Sports Agony

Friday, August 29, 2008

While the nation celebrates its best-ever performance at the Olympics, it’s time perhaps to take a cold shower of reality to put the achievement in perspective. India’s medal haul of three at Beijing still places us among the spectacular underachievers at the Games. If a study published just before the Beijing Games is any pointer, India’s size and social indicators suggest that the ‘‘ideal’’ medal count of the country, Games after Games, should have been higher than what we have achieved. Consider this: If population alone is taken as an indicator of sporting success, India should have ended up with 160 medals, second only to China, which ought to have bagged 187. However, in their paper published in the Economic and Political Weekly, economists Anirudh Krishna and Eric Haglund argue that it’s not just population but the ‘‘effective participants’’ in a country that determines its medal haul. Effective participants are the number of people who are in a position to take part in sporting activities — assuming that potential Olympic achievers are randomly distributed in the population of every country. This excludes a large number of poor and marginalized Indians from the race. Krishna and Hugland first drew up a model predicting the medal tally at the 2004 Olympics, factoring in the per capita GDP of each country along with the population. It predicted 19 medals for India. The authors then fine-tuned the model by adding other factors — health, education and access to public information — all indicators in which India’s comparative scores is poor. The last variable, access to public information, was measured in terms of number of radio sets per 1,000 people. This model considered the 1996 Olympics because later data wasn’t available for all countries under study. The predictions improved vastly. For instance, while the first model had predicted just 30 medals for USA, the score in the second model was 81 — much closer to the US’ actual tally of 101. This model still predicted 14 medals for India whereas Leander Peas bronze was the lone success in those Games. Krishna, who teaches at the Stanford Institute of Public Policy of Duke University in Durham, US, told TOI through email that though the model could be made more accurate by adding more variables, the bottomline of India’s underachievement could not be wished away. ‘‘While different structural variables — such as GNP, infrastructure, literacy, radios etc — certainly matter, what also matters is the use that one makes of these features,’’ he said. ‘‘Countries where different (public and private) organisations exist which actively promote wide participation and nurture talent, are the ones that tend to overperform. They win medals beyond what their structural characteristics would suggest. Others, such as India, where public and private organisations are weak in nearly all sports, tend to perform considerably below their potential,’’ Krishna noted. The import is clear. While the structural variables for India are poor, these alone don’t explain why our medals cupboard is so bare. What it shows is that we have consistently been unable to make use of our available infrastructure for nurturing talent that could translate into a better record at the Olympics. HITTING BULLSEYE Move over astrology. Economists are better at predicting the Olympic medal haul of various nations. Nothing can be better proof of this than the model developed by

Daniel Johnson and Ayfer Ali of Colorado College, USA. The economists got 93% accuracy in predicting the total medals won by countries at Beijing and got their gold medal forecasts 92% right. All this, without taking into account any information on the quality of the athletes or their training programmes. The Johnson and Ali model simply studies five variables — population of the country, its per capita income, climate, political structure (along with nation-specific effects) and host advantage. Here are the predicted and actual results from the Beijing Games:



Taking strong exception to child labour in court premises, a magistrate here has ordered an enquiry into the case of a minor boy allegedly employed by a caterer at the Rohini Courts Complex in New Delhi.The offence came to light on Monday when Metropolitan Magistrate S S Rathi, while going to his chamber, saw a minor boy serving lunch to various judges' chambers.Finding the boy apparently minor, the magistrate then asked him to wait there and called for his employer by sending a messenger


