New Delhi: Indians face the four-yearly dilemma of watching their favourite sport, cricket, or switching to the Olympics, and this time the Beijing extravaganza appears to be winning.
The Olympic Games clash with India’s cricket tour of Sri Lanka with the iconic Sachin Tendulkar needing just 172 runs to overtake West Indian Brian Lara as the most prolific Test batsman.
India is cricket-crazy, but the younger generation, grown on a steady diet of live world-class sporting action on their television screens, regard the Olympics as a must-watch.
A recent poll conducted by one of the Games sponsors found that almost 70% of city-bred Indians will closely follow the action in Beijing even as the cricket goes on in Sri Lanka. “We may be a one-sport nation but it will be wrong to assume the new generation only follows cricket,” said veteran sports writer Vijay Lokapally. “They understand what the Olympics is all about and won’t allow just cricket to dominate their mindset. You can’t fool this generation.”
It does not matter that India’s returns from past Olympics have been minimal. The last time India won an Olympic gold medal was in hockey at the West-boycotted Moscow Games in 1980. This time, the eight-time champions have not even qualified for the Games. India have just four individual medals, the last three coming in each of the previous three editions.
The country is pinning its hopes on shooters, archers, boxers and tennis veterans to deliver a medal, a prospect that excites viewers as much as Tendulkar’s impending record.
“It will be great if Tendulkar goes past Lara but his record will be broken one day by someone else,” said sports enthusiast Pritam Sinha. “But an Olympic medal is for keeps and carries immense value.”
Sharda Ugra, sports editor of India Today magazine, said an early medal will enliven Indian interest in the Games. “Anyway, we have always been a nation of great sports watchers. There has been good viewership for quality sports in the country since past so many years. Olympics is a visual treat and fans enjoy the atmosphere,” said Ugra.
Boxing official Muralidharan Raja said the charm of the Olympics was unrivalled.
“The Olympics is in a different league altogether, it’s the ultimate challenge,” he said. “India may be crazy about cricket, but the Olympics have their own fans and following. Olympics will never lose out to cricket.”
Raja’s views were echoed by young tennis player Venayak Gupta, 16. “We get to watch so much cricket, it gets boring after some time,” he said. “The Olympics come once in four years, why would anyone want to miss them?”
Major events at the Olympics will be shown live by state-run broadcaster Dooordarshan.