While the Olympic Games are considered the pinnacle of sporting achievement, there are a number of non-Olympic sports that are regarded with the same prestige by their millions of fans across the world.
India may have a mixed record at the Olympics but there are certain other sports where Indians have reached the top echelons. Here we take a look at them, summarizing Indian achievements and what can be expected in the future.
In August 2020, India won a historic gold at the Chess Olympiad after being declared joint winners along with Russia. Although the circumstances of the win were fortuitous, the fact that India reached the finals amid a strong field is remarkable.
The result was the culmination of the rapid strides India has made in the last few years. The number of Indians achieving the Grandmaster norm is rapidly growing. Many of the new GMs are child prodigies, including R. Praggnanandha, Nihal Sarin and Divya Deshmukh.
For three decades, Vishwanathan Anand has been synonymous with the sport in India. He won the FIDE Championship in 2000, and has been the undisputed World Champion four times from 2007-2012.
In the women’s game it is Koneru Humpy who has been the leading light for India. She has been among the top women’s players of the past twenty years having won numerous titles. Enjoying a resurgence in 2020, it was on the back of her efforts that India got the coveted prize in the Olympiad.
Judging by recent results, there is every chance that India could become the next global chess hub in the coming decade.
Billiards, snooker and pool have for long been a popular recreational pastime in India. In fact the game of snooker is said to have originated by British Army officers stationed in India.
In the competitive version, India has been on the global map ever since Wilson Jones won the Amateur Billiards Championship in 1958. Since Jones, five Indians have been Amateur/IBSF World Billiards Champions, the most successful being Pankaj Advani with a whopping 15 titles. He is also the current defending champion.
Advani, Geet Sethi, Rupesh Shah and Sourav Kothari have been Professional/WPBSA World Billiards Champions. Sethi has won the title 6 times with Advani winning it 4 times.
Additionally, Advani has also been a 4-time Amateur/IBSF Snooker World Champion, making him the most successful cueist from India. Omprakash Agrawal in 1984 became India’s first World Champion in snooker. Among women, Amee Kamani was the runner-up in the IBSF Women’s World Championship finals in 2016.
However so far no Indian, barring Aditya Mehta to some extent, has done as well in the World Snooker Tour. The next target for Indian cue sports would undoubtedly be to make a mark in the the lucrative professional snooker circuit. The Indian Open snooker ranking tournament introduced in 2013, can prove to be a step towards that direction.
Till 2018, India had won the men’s and women’s kabaddi gold in every Asiad since 1990, the year the sport was first introduced in the Games.
India’s spell was finally broken when Iran won the double at Jakarta–Palembang 2018. South Korea, Thailand and Chinese Taipei were the other non-South Asian medalists. These results show the increasing international reach of the traditional subcontinental sport.
India though still very much remain the team to beat in international kabaddi. They are the defending World Champions and the number 1 ranked team. India is also the home of the Pro Kabaddi League, the most popular domestic tournament of the sport.
Can India maintain their dominance? Or can the likes of Iran show that 2018 was no fluke? The next decade should be fascinating for fans of the sport even as it vies to be part of the Olympics some day.
Of course cricket had to be a part of this list. It is the national obsession and the one sport uniting a diverse country. The sport had a huge following even before India’s first World Cup victory in 1983, but the win ensured it’s popularity reached stratospheric levels.
India have been the ODI World Champions twice and T20 Champions once. In Tests, the Indian team is considered almost invincible at home and held the ICC Test Championship mace from 2016-2020.
Individually, Sachin Tendulkar holds the record for scoring the most runs and centuries in both ODI and Test cricket.
In the Women’s cricket, India were ODI World Cup runners-up twice and T20 runners-up once. Mithali Raj is the highest run scorer in Women’s ODI cricket and fast-bowler Jhulan Goswami is the highest wicket-taker till date.
India is also the financial nerve-center of the sport. The Indian Premier League is one of the richest professional sporting leagues in the world by revenue.
Women’s cricket has a lot of potential in India and the next target for the women would be to win an ICC tournament. In the men’s game, the aim of the stakeholders should be to ensure an erstwhile-West Indies/Australia-like dominance in all 3 formats of the game, home or away.