Untold lives blog

03 August 2012

India and the Olympic Games

India has a contingent of 81 athletes at London 2012, its largest ever Olympic squad. In an attempt to boost their medal tally, billionaire tycoon Lakshmi Mittal set up the Mittal Champions Trust which has so far spent £8 million on structured training for Indian sportsmen and women.

Before 1920, India did not send a proper team to the Olympics.  In the Paris Games of 1900 the sole representative was Norman Pritchard (born of British parents in Calcutta) who won silver medals in the 200 metres and 200 metres hurdles.

The Indian Olympic Association was established in November 1919 ‘to secure proper representation for India at the next Olympic Games to be held in Belgium in 1920 and to take steps to select, train and send competitors from India for the same’. Athletes from the Native States were to be eligible as well as those from British India. The India Office Records holds printed progress reports issued by the IOA from its headquarters at the Deccan Gymkhana at Pune. The IOA had a membership of 3,793 by June 1920 and had received generous donations from Sir Dorabji Tata, the Maharaja of Navanagar, the Maharaja of Drangadhra and other Indian rulers, as well as a non-recurring grant from the Government of India. Tata attended the 1920 Antwerp Games as the Indian representative on the International Olympic Committee. 


India Olympics

In April 1920 the IOA selection committee chose:
P. D. Chaugule marathon and 10,000 metres
H. D. Kaikadi marathon
D. D. Shinde wrestling
P. C. Bannerjee short races
K. T. Navale wrestling
S. V. Datar marathon

On 5 June 1920 the team sailed from Bombay to Tilbury in the SS Mantua.  The Secretary of the British Olympic Association intended to give them ‘a hearty British welcome’ as they completed their final training in England. Edwin Samuel Montagu, Secretary of State for India, wrote to Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War, suggesting that the India contingent might be housed in a military rest camp at Antwerp. Churchill agreed to provide accommodation only and stressed that this must not create a precedent. 

The results were:

• Bannerjee - 100 metres and 400 metres - knocked out in the heats. Flag bearer for India at the opening ceremony.
• Chaugule - did not finish 10,000 metres ; marathon - 19th in 2 hours 50:45.4 and awarded a diploma of merit for being a top 30 finisher.
• Datar  - did not finish marathon.
• Navale  -catch-as-catch-can middleweight class wrestling - equal 9th.
• Shinde - catch-as-catch-can featherweight class wrestling - 4th.

Kaikadi appears not to have competed.

After Antwerp, India Office officials were keen to encourage India’s participation in future Games. They believed that the Olympic movement was important to India ‘both as an outlet for her national aspirations and as a declaration of her national status’.  The IOA began a search for talented athletes throughout India and the path to 2012 was begun.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:

IOR/L/PJ/6/1634, File J&P 6783 of 1919


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