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India's Olympic Achievement: Indifference

Theodore Dalrymple in Wall Street Journal 17-08-2012

[India's] low tally of medals in the Olympic Games puts practically all other countries to shame. With a sixth of the world's population, it won only six medals, none of them gold—that is to say, it won fewer, pro rata, than half a percent of the medals won by Britain and 1.25% of those won by the U.S.

It is not that India tried and failed. It did not try, and therein lies its peculiar wisdom and glory. Almost alone of the nations of the world, it more or less ignored the Games. But it is India, whose government does nothing to encourage (or deter) its athletes, that is right, not the rest of the world.

There is a bimodal distribution of countries that are enthusiastic about winning Olympic medals: They are either populist or ideological. Britain, for example, falls into the former category. Woe betide the British person who dares to suggest that his country's excellent performance at the Games wasn't a sign of national regeneration but of national frivolity and meretriciousness, to which its population and its leaders now turn as naturally as some flowers turn to the sun.

There are no prizes for guessing into which category falls North Korea, which did about a hundred times better at the Games than India. There is nothing a totalitarian regime likes more than devoting its citizens to pointless activities, such as throwing the javelin, and then claiming, when one of them does it better than anyone else in the world, that it proves the brilliance of the dictator and the beneficent efficiency of his rule. How else could such excellence result?

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