Rio de Janeiro: India's Pusarla V Sindhu kisses her silver medal after her match with Spain's Carolina Marin in women's Singles final at the 2016 Summer Olympics at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil on Friday.
Rio de Janeiro: India’s Pusarla V Sindhu kisses her silver medal after her match with Spain’s Carolina Marin in women’s Singles final at the 2016 Summer Olympics at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil on Friday.

RIO DE JANEIRO (Diya TV) — For a nation of its size, India surely succeeds at under-succeeding on the world’s largest sporting stage — the country walked away from Rio with a medal count of two, and it seems during each Olympic Games, rivals China and Russia walk away with a multitude of gold medals alone.

For fans in India — one of the world’s most rapidly developing economies and most populous nations — the results and event often serve as an exercise of despair.

As a nation, India have managed just a single gold medal performance since 1980. During the 2008 Games in Beijing, shooter Abhinav Bindra captured gold for the nation at the 10 meter air rifle event. India’s previous gold medals, the eight won between 1928-1980, all came in field hockey.

To put that in perspective, U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps has won as many gold medals as an individual as India has as a nation since 1900.

The hope of India’s fans rans higher than it ever has in recent history. After the nation’s inspiring performance at the 2012 London Games where it collected six medals, expectations were surely set higher considering India sent its largest contingent in its Olympic history.

The underperforming and shallow medal haul? — A professor from the prestigious Duke University of Indian descent has a theory of his own.

Professor Anirudh Krishna, who is also the co-author of a 2008 paper called ‘Why do some countries win more Olympic medals?’ According to Krishna’s paper, high poverty levels are sufficient enough a reason, this because several other low levels of per-capita income, such as Kenya and Jamaica show plenty of performance at the Games.

“India does not have a sports culture,” explained Boria Majumdar, a leading Indian sports scholar who’s authored numerous books on the topic. Indian athletes who have achieved international success are exceptions rather than products of the country’s sports system, he said.

“Unless there is a synergized sports culture you will never win a string of medals. A fundamental overhaul is needed and urgently so.”

Research shows that academics, not achievement in extra-curriculars such as sports. A popular Hindi saying roughly translates to “if you study hard you will live like a king but if you play sports you will ruin your life.”

“Indians, over the decades, have been mostly pre-occupied climbing the socio-economic ladder. Consequently, the pool of talent created at the local community, school and university levels, leaves much to be desired both in terms of size and quality,” said Arun Navaratna, senior economist at Australia New Zealand Bank.

Additionally, very little support exists in terms of providing support for those who might display an above-average athletic prowess.

“Scarce public investible resources have eluded sports.This is further compounded by misallocation, lack of transparency, poor asset management and an absence of a framework for measuring impact of public spending. This is unlikely to change, despite the government’s best intentions,” Navaratna added.

Scholarships and endowments exist for those athletes, a system which guarantees a basic minimum standard of living. However, the system is littered with red tape, political interference and even corruption, Navaratna said. India’s sporting association is no stranger publicly to to athletic scandal. In 2012, Indian Olympic Association was suspended from the International Olympic Committee for electing leaders with pending criminal charges. As a result, Indian athletes competing in the Sochi Winter Games were forced to do so under the IOC flag instead of India’s.

Just before the road to Brazil began this year, a National Sports Ethics Commission Bill was introduced in the Indian parliament in an attempt to order to improve the overall integrity of sporting culture.

Others blame instead the Olympic sport selection itself.

“With the exception of hockey, Indian sport tends to be focused on events that are not included in the Olympics, most importantly cricket,” Price Waterhouse Coopers said in a June report.

But in what perhaps could be the largest contributing factor, inequality could be responsible for driving the medal-less engine.

“The root problem, as I see it, is one of limited and ineffective participation, arising from the difficulties in gaining access to [serious sports training],” Krishna stated. “Much of the country’s talent remains undetected; it takes a degree of privilege to be a serious competitor.”

For example, South Korea, a country of only 50 million people, consistently racks up their medal count because almost every Korean knows what the Olympic Games are and has a chance to attend a high school, he noted.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a premium of economic incentives for improving the nation’s Olympic record. “Helping individuals advance to the limits of their potential in diverse arenas—including sports—is the development strategy of the future,” said Krishna.

“India needs to invest in the long term, not expecting miracles at the touch of a button,” summed up Krishna.