India, the Olympic Games and "poor sports"
I didn't confess that we had a long weekend in New Delhi last weekend. (I'd happily tell 99.99% of readers and commenters, but "social media warnings" now make it very clear that announcing that your whole family is away on your blog is a bit like leaving a note for the burglars on the front door, saying "key under mat".)
The husband was partly on the search for the architecture of W. S. George (who worked in Greece and India), and I went along for the ride. The truth was, in the midst of Olympic fever, that it proved interesting to see what the Olympics looked like from the point of view of a nation that hadn't just won 65 medals.
India had got 6 medals (doubling their total of 3 in Beijing) -- and that included the woman boxer Mary Kom (who was trumped by our Nicola), and Sushil Kumar (above) who got a silver medal in the wrestling.
There were some striking differences (and wry similarities) in what the Indian papers were saying about their athletes' achievements, compared with ours. For a start, class and wealth were pretty near to top of the agenda. There was a bit of breast-beating about how Indian hockey was in free-fall . . .but the main question was -- what should a country like India do? Well, said one Indian ex-Olympian in the Times of India, invest in "poor sports". "No rich family boy will go into sports like weightlifting, boxing or wrestling. These are clearly poor man's sports." That's where India could hope for medals in the future (not dressage or canoing, in other words).
And it was pretty clear that there wasn't much of a training regime, funded by lottery or sponsors, like our athletes have. May Kom seems to be something of a real professional. But, so far as I could see a lot of the others really were people with fulltime jobs, training in their spare time . . . a kind of unequal competition with the USA, China or UK (sorry "Team GB").
In fact Sushil Kumar's father said that Sushil (who was widely reported as having denied biting his opponent's ear on the grounds that he was vegetarian, so wouldn't have!) didn't even have a training partner, so how could you expect him to get a gold medal? But he then went on to complain that he wouldn't see anything of his son when he got home, because he would be whisked off to see the President and Prime Minister, before he had a chance to see his family.
But this was a rare piece of grumpiness. For the most part, there was a cheeriness that such a notoriously and self-confessedly un-sporty nation had done as well as it had (and some hope of double figures next time).
And there was a nice sense of commonwealth internationalism too. One little feature in the Times of India asked which head of state had presided over the greatest number of gold medals? Was it Obama with his 46 USA golds? No it wasn't. It was, of course, Queen Elizabeth, with 49 golds from Team GB, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica etc etc.
Anyway I'm now hoping for a great Indian medal haul in Rio in the proudly "poor sports".
If any of you wondered what happened to the post office van that the son was taking round Europe -- it got a terminal condition of the clutch somewhere near the Brenner Pass, and is being ambulanced back to Cambridge.