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There are many ways in which a nation’s progress and development are calculated.
The Gross Domestic Product, the Gini Coefficient, purchasing power parity, even the Gross Happiness Product used in Bhutan, are just a few of these. There are numerous organisations and academic bodies around the world that take it upon themselves to judge the social and economic indices based on variously acquired data. However, one good way of estimating the overall development and well-being of a society would be by estimating how much time is spent on sports and cultivating hobbies. Obviously, this implies that the spare time generated through income surpluses.

Participation and success in the Olympics would be a particularly objective index of overall development levels. It is obvious that producing world class athletes and sportspersons requires a plethora of structured processes that only become available if the basic requirements of society are met; there is social stability to invest the necessary time and effort in sports, as well as community investment in creating the necessary facilities and organisations. Looked at from that point of view, India is a laggard – in the ongoing Olympics, medals-wise, it presently ranks 62nd out of 71 countries. This clearly indicates that development in the country has not been enough to create the necessary excellence to win medals. However, going by the number of athletes sent for participation and the spread of disciplines, the picture is more positive. In Tokyo there are 127 athletes from 18 disciplines. In Rio de Janeiro, there were 117 from 15 sports. There is not much difference in the number of men and women taking part. Before that, in London, there were 83 athletes competing in 13 sports, and women comprised just one-fourth of the number. So, there has been positive growth over the years but not with the speed required to achieve proportional representation in, both, the number of athletes and medals.

It may be argued that this also reflects issues of temperament and a greater present day societal focus on making money and career advancement at the cost of other activities, particularly among the better off sections. Democracies cannot force people to abandon their priorities. In India, it is only those who see a chance of social and financial advancement through sports that put in the tremendous effort required. This is why so many athletes come from disadvantaged backgrounds. But, that also means they have to climb much higher to be at par with those from other countries more advantageously positioned. Parity can only be achieved if the social and economic levels rise across all sections of society, and then the medals, too, will start pouring in.