India’s show at the Olympics is something we as Indians are always proud of, But the story that paved India into the Olympics map was written by no sportsman but an industrialist named Sir Dorabji Tata.
Sir Dorabji Tata was the 2nd chairman of the Tata group and elder son of Jamsetji Tata, whose tireless efforts made it possible for an Indian contingent to participate in their first-ever Olympics.
The Desire of Sir Dorabji
The story goes back to 1919 when Sir Dorabji Tata was the chief guest at the annual Sports meet of the Deccan Gymkhana in Pune. He noticed that most of the athletes at the meet were farmers running bare-footed, but still, they are matching European standards.
Sir Dorabji was a keen athlete and excellent horseman. He was filled with a desire to see an Indian team participate in Olympics.
At his urging, Sir Lloyd George, the Governor of Mumbai, took up cudgels on behalf of Indian athletics and obtained affiliation for India with the International Olympic body.
India at Antwerp in 1920
Since there were no funds as there was no Indian Olympic team before, Sir Dorabji decided to personally finance the first Indian team to the Antwerp Olympics in 1920. In fact, because there was no official body, he also helped establish a committee to select the team.
The First ever Indian team were the proud flag bearers. All of them came from farming backgrounds but for selected on their merits. They didn’t win any medals, but the team planted the country’s flag proudly and firmly at the Games. Thereafter, India has participated in every Summer Olympics without exception.
“I, therefore, offered to arrange for the sending of three of the best runners to Antwerp to run the Olympic Marathon at the next meeting, when I hoped that with proper training and food under English trainers and coaches, they might do credit to India. This proposal fired the ambition of the nationalist element in the city, to try and send a complete Olympic team.”Sir Dorabji later wrote, in a personal letter addressed to the President of the International Olympics Committee, Count Baillet Latour, in 1929
India’s First Gold
This pioneering sporting spirit eventually led to the Indian Olympics Association (IOA) formation in 1927, with Sir Dorabji as its first President. The IOA selected India’s team for the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.
The Indian team excelled in all its preliminary games. Then, in the finals, India beat Netherlands 3-0, to claim its first-ever Olympic gold medal.
Dream Come True
Sir Dorabji’s desire to see India excel at the Olympics had finally come alive. He himself was selected as a member of the International Olympic Committee, yet another proud moment for India. A few years later, in 1932, Sir Dorabji passed away. To him, India owes its first team participation in the Olympics and the creation of the Indian Olympic movement.
Since then, Tatas’ involvement with the Olympics and sports has come a long way. Over the years, the Tata Group itself has contributed an amazing number of Olympians to the country (more than 52), including Baldev Singh, Levy Pinto, Charles Borromeo, Bahadur Singh, TC Yohannan, Deepika Kumari and Adille Sumariwalla.