WHAT THE OLYMPICS TELL US ABOUT THE PSYCHE OF A NATION – INDIA AND CHINA ON THE COUCH BY RAJ PERSAUD

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WHAT THE OLYMPICS TELL US ABOUT THE PSYCHE OF A NATION – INDIA AND CHINA ON THE COUCH

RAJ PERSAUD

China and India are the two emerging super-powers of the 21st century, but is China racing ahead – creating an impossible gap for India to now close?

The Olympics could be an early clue as to the eventual result of this marathon. Beijing’s games were hailed as an organisational triumph. India’s Commonwealth adventure in comparison, while eventually a success, were beset by multiple crises in the lead up to the opening.

China is already snapping at the heels of the Americans in the main Olympics, and have twice the number of medals as their nearest rival in the Para-olympics. India is said to boast the dubious distinction of the lowest number of total Olympic medals per head of population, of any country in the world.

Kevin Freeman, a Political Scientist at the University of North Carolina, USA, argues success in the Olympics contributes to nation building, national pride, identity and the enhancement of the national brand to the outsideworld.

The Olympics are really all about the national psyche.

He argues in a recently published academic paper entitled ‘Sport as swaggering: utilizing sport as soft power’, that the games are vital to national pride and identity, because nothing competes with the Olympics forworldwide media attention.

Freeman contends the games are really one large propaganda exercise for nationalism. They are dominated by nationalistic rituals, whether they be the parade of countries at the opening and closing ceremonies,preoccupation with medal league tables, singing national anthems, or raising national flags of victorious athletes.

Freeman’s paper, published in the academic journal ‘Sport in Society’, argues sport is unique – appearing to unify us through a sense of global community, with common rules and practices, yet divides, in its celebration of national competition.

The Chinese are estimated to have spent 40 billion US dollars on the Beijing games, while London’s are estimated to cost around a third to a quarter of that, with Athens came in at under a quarter of the Chinese spend. Freeman believes the Chinese consciously pursued national pride and the international branding benefits of sporting success at the Olympics, spending vastly more than any other country in history.

Democratic India might comfort itself that authoritarian societies encourage patriotism to discourage rebelliousness. It’s no accident totalitarian  Russia and the Eastern European bloc did so well at the Olympics under communism. A democracy like India just couldn’t buy such success by diverting precious resources to secure medals. 

But in spite of cultural and economic constraints, India needs to urgently remedy the situation not only for Freeman’s reasons, but also to inculcate more competitiveness and courage in the national psyche. Everyone would also benefit from more attention to sport for health reasons. Indians are prone to a host of disorders linked to obesity.

Since Los Angeles in 1984, no Games have actually turned a net profit, which begs the question given the financial  penalty, why countries continue to desperately pursue hosting them? Freeman concludes the benefits mustcome from ‘intangibles’ such are cultural swagger. The reality is the games were always all about national pride and international prestige.

So China are out of the starting blocks and around the first bend, but where is India? If too big a gap opens up now, (how long will it be before an Indian city hosts the games?) will it become impossible to overhaul the Chinese?

REFERENCE: Kevin Freeman (2012): Sport as swaggering: utilizing sport as soft power, Sport

in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics, DOI:10.1080/17430437.2012.690403

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17430437.2012.690403

Lakshmi Persaud – the mother of Dr Raj Persaud, will be reading from and talking about her latest book ‘Daughters of Empire’ at The Nehru Centre 8 South Audley Street, London W1K 1HF, refreshments provided, Thursday 27th September 6.30pm.

Daughters of Empire (Peepal Tree Press, 2012) is a sweeping family saga, across generations and continents, a moving portrayal of migration and the challenges it presents. This is unlike any other novel of the Asian experience in Britain. The prejudices a middle class family face are insidious and subtle. Governments urge immigrants to ‘assimilate’ but when you’ve mastered the language and attended the best British universities, it may still be impossible to truly fit in.

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