effort in Guangzhou was spurred by incredible shows in athletics, boxing and shooting events. Altogether, they accounted for 29 medals. And once again, the onus will be on the athletes competing in these sports.
Other sports where India can realistically win medals are archery, badminton, kabaddi, hockey and rowing. But unluckily for India, cue sports, chess and roller sports – which helped India's tally with eight medals at Guangzhou, have been scrapped from the Incheon edition.