Weak Performance of India in Olympics – An Analysis

Weak Performance of India in Olympics – An Analysis

By Pratibha Chandiramani


With the Tokyo Olympics 2020 happening, it is desirable to speak about the performance of the Indian team in the past years as well as in the on-going competition. Since the 1900 edition of Olympics, India has won only twenty-nine medals. Nine gold medals, eight silver medals and twelve bronze medals have been bagged by the Indian team till now. The performance of those who have participated in the past is surely laudable for making India rise to great heights and changing the sphere of sports in India. The journey of many Olympic athletes is very encouraging, so much so that biopics have been made based on their life experiences including Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal and Milkha Singh, etc. 

The Indian history of the Olympics is also remarkable. It is worthy to note that in the 1900 Olympics at Paris India had only one representative, Norman Pritchard, yet being a sole representative he won two silver medals, one in the 200m sprint and another in 200m hurdles. In the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, the Indian men’s hockey team led by the legendary Dhyan Chand won their first Olympic gold medal. Khashaba Jadhav, the Indian wrestler, became the first Indian to win an individual Olympic medal in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Karnam Malleswari, an Indian weightlifter, became the first woman from India to win a medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The Rio 2016 Olympics is considered to be a significant one for achieving a milestone of women empowerment as it was the first time that the country’s medal record was entirely made up of female athletes as PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik were India’s only medallists. 

Backdrop of weak performance of Indian Olympic team  

Although India saw a number of rising stars in the past Olympic Games, the performance of Indian athletes and the tally of medals acquired by the contingents have been consistently poor. Being the second most populous country, India holds the worst Olympic record in terms of medals per head. India won only one gold medal in the past three decades in 2008 in the men’s 10m rifle. The London 2012 Olympics have been remarkable for India as it bagged six medals, which is additionally its biggest haul. However, if we look at the ratio of population to medals, the tally stands at one medal for every 200 million people. This record indubitably explains the picture of India’s performance. 

As compared to India, a number of small countries with less population frequently achieve a medal for every couple of hundred thousand people. This year, India has sent its largest contingent to the Olympics comprising 119 athletes to compete at 85 medal events. However, the increasing number of athletes doesn’t invariably mean more medals. As in 2016, India sent 117 athletes and yet clinched only two medals. Ever since the Indian hockey team’s performance began declining in the 1980s, India has not been able to find any event where it could acquire medals consistently. India has not been able to attain a double digit medal tally in Olympics ever since its first edition in 1900. 

Presently India’s population to medal ratio in the Olympics stands at meagre 0.0008 per cent. The figures clearly indicate that in the past several decades, India has failed miserably to improve its potential into medals over the years. The key reason behind this fiasco is that the nation has been unsuccessful in delivering the required support and has flunked to encourage the citizens to take up sports as a viable career choice. Moreover, the situations this year have worsened due to covid-19. National sports events were called off for Indian athletes, and foreign training and events were also cancelled. Thus, it is certain to intrude on the performance of the Indian players. 

The cause behind India consistently falling short in the international sport event is deep-rooted, and it affects the integral athletic aspect of the country. The prime reason could be the country’s tendency of disregarding and under-funding sports. Many sports persons that participated in the Olympics in the previous years have done so by either paying for their own training or by seizing large commercial funding. This indicates that individuals who do not have such privileges lack the opportunity to even get adequate training, far off from competing in the Olympics. It is very commonly observed in India that individuals who excel in sports are frequently discouraged from following it to higher levels by their families and the wider community. The poor performance of India in sports as compared to other populous countries could be attributed to the fact that sport is not regarded as a well-paid career option here. 

China, the most populated country in the world, has been consistently winning medals in Olympics primarily because its residents are well-educated, live a high-quality life, and efficiently participate in games whereas India, which is next to China in terms of population, has been unable to produce quality players and improve our nation’s performance in Olympics. Despite India having some of the finest players in the world in different Olympic Games, winning Olympics medals appears to be such a daunting task for our country. Working towards improving the quality of life and developing more interest in sports would go a long way in improving the situation. Encouraging the youth to take up interest in sports and supporting those who are good in it would be beneficial and definitely add to the value of our nation and develop the image of India at international level. It is witnessed that absence of social mobility and inadequate infrastructure are also the causes for India’s consistently weak performance in Olympics. Existence of discrimination and biased opinion while selecting the sportsperson for Olympics also led to poor performance of the Indian team. 

