Here’s an interesting alternative medal table (h/t KiwiClaire). It ranks the countries not by how many Beijing Olympic medals they have won, but by their ratio of medals to population, and to GDP.
Britain does not do quite as well in this analysis, and the lead over Australia we have been boasting about vanishes.
What’s noticeable, however, is India’s lack of impact. With only one gold and one bronze medal to share amongst a population of 1.1bn, the planet’s second most populous nation sits at the bottom of the table for both population and GDP measures.
Now, gold medals only really matter if they contribute to a sense of national pride and happiness, as they clearly do here in the UK. If the Indians don’t really care about the Olympics, and are instead focused on their cricket (say), then maybe this underperformance will have no effect. However, if sporting actually results in some kind of increased cultural capital, then surely India is losing out?
And I would say that sporting excellence does increase your cultural influence abroad. With Ussain Bolt’s victories in the 100m and 200m sprints, we have been treated to highly positive coverage of Jamaica and Jamaicans, a welcome change from the terrible impression of the carribean islands we have experienced in recent weeks.
Perhaps India needs another decade or so before it can exploit its Olympic potential. As the New York Times interactive map shows, the now-dominant China were Olympic minnows before 1984.