Of Olympics and Manipur

Rajendra Kshetri *

 Manipur Olympic Dreams 2020 Tokyo

In the more than one century old history of Olympics, India has been consistently participating in the biggest sporting event on earth. India participated for the first time at Olympics in the year 1900 on an encouraging note winning 2 Silver medals from the athletic event.

Incidentally India became the first Asian country to win a medal at Olympics. India has won 29 medals (excluding medals won at Tokyo 2020) altogether at Olympics since its participation at 1900 edition. A very dismal record and performance as compared to some Asian countries like China, Japan and South Korea.

This 29-medals across 24 Olympics Games is just one medal more than the highest number of medals, 28, won by an individual athlete, Michael Phelps in just 4 Olympics. So pathetic and shameful for a country of 1 billion plus population. What went wrong? What/who is to be blamed?

So much for India's high patronage and preoccupation with a non Olympic sport. CRICKET. The story of Indian Sports is a story of misplaced priorities.

Nineteen Eighty Four will always remain as the most memorable and landmark year in the Olympics history of Manipur. It was in this year, 35 years after Manipur's merger with the Indian Union, that a local lad Pangabam Nilkamal created history by becoming the first Manipuri ever to participate at the Los Angeles Olympics 1984. He played in Indian men's hockey team as a goalkeeper.

There has been since then consistent participation by Manipuri players/athletes, especially in the field of hockey, boxing, weightlifting, judo and archery, in the latter edition of Olympics. This year too, 5 Manipuri players/athletes are representing India at Tokyo 2020.

Manipur has produced 19 Olympians so far which in itself is no mean achievement given the size and population of the State. Of the 19 Olympians, 2 are medal winners and both women. MC Mary Korn and Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, Mary Kom created history by becoming the first Manipuri ever to win an Olympic medal (bronze) in the State and also the first Indian female boxer to claim a medal at London Olympics 2012.

By claiming the Silver Medal at Tokyo Olympics 2020 , Saikhom Mirabai Chanu created history on three counts:

Saikhom Mirabai Chanu :: Manipur Olympics Dreams 2020 Tokyo (Weightlifting)
Saikhom Mirabai Chanu at Rio Olympics 2016

Firstly, she became the First Manipuri ever to win a Silver medal at Olympics. Secondly, Mirabai became the first Indian female Weightlifter ever to win a Silver at Olympics and thirdly Ms Saikhom became the First Indian to ever win a medal on day one of the Olympics.

Mirabai Chanu's Silver medal at Tokyo Olympics couldn't have come at a more appropriate and right time. At a time when every Indian wears a gloomy and resigned look and dons a sad face, Chanu's stupendous winning performance comes as a breath of fresh air. It truly livens up the spirit of every Indian.

It is only right that tens of thousands of Congratulatory messages, right from President Kovind to Prime Minister Modi to Chief Minister Biren, from every nook and comer of the country keep pouring in, still counting, for bringing cheerful smiles back on the face of every Indian. It is as though Mirabai's winning spirit will drive away the evil spirit of Corona pandemic.

What's amazing, if looked at from the gender perspective, is the fact that women Olympians outnumbered and outshone the male counterparts. Of the 19 Olympians, 11 of them are women including the 2 medalists. The only Olympian to have represented Manipur at 3 successive Olympics is also a woman (Laishram Bombayla in archery).

Manipur is widely known for her all-women market - Ima Keithel - as the living symbol of women's empowerment. Another organic example, if one may add, is women's participation in sports. Sports (in Manipur) is an effective medium of women's empowerment.

Any doubt? Ask Mary Kom. Ask Mirabai Chanu. Ask a host of other Manipuri women Olympians . A host of Arjuna Awardees, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Awardees, Padma Awardees. If this is not one more shining example of women's empowerment through sports, what is?

Can any other Indian State as small as Manipur in terms of size and population, lack of infrastructure, or for that matter, any bigger State with huge population and better-equipped infrastructure boasts of such mind boggling achievement?

Never in the history of independent India has a State, big or small, emerge as the torchbearer of Indian Sports as Manipur did in so spectacular a manner. It is not for nothing that Manipur is called the "POWERHOUSE of INDIAN SPORTS".

How did Manipur/Manipuri players, athletes do it? How is it possible? How could a tiny State with a Sponsored Economy and ill-equipped sports infrastructure achieve such gigantic level of development (in sports)? What's her secret of success? What is the 'mantra'?

What motivates the players/athletes to go that 'extra mile' to achieve?

Some of the often-cited reasons/explanations ranges from 'to move out from the vicious cycle of poverty' to 'get job/employment', 'get awards, monetary benefits', 'bring laurels/ fame to the State/country', 'birth place of Polo' etc. etc. To this could be added (as causal factors) other reasons such as 'Manipuris are agile and athletic by birth', 'sports is a way of life', 'sports culture has been ingrained from an early age' etcetera.

These are factors, important and contributing factors, no doubt. But they themselves/alone do not/cannot explain fully and adequately the phenomenal success of Manipuri players and athletes in the field of sports. To have a comprehensive understanding of world-class performance by Manipuri players and athletes, we shall have to look from a socio-psychological perspective.

Firstly, these players/athletes have always felt/feel the 'need' to excel at something, do better than anybody else and prove that he/she is the BEST. There is this strong desire, an urge deep down inside them to achieve more. They wanted to be Achievers in the society.

The strong desire/urge to achieve drove/drive them to go 'that extra mile'. Secondly, they have the desire of "being liked" and "being accepted" by/in the society. They want to feel that they are not only in the society but of the society as well. Thirdly, they have an insatiable desire to control others and influence others. This led/lead them to thrive and drive to achieve more and more and more.

The 'need for achievement', 'n Achievement' theory or Human Motivation Theory as postulated by the American Socio-Psychologist David McClelland states that ever person "has one of three main driving motivators": the needs for achievement, affiliation or power. These motivators, according to him, are not inherent. They are developed through culture and life experiences. These three needs motivate an individual to achieve what is next to impossible.

The 'need for achievement' theory is best exemplified by the Mary Kom phenomenon, the phenomenal rise of Mirabai Chanu and several success stories of other Olympians and sportspersons of the State.

* Rajendra Kshetri wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Professor of Sociology at Manipur University, Imphal .
This article was webcasted on August 07 2021.

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