India to be 4° hotter in 40 years

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The effect of climate change on India could be far worse than previously estimated. Latest projections indicate that after 2050, temperatures would rise by 3-4 degrees over current levels and rainfall would become both heavier and less regular, posing a grave threat to agriculture. These are part of the research conducted by scientists at Pune’s Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, one of the key government institutions studying climate change in India. The findings are currently under review by a well-recognized scientific journal. This provides another, more serious wake-up call for India’s planners to look at adapting to the impending climatic changes. More important, it demands that the developed countries reduce their emissions substantially before their accumulated emissions turn these projections into a reality for India and other developing countries. If even a part of the projections turn into reality, the IITM modelling has dire implications for almost all aspects of life in the country — agriculture, power, water resources and biodiversity. The team at IITM, led by Krishna Kumar, used what is known as ‘‘A1B scenario’’ to pick a curve against which greenhouse emissions are calculated. The A1B scenario refers to a UN-accepted set of changes in the world economy that drive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It presumes a global economy growing by 3% annually with high rates of investment and innovation, use of varied sources of energy and an economic convergence between the developed and developing countries. With the emission growth curve drawn from the A1B scenario, Kumar and his team used data relevant to India in complex climate models to generate future projections for dozens of climate parameters that allowed them to map out how temperatures and monsoon would change if emissions rose. ‘Cities to bear brunt of rise in temperature’ New Delhi: Research conducted by scientists at Pune’s Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology has revealed that temperatures would rise by 3-4 degrees by 2050, The results of their work will now be used by others to calibrate how vulnerable the country could be on different fronts if these projections come true. The study is an eye-opener. It says the rise of temperatures would be far more over northern India than the peninsular region. The temperatures would begin rising in northern and western regions initially and then the pattern would shift eastward. The increase would occur in both night and day time temperatures. Global modelling results have been suggesting that average annual precipitation in the country may see about a 8-10% increase. The pattern of increase in rainfall too is predicted to move from north and north-west India towards the east. The consequences are easy to see — cities like Delhi that are not able to handle the occasional heavy shower even today, as was the case this year, could get flooded rapidly. The scene may not be much better for cities like Mumbai.


Watch The Border

Faced with a virtual takeover of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province by pro-Taliban extremists, spiralling inflation coupled with a foreign exchange crisis, and an ongoing impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s senate strangely debated developments in Jammu and Kashmir last week, following the blockade of the Kashmir valley by a popular agitation in Jammu. Unmindful of the reality that their own country is now internationally regarded as the epicentre of global terrorism, Pakistan’s worthy senators passed resolutions condemning alleged “ceasefire violations” along the Line of Control by the Indian army, expressed concern at the economic blockade of the Kashmir valley by “Hindu extremists” and reaffirmed support for the “struggle of Kashmiris” to “achieve their rights”, by an early solution of the Kashmir issue, in accordance with UN resolutions. Leader of the House, Raza Rabbani, in the presence of foreign minister Mehmood Qureishi, moved the resolutions. The Senate resolutions came at a time when Pakistan’s political leadership was moving to impeach Musharraf and Pakistan’s corps commanders were meeting in Rawalpindi, where, amongst other issues, the internal situation was being discussed. The resolution must have pleased Pakistan’s hawkish army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, who has made no secret of his views on India and Jammu and Kashmir. As head of the ISI, Kiyani had allegedly rigged the local bodies’ elections in 2005 and elections in PoK in 2006. The present ISI chief, Gen Nadeem Taj, is an ardent admirer of Musharraf. Pakistan’s senators and foreign minister obviously wanted to please the real rulers of the country — the army establishment — by passing stridently anti-Indian resolutions, while ignoring worldwide accusations about the ISI’s role in supporting terrorism. The move was also evidently intended to please the radicals in Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, whose views on jihad and India are not very different from those of the military. While the ruling alliance appears to have the numbers to impeach Musharraf, the army would obviously not wish to see its former chief humiliated, even though it would not directly intervene in the impeachment process, apart from giving some “assistance” in floor crossings for the embattled president. American displeasure at Musharraf is now evident from the leaking of taped conversations between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, in which Musharraf responds to Benazir’s complaints about his going back on assurances, by threatening the PPP leader with these words: “The Americans can call (you) all they want with their suggestions about you and me, let them call. You should understand something. Your security is based on the state of our relationship”. Barack Obama has warned Pakistan against backing Islamic zealots in Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir and the US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, has asserted: “I don’t believe that we can get the right outcome in Afghanistan as long as these militant sanctuaries exist across the border.” Moreover, even Pakistani writers like Ahmed Rashid have extensively documented how the ISI provides safe havens to the Taliban political and military leadership. The response of the army to these developments has been entirely predictable. The army has now started alleging that it has been compelled to back pro-Taliban groups, because India and Afghanistan are not only destabilising Baluchistan, but also helping pro-Taliban fundamentalists like Baitullah Mehsud, who are battling the Pakistan army. More significantly, the Pakistan army appears to be set to getting the civilian leaders to go along with a more hawkish policy in Kashmir. Pakistan’s new policies on Kashmir will involve strong backing for the separatist leadership and particularly for the hardliner Islamist, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Infiltration is set to increase with a view to promoting violence and disrupting and discrediting the forthcoming state assembly elections. Internationally, there will be an active effort to say that Pakistan can cooperate on issues of terrorism, only if its demands on Jammu and Kashmir are backed. New Delhi’s response to these developments has been timid, despite international opinion now supporting its approach to the issue of J&K. The European parliament, for example, recently called for the settlement of Jammu and Kashmir taking into account Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assertion that “borders cannot be changed”. The EU parliament has also noted that as the “world’s largest secular democracy” India has devolved democratic structures at all levels, while Pakistan still lacks democratic institutions in both PoK and in Gilgit and Baltistan. India can be assured of international understanding and support on the issue of J&K only if there is an abiding belief in its democratic and secular structures. For the first time in recent history, there is now a seemingly unbridgeable divide between the Kashmir valley and the Jammu region, a divide that undermines the very basis of our secular nationalism. Neither division of the J&K, as some demand, nor appeasement of separatist sentiments should be countenanced. This is the message that should be unambiguously conveyed to all those involved in both sides of the divide in Kashmir.


