The Olympic Games are the pinnacle of any athletes’ career. Athletes put in a lifetime of work to make it to the global showpiece. For some, making it to the Games is just enough while for others, a podium finish is something ticked off their bucket list. They say numbers don’t lie and if we are to go by this old saying, it is a fact that some of seventy nations have never made it to the podium in the history of the Games. So, the million-dollar question should be why countries invest a lot of money over the four years leading up to the Games.
A nation is not defined by how big or small it is by its GDP or population. Here is an interesting fact - did you know that Bangladesh, the world’s 8th most populated country has not produced any Olympic medallist since it first took part in the Games in 1984?
It’s not just Bangladesh that is part of this statistics - Monaco too falls in this lot!
So, should we define small nations as those that keep having a crack at the Games but only fall short at the final hurdle with the finish line in sight or those that have a small medal count?
Perhaps we should try and examine where they get the hunger to keep going even when the going seems to be getting tough?
Speaking as one that comes from the so called ‘smaller nations,’ qualification to the big time for some of our athletes is a major achievement – I have seen this first hand!
We put in just as much work as the big boys or even harder but because of several factors, some of which are beyond our control as individuals we get the undesirable tag of ‘a small nation’.
The odds are against us even before the Games take center stage. We have no high-performance training facilities and the budget allocated to sports is not only grossly mismanaged but also a drop in the ocean. Let’s not forget the level of exposure many of these athletes that catapult their countries at the top of the medal table get throughout the four years leading to the Olympics by taking part at various meets and rubbing shoulders with the best there is in the business. This experience counts at the end of the day.
USA, Canada and Great Britain might not have to dig deep in their pockets to send their athletes to some of these competitions but for many in the developing world, this is a Herculean task.
But then again you look at Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, these three seem to have identified their forte and give their all when it comes to long distance running, and it has paid off. Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal including the rest of South East Asia should pick a leaf from these African countries. However, for this to be achieved we need to implement a strict policy on grassroot development sooner rather than later.
Maybe, just maybe if sports such as cricket and netball were introduced in the Olympic Games, Sri Lanka and India would be a force to reckon with every four years!
Gobinath ‘SiGo’ Sivarajah
Marketing and Media Manager – National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka
Consultant – Uganda Swimming Federation
Photos courtesy of Sri Lanka's National Olympic Committee