“She’s useless”, “All hype no substance”, “Why even bother with all those World Cup medals if you can’t win at the Olympics”, “Just gone there to participate”, “Making up the numbers”.
The responses are many. They are emotional. They are disappointed. But many are angry. Just plain angry. And it is hard to understand why. Be critical, yes. Be disappointed, yes. But angry? Where is the anger coming from?
Some of the vitriolic stuff about Manu Bhaker when she struggled in the mixed pistol while Saurabh Chaudhary did well is not even worth printing. Chaudhary, himself, was subjected to similar abuse when he crashed out in the final of the 10m air pistol after he topped the qualifying.
“Mentally weak”, “Nervous”, “Not good enough”, “Age is not an excuse” — it went on. It still goes on. Part of it might be down to the great expectations. The Indian shooting squad has been consistently winning medals in international competitions for a while now and the size of the squad is bigger than it has ever been before. So the heightened expectations combined with the drought of medals at Rio 2016 means that the people want nothing less than a podium spot. You fail and you will be damned.
The reactions to Mirabai Chanu’s silver were fantastic but as the shooters crashed out, the joy turned to anger; the kind of anger we don’t even reserve for our politicians when they get the lockdowns so wrong or when they mess up the vaccination drives or when we have to stand in lines for hours.
But the two 19-year-olds are fair game. Let us have a go at them, without even thinking about how it might impact them. Since they are representing India, Indians have a right to abuse them… right?
Do we think our reactions will make them better? Does it show how passionate we are about sport? Or is it because we think they are defenceless?
The reactions are extreme because we don’t know; we don’t know the sports; we don’t know because we haven’t followed the sports for the four years between Olympics but that doesn’t matter, it’s okay to pile on.
What many conveniently forget is that each of these athletes has to qualify for the Olympics. Not everyone gets there. Some spend their whole lives trying but still don’t get there. So no one is there to take a walk in the park or to enjoy the atmosphere. They are there to win and when they don’t, it hurts them the most.
Some argue that a lot of government money is spent on these athletes. Government money equals tax payer money equals our money. So since we have a stake, go for it. But is India the only country that spends money on its athletes? No. Others spend even bigger money. And as things go, the bigger the money spent, the better the returns.
An Olympic medal won by Great Britain at the London 2012 Games cost them an average of just over £4.5 million.
Every year, the United States Olympic Committee gives out about $50 million to more than 40 national sport federations to help athletes in their medal quest. The funding for specific sports goes down if they don’t win medals.
China has a state-funded approach. In 2016, China’s General Administration of Sports received $651 million (4.5 billion yuan) in government funding, an uptick of 45% from 2011.
Australia, which has a track record of performing well at the Summer Olympics, earmarked just $272 million for its own sports commission in 2016.
India’s spend is minuscule by comparison — in fact, the government cut the sports budget by Rs 230.78 crore in the Olympic year.
We also live in the age of instant gratification and perhaps that is why the importance of building brick-by-brick is lost on many. The top countries have been spending big money for a long time. India still lacks infrastructure and the Target Olympic Podium Scheme programme is very athlete-focussed and has just come into being. It also doesn’t help that our sports ministers keep making random predictions (‘India will be among top 10 by 2028 Olympics,’ predicted the ex-sports minister Kiren Rijiju in September 2020).
But despite all that, nothing justifies the anger. To put it bluntly, the anger doesn’t help. If the athletes weren’t nervous earlier, they would now be after seeing the reaction to failure. It’s not easy. It’s not easy at all. It’s not easy for the first-timers and it isn’t easy for champions either.
If you wanted further justification, just look at four-time Olympic gold medallist and world champion Simone Biles after she pulled out from the team event in artistic gymnastics at Tokyo 2020.
“At the end of the day, I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardise my health and my wellbeing,” she said. “I just think mental health is more prevalent now in sports and it’s not just like we have to set everything aside, we also have to focus on ourselves.
Biles added: “Because at the end of the day, we’re human too so we have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”
The pressure affects everyone. Some crumble, some don’t. But if we, as a nation, react with anger each time one of our athletes fail, just what is the message we are sending them? Get emotional, push them to do better, expect better but, at the end of the day, leave the anger aside... remember it is just a game.