Sports Mela

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Four world records tumbled in a remarkable second day of Olympic swimming on Monday as American superstar Michael Phelps’ attempt to win an unprecedented eight gold medals stayed on track. China proved too strong for the competition in men’s synchronised diving and women’s weightlifting. Archery powerhouse South Korea took their gold tally to four with a men’s team victory over Italy and the host nation, keeping them on course for a sweep of gold medals in the sport. Out of competition, the first doping case of the Beijing Olympics saw Spanish cyclist Maria Isabel Moreno kicked out of the Games after testing positive for the blood booster EPO. First gold of the day went to Australian Lisbeth Trickett, who won the women’s 100m butterfly in 56.73 seconds from Christine Magnuson of the US (57.10) and Jessicah Schipper of Australia (57.25), missing the eight-year-old world record of Dutch Inge de Bruijn by a mere 12 hundredths. In the 100m breaststroke, Kitajima repeated his gold medal performance from Athens, winning in a world record time of 58.91 seconds, shaving 0.22 seconds off the previous mark of 59.13 seconds set by American Brendan Hansen two years ago. Alexander Dale Oen gave Norway a first swim medal, a silver in 59.20, and Frenchman Hugues Duboscq took bronze in 59.37 seconds. Briton Rebecca Adlington stunned American favourite Katie Hoff to win gold in the women’s 400m freestyle in 4:03.22. In women’s trap shooting, Satu Makela-Nummela gave Finland its first gold, while silver medalist Zuzana Stefecekova broke Slovakia’s Olympic duck. Bronze went to Corey Cogdell of the US. Defending Olympic champion Chen Yanqing retained her title in Women’s 58 kg weightlifting with a total of 244kg to give the powerful Chinese lifting squad its third gold of the Games. Russia’s Marina Shainova lifted 129kg just six seconds before time ran out and took the silver medal with a total of 227kg. In badminton Malaysia’s Wong Choong Hann effectively ended the Olympic career of Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia when he beat him 21-19, 21-16 in the men’s singles round of 32.


