Why do some countries fare better in some sports?

I looked at the London 2012 medal tally – .

Here are some of my findings – some not surprising:

  1. Most Eastern nations have won medals in Individual Sports (weightlifting, badminton, judo, archery, wrestling, shooting) – and not many in Team Sports.
  2. Most Western nations have won medals in Team Sports. And also in Individual Sports.
  3. Of the Individual Sports that Eastern nations have done well in, the predominant sports are those that have minimal infrastructure requirements (weightlifting, boxing, judo, wrestling..) and the athlete can largely train by themselves – with minimal state/external support.
  4. The Individual Sports that Western nations have done well in have infrastructure requirements (Cycling, Rowing, Sailing, Equestrian, Sailing, Fencing….). These sport require state/external support for the athlete to train – relatively speaking.
  5. Team Sports is largely dominated by Western nations.

Some thoughts:

  1. Is the higher team sport orientation in the Western nation due to the industrial revolution & a religious ethos that emphasised working with the community (“Work is Worship”)- as against “looking inward” and a more individualistic approach to salvation? And hence the sports they played ensured that they built the community/team spirit. Most Eastern “sports” actually started out as “arts” – and have a very high level of inward focus. Take any martial art as an example.
  2. Most team sports originated in the Western hemisphere. Most Eastern sports are individual in nature.
  3. Most “Western” sports require a playing field/court (e.g. Basketball, Football, Tennis) that is much larger than the space that most Eastern sports/activities need (e.g. Judo, Wrestling, Boxing). I find it hard to believe that Western nations had more natural open play areas than Eastern nations. The society must have encouraged team sports and playspaces for the same.
  4. For Eastern nations to counter this infra advantage (for whatever reason), they should add sports that do not have high infrastructure requirements. E.g. The move from grass to turf in Hockey (apart from other factors) has destroyed the natural advantage that Indian hockey had.

Am sure if Kabaddi gets added, we will win for a few Olympics and then it will be played on Astroturf!

For India, as we talk about how to win more medals, the choice of sport and the infrastructure related “liability of origin” (a phrase coined by IIMB Professor J Ramchander) has to be accounted for.

Else we will end up fighting a battle on someone else’s field – literally!

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