View: India needs an Olympic fan base

The world’s attention is on the Tokyo Olympics. More than any other event, the Olympic Games symbolize an inclusive and global movement. More nations (205) will participate this year than the total of United Nations member countries (193). This year’s Games will feature 50 disciplines in 33 sports, including new ones such as sport climbing and surfing.

In 2012, when India returned with six London medals, doubling our previous record, the nation was proud. At the next edition in Rio in 2016, our feelings returned to despair, as India only won two medals. As our largest contingent of 120 athletes compete on this world stage, India’s expectations are high.

Many Indian athletes are now ranked at the top of their respective disciplines. All credit to their dedication, hard work and talent. Credit also goes to sports administrations who have taken several steps to support them, including putting in place a solid infrastructure – from finding potential champions to the right training and support. Many private organizations have also contributed with programs and sponsorships to support our athletes.

Indian athletics has never had an organized army of fans. Football clubs in India, particularly East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in Kolkata, have a history of organized fan bases. The supporters filling the stadiums, cheering on the players, celebrating with enthusiasm, remain attached to their teams, no matter what the ups and downs. The Indian Cricket Bharat Army has 1.4 million members, many of whom are based outside the country. This fan base guarantees that hundreds of fans will attend any Team India cricket event all over the world.

As of July 23, the Indian Olympic team needs the support of 1.3 billion Indians – a set of advocates who will support the athletes, cheer them on, whether they bring home the medals or fail. despite their best efforts. We do not need one, but several organized fan clubs for Indian athletics.

The Olympic Games will be over on August 8. The next few weeks will be devoted to celebrating the champions who return with glory. All athletes will return to their training, conditioning and more training routines. Unlike cricket or football which has a calendar of events throughout the year, for many of our athletes it will be a long time before the next big events – the Asian Games and the 2022 Commonwealth Games, and the Sydney Olympics in 2024. Our athletes need a fan base to be with them throughout, not just during big sporting events.

Fans are not only important to athletes, but also to mirror the entire sports ecosystem. In April 2021, when 12 of Europe’s richest and most successful football clubs decided to go their separate ways and form the European Super League (ESL), a huge setback came from the fans. ESL collapsed within a week of even starting, due to fans of the respective clubs.

Fans of the Indian Olympic Games contingent can be the collective conscience that holds organizations accountable and ensures that they stay true to the spirit and ideals of the sport. Let us all wish that India flies to Tokyo, with us, 1.3 billion, the wind under the wings.

The writer is a director of the Mobile Premier League (MPL) Sports Foundation, the main partner of the Indian contingent for the Tokyo Olympics.

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