Bulls Eye

Abhinav Bindra’s gold makes us proud and ends a long drought. However, though there are no official statistics, there is little doubt that on a per capita basis, India finishes last in any Olympic medal tally. Dead last. Seventeen countries earned more medals in 2004 than India has in all the Olympic Games combined. Over the last few weeks, commentators have blamed our Olympic shortfall on the woeful training infrastructure in India, the low priority we put on sports as a society and the Indian physique. But they’re wrong. Whatever it is that keeps us from Olympic gold, it isn’t a shortfall in the Indian gene pool. Take any Olympic sport and we will see that India is rich in future champions — but only if we look in the right places. If you have visited an Indian construction site, you will find many a potential gymnastics champion. I recently saw a man walking across thin planks on the 15th floor of a building. He did this with no safety harness of any kind. The only thing keeping him from falling down was his belief that he could hold himself firm and steady. Bring that man down 200 feet and put him on a four-foot-high balance beam and surely he will dance Bollywood tunes on the beam. India could easily field a gymnastics team from our numerous construction sites. Take the rickshawpullers. Subsisting on a high protein and carbohydrate diet of dal and roti, these men transport riders in 40-degree weather for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Take the best of these men and let them loose on the Tour de France as training for the Olympics. The rolling hills of France on high tech, titanium Schwinn Cycles will be leisurely rides for these rickshawpullers. Who do you think who would have a harder time switching places: Lance Armstrong or the rickshawpuller? My money would be on the rickshawpuller. Our coastal fisherman from Maharashtra to Kerala to Tamil Nadu sail three months of the year in the harshest of monsoon conditions. Brutal rains don’t hamper these rough-and-tough sailors. Take the best of these men and train them for three years and they will be formidable Olympic contenders. I know we have one women’s weightlifting medal, but plenty more medals are available if we reach out among the women working at our construction sites. How many times have we passed a construction site and seen malnourished women lifting pounds of brick and dirt from the ground and onto their head? Watch their motion of lifting and watch the motion of lifting for a weightlifter, it’s exactly the same. Except our construction women don’t put their weights down quickly, they carry them for a while. Tell these women that they can just lift and put down and with proper training they can match the best weightlifters in the world. Ounce for ounce, pound for pound, if you want to see the best athletes in the world, scour the roads of our cities. In the midst of traffic, you will find men pulling and pushing cargo by hand, just like we have done for millennia. It’s pure brute strength that pushes the cargo. Sit down with these men, who we all pass daily, and you will find the lowest bodyfat ratios of any men anywhere. Take the best of them, train them for the field and track events and a champion will emerge. Each year, the best American athletes go to train in Colorado, 5,000 feet above sea level. Colorado is chosen because training at high altitudes makes the lungs stronger. If we take our best and train them in Leh, 14,000 feet above sea level, imagine what supermen and superwomen we may develop. The Indian countryside and cities are replete with future Olympians. These men and women train daily in the harshest of conditions with simple diets. Without a doubt, with the proper training and infrastructure, these men and women will add to our Olympic golds. It’s a shame that the world has missed 100 years of Indian Olympic prowess; it would be a travesty if the world misses another 100 years.


Golden dreamz

Abhinav Bindra looked surprisingly calm and composed on the podium when the Indian Tricolour went up and the national anthem was played at the shooting hall here on Monday. There was just that small wave of the hand, and a smile which was there and yet not there. In contrast, the Chinese shooter Zhu Qinan, who won the silver medal, wept on the podium and shed buckets of tears later at the press conference. Bindra looked unfazed, untouched by it all. It did not seem as if he had done the impossible. It was, as if, impossible is nothing. But he has always been that way. Chased by the media all through the complex — from the main hall, to the mixed zone, to the doping lab, to the bathroom, Bindra kept repeating his words. “I've trained very hard. It has paid off.” He did not want to talk about the pain he went through in the past two years. He did not want to talk about his back injury, the surgery, the rehabilitation and the continuous grind. He just kept telling veteran shooter Mansher Singh, who was there with him after the victory, “Joey, I want to go home. Please help me getting an early booking. I just want to be with my parents.” It's no secret that his parents have supported through very difficult times. His father, a wealthy businessman in Chandigarh, even built his son a shooting range at home. Abhinav never went to college though he did complete his MBA from US through distance learning. “This medal belongs to my family,” he said. When asked by a European correspondent what he does for a living, he shot back: “I have been drilling holes on a black paper for 10 years. That’s what I do for a living.” Bindra has no patience for run-of-the-mill questions. He has no patience for unwanted criticism either. He simply clams up. He has been criticized often for his attitude, his arrogance, his tendency to simply switch off during interviews. Talking about the Athens disappointment and the fight later, he said: “I finished seventh at Athens. It shattered me. It was hard for me to take the plunge back. I kept telling myself, be at it, be at it'. It has all fallen into place now.” However, he did show a flash of humour when world media wanted to know more about him. How excited was he thinking about going home now? “I really don't like planes, you know.” Straight and simple. Don't ask him the obvious, he'll s t i n g back. On his way out of the complex, he was again mobbed by India media. He stopped and obliged. “I'm pretty exhausted but happy with my good job.” Why are you so serious all the time? Even now? “I was born with a poker face.” Does he remember Rathore's silver in Athens? “Yes, I was there. It was very motivating. It was a great moment. Inspired me to work hard for four years,” he said and then put his win perspective. “I shot better at Athens but got nothing for it. Sport is like a gamble. Anybody else could have won today. It was my day.” So, Abhinav Bindra, cool as a cucumber, played the gamble of his life and won. Should we call him the man with the golden gun now?


