Exclusive Extracts from Olympics: The India Story by Boria Majumdar
and Nalin Mehta
The book was made possible by a decision in the mid-1990s by
the International Olympic Committee to set up a public archive for scholars, in
guise of the Olympic Studies Center at Lausanne, Switzerland. It's a rare
gesture for institutions of this nature and the IOC has also taken the
initiative in encouraging scholars from around the world to make use of the
Funding scholars to dig into this fascinating archive, the
IOC has tried to live up to the declared ideals of the centre, to 'preserve
and disseminate the collective memory of the Olympic movement and to coordinate
and promote research, teaching and publications about Olympism'. Yet, no
Indian scholar had ever dug into the centre's resources before. This is not
surprising since the IOC's fellowship programme is of rather recent vintage
and not too well known outside sport history departments in the West where
Olympic studies is now among the fastest growing disciplines. For us, it boiled
down to a fortuitous, chance suggestion to apply for the fellowship. While
teaching at the University of Chicago in early 2004, John Macaloon, one of the
leading scholars of Olympism, suggested that I apply for the fellowship. It
tickled my curiosity, as it would add to the cricket and football stories that I
have retold in print over the years.
Being the only two Indians to have accessed this archive as
fellows of the museum, it has been a matter of great satisfaction personally to
be able to document the story. We are extremely confident that as more Indian
scholars find their way to this unique archive in the future, our effort will be
revised and subsequently improved upon.
Lausanne: The Thrill Of Discovery
By the banks of Lake Geneva, the IOC Museum makes a wonderful
picturesque setting. It is post-card Switzerland: the Alps all around, rural
France across the Lake and the pristine mountainous air. Could it be possible
that this building, Juan Antonio Samaranch's last gift to the IOC before he
quit office, situated as far as one can be from the dusty playing fields of
India, would contain the real answers to the riddles that plague India's
Olympic story? Why did Indian hockey rise the way it did? Why did it collapse
equally suddenly? Why does India not win Olympic medals? What indeed does
India's Olympic progression tell us about the nature of Indian society and
politics and the manner in which these have evolved?
Tokyo 1964: India vs Pakistan (1:0)
Soon after my formal introduction to the staff of the Studies
Center in December 2004, I casually inquired into what the archive contained on
India. Much had not been written on the subject: except the occasional tribute
to our rare Olympic achievers or the scathing critiques following dismal outings
at various Games, literature on India at the Olympics is minimal. The answer I
got from the museum staff was startling. I was told there was hardly anything
that would be of significance to an Indian historian in what is the world's
largest repository on Olympic studies.
It was a reality check, and for the first two weeks I was
left with nothing to do but read the voluminous tomes of the IOC's Executive
Council minutes through the years. The Indian presence in these records was
limited to saying a mere 'yes' or 'no' every two or three years. With my
search looking like a wild goose chase, I had almost given up by the end of the
second week. I had gone to uncover India's Olympic history but there seemed no
such thing in the records. Spirits drooping, I was preparing to use the
remaining time on my fellowship as an opportunity to explore Switzerland.
Then, like so often in academic research, pure chance brought
the vital clue that I needed. Nuria Puig, a very senior IOC employee, casually
mentioned over coffee in the first floor restaurant that I should read some of
the letters exchanged between the IOC's successive presidents and the heads of
the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), for they made fascinating reading. After
two weeks of being told that there was absolutely no specific material on India,
after two weeks of sympathetic glances from the IOC's librarians, this casual
remark was like raindrops after a long drought. This was the precisely the kind
of thing I was looking for and hadn't found. Nuria hadn't even finished her
sentence before I was dragging her off to the library to show me some of these
What opened up before me was a virtual treasure: an entire
cabinet full of files containing memos, letters and documents exchanged between
the IOC and Indian sports administrators over the last 75 years. There were
thousands of these documents and God knows how many more cabinets inside. I was
suddenly aware that there, right in front of me, was the material, which would
help us piece together the story of India's Olympic encounter. The librarians
did not point these out to me simply because this correspondence had been filed
away as part of normal bureaucratic procedure. No one had ever asked for an
Indian collection; so a dossier had never been created.
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