Why India Is Not A (Super) Power In Sports
There is a school of thought which mocks at country’s bid to emerge as a sporting nation by saying that India has no sporting culture and its establishment is desperately trying to imitate the western and developed countries to be counted in this arena also.
India is not like any other country. A-billion strong nation had different priorities relating to socio-economic issues and in such a scenario, it’s sporting planning and achievements have to be seen in different context.
India is huge, diverse, multicultural democratic society and it will not be far-fetched to say that sports has played no mean role in providing sense of oneness, unity and pride among the people in the country, though it may have not achieved many a milestones on the world arena. It is interesting to note that sports in the country have been middle and lower-middle class phenomenon. Before and immediately after Independence, some former maharajas or royal families used to show some interest in sports but that patronage vanished with the passage of time.
Very few industrialists or politicians (with some exceptions) showed any involvement in games soon after the Independence and in a long list of illustrious sportspersons, who have done country proud since 1947, more than 90 per cent belong to lower or middle strata of the society. These very people united the country. They gave their best in tiring conditions without much economic support. They cut across provisional, religion, caste, colour language barriers and when they achieved any thing in the International arena every Indian felt proud.
In these circumstances, Sports achieved, what no other sector of the society has been achieved, without quota system. Sportspersons from humble background rose to become national icon defying all the barriers. Sports in the process has been a biggest leveler. In our caste-ridden and class-conscious society these sportspersons proved several leading theoreticians wrong who opined that rigid caste and class will never allow bright people from these strata to compete with upper-caste and rich people.
A unique feature of the Indian sports is that it is secular to the core. There may have been instances of regionalism but seldom communalism. Few months after Independence, Indian football team for 1948 London Olympics included four muslim players—Taj Mohammed, SM Kaiser, SA Basheer and M Ahmed Khan—a remarkable feat in itself. In early sixties after Nari Contracter (a Parsi) got injured in West Indies, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi became the youngest captain of the Indian Cricket team, and at present hockey, cricket, football teams have more than half of the players who carry minority tag but are there on their own performance.
Yes, if India is to be compared with other smaller and underdeveloped countries in the sporting arena, it does not cover itself with a glory. Since Independence, in 16 Olympic Games, India has won only 15 medals (six gold, two silver, seven bronze)—out of which Hockey team has earned more than half of them—five Gold (1948,52,56,64,80) one silver (1960) and two bronze (1968,1972). Remaining six has been claimed by individuals: Shooting: Gold 2008 (Beijing) Abhinav Bindra, Silver 2004 (Athens) Rajyavardhan Rathore. Tennis: Bronze—Leander Paes 1996 (Atlanta), Wrestling: Bronze—Dadasaheb Jadhav, 1956 (Helsinki) Bronze—Sushil Kumar, 2008 (Beijing) Boxing: Bronze—Vijender Singh, 2008 (Beijing) Weightlifting: Bronze-Karnam Malleswari 2000 (Sydney).
According to several informal statistics, India is the country in the world with the lowest number of total Olympic medals per capita. The country was placed 71st, 71st, 65th and 50th at the 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics respectively. New York Times (NYT) once made unflattering comments on the condition of the Indian sports and mockingly compared it to with other non-aligned countries. According to the paper though “the demands of development in the third world require priorities other than sports, such countries as Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia have produced world champions”.
“And other poor or small nations, such as Zaire, Zambia and Uruguay, have at least qualified for the World Cup Soccer Tournament.” It further noted: “In light of India’s achievements in increasing agricultural production, in scientific work and in lifting life expectancy since independence, the poor performance in sports is not deemed so serious. Nevertheless, it is clear that at least among the urban elite, there is a hunger for a real sports hero.”
The problem is that India is not like any other developing country. Its problems are unique and sports can not be seen in isolation. The facts and stark reality is that the nation has not been able to create a sports culture. Though, the situation is changing but still employment remains the main issue. Family pressure on children is to study and try to get a job as early as possible and not to waste time on sport.
Another important reason for the dismal condition of country’s sports is that it has become “cricket centric” and other disciplines have just lost out. Cricket has emerged number one sports in India and in a scale of 1 to 10, the it occupies first seven or eight slots leaving the remaining two for either Golf, Tennis, Hockey or Football. “If you are a sportsman, you have to be a class above the rest,” said former Indian Hockey captain Pargat Singh “In India; he has not even been an equal.”
However, for those who dub India a nation without sporting culture, it comes as a surprise that sports played a very important role in ancient times. According to legends, physical culture in ancient India was fed by a powerful religious rite. The mantra in the Atharva—Veda say,” Duty is in my right hand and the fruits of victory in my left.” These words which virtually echo the traditional Olympic oath: “For the Honour of my Country and the Glory of Sport.”