Ignorant before the heavens of my Life

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ignorant before the heavens of my life,
I stand and gaze in wonder.
Oh the vastnessof the stars.
Their rising and descent.
How still.As if I didn't exist.
Do I have anyshare in this?
Have I somehow dispensed withtheir pure effect?
Does my blood's ebb and flowchange with their changes?
Let me put asideevery desire, every relationshipexcept this one,
so that my heart grows used toits farthest spaces.
Better that it livefully aware, in the terror of its stars,
thanas if protected, soothed by what is near.


Do As The Americans Did

Friday, August 1, 2008

Developing countries are right in protecting their interests

The Doha Development Round of the WTO has failed. US negotiators have blamed India, along with China, for the failure. They have accused India of being the roadblock by asking developed countries to further open their markets while insisting that India and other developing countries be protected from any market opening. Since India has been accused, it is time to ask: What was the US’s position regarding free trade when its own economy was developing? At the turn of the 18th century, when the British economy was very strong, Adam Smith and David Ricardo propounded their theories of free trade between nations. These theories did not go down well in the US as Erik Reinert recalls in his book, ‘How Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor’. He says the American maxim of the 1820s was: “Don’t do as the English tell you to do, do as the English did”, which, Reinert says, may be updated now to: “Don’t do as the Americans tell you to do, do as the Americans did!” Paul Bairoch examines the historical record of trade and growth of the US and Europe in his book ‘Economics and World History — Myths and Paradoxes’. He points out that in the 19th century, the most highly protectionist European countries experienced the most rapid trade expansion and economic growth. In continental Europe, the rate of growth reached its peak at the time all countries strengthened their protection. He further says “The best 20 years of American growth took place in the 20 years (1890-1910) when its trade policy was protectionist and Europe’s liberal. During the entire 19th century and in fact until the end of the 1920s, the USA, the ‘mother country and bastion of protectionism’ experienced one of the fastest rates of economic growth in the world.” Theoretically, free trade is an excellent idea. The world’s resources would be most productively used if each nation concentrated on doing what it could do most productively and bought from others what they could do more efficiently. The problem is in getting to this ideal state. Harvard political economist Dani Rodrik points out that to get an extra dollar of output from the world’s resources, by compelling nations to give up what others can do better than them, as many as seven dollars worth of incomes must be shuffled around within and across countries. For example, French farmers may have to stop producing grain, US workers stop producing cars etc, and these activities must be transferred to other countries. Such transitions are not easy. Democratic governments, in the US, India and elsewhere have to face their electorates, who complain of their pain here and now, during these transitions towards an economist’s pie-in-the-sky in the future. In a static world, advantages are derived from fixed resources such as raw materials, land and geographical location, or on the false notion that some people have inherent advantages in some vocations that others can never acquire. Whereas most competitive advantages arise from capabilities and institutions that any nation can and should develop. Indeed, this is the thrust of ‘development’. Therefore, conditions of trade must be created under which less developed nations can develop the capabilities that the richer nations have. Presumably this was the objective of the Doha Round, which India is being accused of sabotaging by taking up the cause of developing nations. Development of any biological or social organism proceeds through stages. An infant experiments, learns and grows. Every species protects its young learners. They are not thrown into competition with adults until they have acquired sufficient strength because that would risk injuring them. Therefore, it is no surprise that in the history of nations that have become strong, like the USA and Japan, there are long periods during which they shielded their infant capabilities until they were strong enough to take on the world. On the other hand, some nations have been injured in recent times by a ‘big bang’ opening up of markets imposed on them by evangelists of free trade. Healthy free trade must emerge from an evolutionary process in which the interests of all nations are considered equitably. It cannot be imposed. In the Doha Round the needs of developing nations were expected to be given special consideration. Therefore, some fundamental questions underlying the WTO negotiations are: How are the rules of trade being determined, and who is determining them? Are they determined only by the rich and powerful? Or are the needs of the less privileged being heard too? In other words, is the process democratic? At stake in the Doha Round was not only the concept of free trade, but also the concept of democracy — another ideal that the US is keen to spread across the world. When India speaks up for the interests of developing countries in the Doha Round, it is asking for a new democratic global order, which the US should also want. Across the divide of developed and developing nations of the world, the US and India, one the oldest democracy, the other the largest, must be strong partners. Because both would know that free trade without democracy in global affairs will not create a better world for all.


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