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Reviewed by:
  • Olympics: The India Story
  • Tony Bijkerk
Majumdar, Boria and Nalin Mehta. Olympics: The India Story. New Delhi: Harper Collins Publishers. Pp. 380. Notes and index.

For the very first time, two Indian sports historians have completed research in the history of Olympic participation of their beloved country in the Games. Beginning under the name "British India," when India was still a colony in the British Empire, this book describes the immense problems facing the initiators as they started their journey into Olympic history in the 1920s.

Today India is the world's second largest country with over one billion inhabitants, but at that time it was rife with internal struggles, not only because many political factions in the various provinces all wanted dominance, but also because the caste system was still an important factor in everyday life. It was thanks to two far-thinking Bengal pioneers, Sir Dorabji Tata followed later by G.B. Sondhi—both from Patiala—that, with help from several Indian princes, a small team participated in the 1920 Olympics, albeit with little result. At the 1924 Olympics in Paris, Indian participants, all of them in athletics, again had little success.

Dorabji Tata was the son of the founder of the famous Tata Steel Company and largely educated in England. He also became the first president of the All India Olympic Association, but this lasted no more than three years. It was then replaced with the Indian Olympic Association, which continues to administer Indian sport till the present day. [End Page 174]

It is impossible to describe the complete contents of this highly commendable book in a few sentences. However, what emerges is the fantastic dominance of the Indians at field hockey which, alas for them, disappeared when artificial turf came into existence (a fact that still forms a matter of dispute in Indian hockey circles today). That dominance began in 1928, when field hockey entered the Olympic program. It was the start of a string of Olympic gold medals in this sport, lasting no less than twenty-eight years with six consecutive Indian champion-teams in a row. There was an intermezzo in 1960, when "only" a silver Olympic medal could be added, but the series continued in 1964 with a 1–0 win over arch-rival Pakistan. From that moment the decline of Indian supremacy began although it was halted once again at Moscow in 1980 when another Olympic gold medal was added. This Olympic medal was however tarnished because several of the leading European nations in hockey, such as Germany and the Netherlands, did not participate.

Of course, this review should name names: the famous player Dyan Chand, for example, who won three consecutive gold medals in 1928, 1932 and 1936. He became India's true hero in this sport, yet he started his career as a simple enlisted "sepoy" in the Indian Army. During the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, Chand scored 14 of India's 29 goals in the tournament, while India received not one goal against.

The Indian team won its second Olympic gold medal at the Games in Los Angeles in 1932 but with only two opponents, Japan and the United States. Again Chand gave an outstanding performance, just as he did in 1936 at the Olympic Games in Berlin where he was captain of the Indian team: Without conceding a single goal the Indian team trounced Hungary (4 – 0) and the USA (7 – 0) in the preliminaries; in the semi-final they beat France (10 – 0). Only in the final did they concede a goal; Chand scored six of the eight goals in their 8 – 1 victory over Germany.

However, the authors made one mistake in this book, which could have been avoided with a more diligent study of the available sources. They claim that India was the only nation not to use the Nazi salute with the raised right hand. This is definitely not correct as demonstrated in Leni Riefenstahl's film of the event. Several other nations, including Great Britain, the U.S., and the Netherlands also declined to make that salute.

Nevertheless this book is a true treasure trove, because it also gives insight into...


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