The greatest show on earth, as the Olympics is often described, will begin in Tokyo with the inaugural ceremony on Friday evening. Uncertainties have been plaguing the Tokyo Olympics, mostly on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. As it is, the Games should have been held last year, as Tokyo had successfully bid for the 2020 Olympics. True, it is not the first time that the Olympics have faced challenges of such magnitude. There have been boycotts, cancellations and attempts to hijack the event for political gains, as had happened in Berlin during the Third Reich. The Munich massacre in 1972 was another such attempt.
Yet, the Olympic movement has survived and has even gone from strength to strength because nothing else represents man’s innate desire to improve his or her own benchmarks to be “faster, higher and stronger”. True, some of the athletic records remain unbeaten but that is not because there was no attempt to break them. The attempt to create new records is more important, just as the journey is, sometimes, more important than the destination.
Not just Covid-19, other unfortunate incidents too have cast a shadow over the Tokyo event. The organisers could not have imagined that the director of the opening ceremony would have to quit over a controversial remark on the Holocaust and the director of music would have to call it a day as he would be exposed for what he was, a sex maniac. An incident of rape reported from the Olympics village was not the kind of curtainraiser the world had expected. Of course, all this pales into insignificance when the attempts to make the event corona-free are taken into account. The participants had to test negative in three Covid tests before they could be admitted to the residential facility allotted to them. A few had to be quarantined because they tested positive, thereby, dimming the chances of the countries they represent.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has killed, to a large extent, the joy inherent in the Olympics. If, at the end of the day, the Tokyo Olympics is declared as the most boring, few will be surprised. The inaugural ceremony, of which the march-past is the high-water mark, used to be watched by tens of millions of people the world over. With safe-distancing norms in force, it would be impossible to replicate the gala events that marked the Olympics in Beijing, London etc. That only 30 Indians from the largest-ever Indian contingent of 126 will take part in the march-past is a measure of the fear gripping the sportspersons who cannot afford to fall victim to coronavirus.
India has high stakes in Tokyo. True, it has never been a sporting giant in terms of medals won. In fact, the largest haul of medals it ever had was at the London Olympics in 2012. There were in all, just six medals for a country which has a population of 1.3 billion. Things seem to have changed for the better. The Indian team has a few sportspersons internationally ranked one or two in their respective fields. They are, therefore, the favourites. Such a scenario has never existed, except when India was the obvious winner in hockey, i.e., when the Europeans and others were yet to learn the dynamics of the game. There are young men and women who can be daring, in the team, as there are seniors like Mary Kom in boxing, who can perform according to the exacting standards of the Olympics. Before every Olympics, there were calculations of medals India was likely to win.
Such calculations are a futile exercise. They serve little purpose except to put extra pressure on the athletes, who could do better without it. There have been speculations that the medal tally this time will reach the double-digit figure. Some have predicted that it may go up to 20 or more. It is always better to undercount and overdeliver. Anything less than six will be disastrous and anything above that figure would be a bonus. Even the most optimistic prediction is nothing compared to what the sporting giants achieve, more so when the size of India’s population is considered. India has a long way to go before it can be called a nation of great sportspersons. Be that as it may, 1.3 billion Indians are one in wishing the Indian team the very best as they try to prove to be faster, higher and stronger.