Shortcomings of Indian Sports Law

The reason behind India’s failure to produce quality players and improving the performance of athletes in Olympics over the years can also be attributed to poorly implemented sports laws. Sports law never obtained vital significance by policy-makers. Since sports have been commercialized, the companies have started working autonomously and consequently the rights and interests of athletes are affected. Laws prohibiting doping in sports have been implemented, but the results are not effective. Doping means use of prohibited substances for improving sporting performance. The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) has been established for the purpose of controlling doping among sportspersons, but the implementation has not been as per the expectations.

In case of disputes in sports, arbitration, with the consent of all parties involved, is also encouraged to avoid the court procedures and reach a settlement outside the court. In India, the arbitration of sports disputes is regulated by the rules of the Indian Olympic Association. However, any federation or athlete that affiliates them with the Indian Olympic Association has to accept their rules in entirety. The rules of IOA state that unless the athlete or federation gives consent for arbitration, they cannot participate in any event including the Olympics. However, according to the Indian contract act, 1872, this rule would annul the arbitration agreement so entered. Under the court system, the athletes have many remedies such as review, appeal and revision. However, in arbitration, the Arbitration Commission is regarded as the apex internal authority for sports-related clashes in India. This provision discourages the athletes to take up any issue they may be confronting to higher authorities and subsequently affects their performance as a player. At international level also, practically all sports federations or associations which are part of the Olympic Games need to resolve disputes arising between themselves and sportspersons by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). 

The two significant sports law policies in India are National Sports Policy 2001 and National Sports Development Code 2011. There are numerous other organizations as well that are engaged in varied tasks such as broadcasting and promoting sports, providing sports scholarship schemes, etc. Thus, it is understandable that there does not exist an exclusive concrete framework of sports regulations and laws.  Moreover the existing policies have not been successful in keeping a check on the functioning of the sports organizations and other associated agencies. Thus, weaker the sports law, poorer the performance of sportspersons. Due to poor implementation of sports laws and policies, unfair sporting practices still persist in different areas and these prejudiced practices are bound to weaken the performance of athletes at international as well as national level. 

Poor sports laws lead to unrestrained functioning of sporting bodies which in turn aggravates the situation by boosting other crimes including exploitation, corruption, unequal pay, illegal contracts, unlawful termination, gambling and wagering, etc. The weaker performance of Indian players and inability to yield good quality players is because these crimes are rampant in the area of sports. Sports law and bodies have failed miserably to control and combat these activities. Moreover, there is a lack of unaccountability between sporting bodies and state which gives more room for arbitrariness and malpractices. The Supreme Court in Zee Telefilms V. Union of India also upheld that sporting bodies are not accountable to the state. No field is unscathed by the evil of gender discrimination including sports. Very few and frail laws have been established to combat gender discrimination in sports. In the recent times, incidents of sexual abuse against minor athletes have come up yet no stringent action has been undertaken by the sporting bodies. If sexual harassment against sportspersons and gender discrimination continue to persist, it is certain to affect the performance of the athletes in the country and might discourage quality players from pursuing sports.  


The figures of past Olympic Games clearly indicate India’s weakness in the international event throughout decades. The Indian Olympic Association has admitted in the past that the country has not done enough to support its athletes. Very little importance is given to sports at grass root level in India. Although various federations in India exist that provide sports facilities, India is largely failing at the Olympics. Even the performance of athletes in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has not been satisfying. Out of the 59 countries participating in Olympics, India presently stands at 59th position with just one silver medal bagged by Mirabai Chanu in women’s weightlifting event and one Bronze Medal Bagged by P.V Sindhu in Badminton. Moreover, poor sports laws are also severe. Therefore India needs concrete sports legislation for promotion and progress of athletes and uniform bylaws for regulating sports in India. The involvement of central and state governments must be increased for regulating sport laws. Development of International standards infrastructure, effective participation in various sports and promotion of sports culture at school level will certainly yield remarkable results. 

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