Archery, Wrestling, Chess, Yoga find mention in Mahabharat, Ramayan and other old scriptures. Polo and horse riding was popular events in medieval times. Polo though not very popular now, still retains aura and élan and Indian team has even qualified for the Workd Cup many a times. With such a rich tradition, India should have been a sporting power, if not a super power. But it has yet to earn a respect and awe from comity of nations.
A study by ASSOCHAM tried to find out the reason “With exception of the money-spinning game of cricket, a majority of India’s urban youth is disinclined toward taking up sports as a career and prefer jobs in sectors like finance, retail and IT.” “Sports has failed to lure urban youth as a career prospect, with only 30 per cent youth from Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh opting for a career in sports, as it leads to jobs in the railways, state government departments, public sector undertakings. The rural youth are also likely to follow suit as cricket is perceived as a sport of quick and high earning as against hockey, football and archery,” said the study. Of the country’s 78 crore youth, only 10-12 crore have access to sports infrastructure, impeding growth of sports as a career option among the youth.
Until 1970’s India dominated international hockey, winning eight Olympic gold medals (including three before Independence), the World Cup in 1975 and were runners-up in the 1973 World Cup. However, India’s recent performance has been very dismal and they finished poor 8th in the World Cup held early this in Delhi. India is currently ranked 9th in the world. India is the powerhouse in the world of Kabbadi. In all six Asian Games (since 1990) the country has maintained its supermacy in this discipline winning gold all the time. It also won the world championship.
Football was (and some say it is still) one of the major sports in some areas of the country and is equally popular as cricket. India was an Asian powerhouse until the sixties, but gradually the standard of game declined and presently India is 146 in the FIFA rankings. The country won the International (ODI) World Cup in 1983, and though it has yet to win another title, the game never looked back after that victory. It also won the inaugural T-20 World Cup in 2007. At present, India ranks as the number one team in test matches and number two in ODIs.
India has produced World champions in individual games like snooker, billiards, chess and shooting, women boxing and have done very well in golf, badminton, archery, wrestling and boxing. Pankaj Advani, is a World Snooker Champion and has the distinction of being the only cue player to have completed the “grand double”, winning both the points and times formats in 2005 at the IBSF World Billiards Championships and in 2008 at the Bangalore Championships.
Vishwanathan Anand is World Chess Champion. If chess has risen in popularity in the country in the last decade its credit goes Anand. While Saina Nehwal is now number two in the Women Badminton Ranking. This is the great achievement by any Indian shuttler after Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand won the All-England in 1980 and 2001 respectively. In shooting apart from Abhinav Bindra who won the 2008 Olympic Gold, Gagan Narang and Tejaswani Sawant have bagged the world titles. Boxer Vijender Kumar, Beijing Olympic bronze medal winner, is presently world number 1 in the middleweight class. Sushil Kumar another bronze medal winner in Beijing is India’s main spearhead in Wrestling.
India has emerged as a force to reckon with in golf. The most successful Indian golfer is Jeev Milkha Singh, winner of several titles, including three European tour, four Japan tour and six Asian tour titles. He has won the Asian tour order of merit twice. Other Indians who have won the Asian tour order of merit are Jyoti Randhawa in 2002 (the first Indian to achieve this) and Arjun Atwal. India bagged men’s golf team and Individual gold at the 1982 Asian Games and gold at 2002 Busan and a silver at the 2006 Asiad tennis stars Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi who have won several doubles and mixed doubles grand slams.
Delhi boy Yuki Bhambari is former junior world number one and at present is Australian Open junior singles champion. Somdev Devvarman and Rohan Boppana are new hopes for the Indian tennis. Rahul Banerjee, Mangal Singh Champia and Jayanta Talukdar, won the gold in the World Cup Archery (stage 2). Manipur Girl Mary Kom has won the World Boxing title for record fourth time has won. Sharath Kamal, winner of gold medal in the Melbourne Commonwealth Games is just outside the top 50 in the world. In volleyball, India ranks in at 32nd in the world and 7th in Asia. In basketball, country is 58th in the world and 14th in Asia.
Indian Olympic Association (IOA), is hopeful that standard of sports will improve and country will emerge as super power. “We have enormous potential,” asserted Randhir Singh, secretary general of IOA. “The economic growth of India has changed the thinking. Sports are becoming important and popular. It is time make sports a compulsory subject,” opined former hockey captain Ajit Pal Singh, “But it is also the time that people should also start taking active part in the Games.”
By Harpal Singh Bedi