2011 An Uneven Year For Indian Sports
In the year of high and lows for Indian sports, cricket again hogged the limelight, hockey was a big let-down while football struggled. The year opened with the men in blues led by MS Dhoni winning the World Cup which sent the millions of fans in raptures but ended disastrously with hockey team failing to win the Champions Challenge Trophy.
Lots has been written about Indian cricket as despite team losing badly in England it regained ground by thrashing the Brits at home and then outplayed West Indies to win the test series. Indian cricket looks healthy because of abundance of talent. In the home series against England and West Indies, absence of spinner Harbhajan Singh, pacer Zaheer Khan and all rounder Yuvraj Singh was not felt. Youngsters are knocking at the door and those who got the chance made full use of the opportunity. Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, V Aaron are representative of young brigade who have cemented their places in the national side.
The cricketers are flushed with money, the other games are in a desperate situation, financially and because of their low standing in the world. So-called national game hockey continues to struggle for survival, while football slipped further down the FIFA ranking and at the close of the year was placed lowly 160th. Hockey fans are worried as the India has yet not qualified for the Olympics and now the Champions Challenge Trophy proved, if proof was indeed needed that Indian hockey has a long way to go before it can hope for a podium place in a big international competition.
Last year, India had finished third in Champions Challenge and much was made of the podium finish that time. Mercifully nobody is talking about team finishing runners up. Because this tournament is on the format of winners take all. That means that only one team qualifies for the Champions Trophy and rest of the standing has no meanings whether one finishes second or sixth.
If that was not enough, there is confusion about some top players playing in the World Series Hockey (WSH). Instead of planning out strategy for the revival of hockey, the games administrators were playing politics. Mid-way through the Champions Challenge Trophy, the players were asked to issue statements that they would not be playing WSH. This was no time to divert players’ attentions. They should have been concentrating on the game but they got entangled in this petty politics.
Aslam Sher Khan, former Olympian, and who has authored a book To Hell with Hockey is bitter the way hockey is being run and he is not alone. Several other Olympians and Internationals including Pargat Singh and SS Grewal were of the view that if India did not qualify this time Olympics, it would be difficult to revive the Interest in the game in the country.
Indian football slumped further as team failed in the Asian Confederation Cup. Team India also flopped in the world cup or Olympic qualifiers. The domestic scene also looked gloomy as one more club—JCT—was disbanded with its owners announcing that it was becoming financially difficult to run the club. Amid this gloomy scenario, the poster boy of the game in the country Baichung Bhutia has announced his retirement from international arena.
He will now spend most of his time with his own team United Sikkim Football Club (USFC) which he has set up to give back to the game which has given him so much .
“Let’s not forget India is a vast country and football has a huge fan following. But there are certain parts which hasn’t had a representation as far as the I-League is concerned. Hence, I thought we should have a local team from Sikkim which should serve as a role model to others,” he said and one wishes others will also follow in his footsteps.
“Indian football has a long way to go before it can emerge as a major force in Asia, leave alone the world. But for that we need to start from the grassroots. We need to have good infrastructure. I see a future for Indian football. Top clubs of the world are coming here to open their academies. Inter Milan, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United have shown interest to train our talented youngsters. It depends on how we make use of their expertise,” said football expert Novy Kapadia.
In individual sports, Indian athletics was shaken to the core with eight of its top performers failing the drug test. The athletic scene which promised so much and was suddenly reduced to shambles with everybody involved with the sports scurrying for cover as the country’s reputation in the international sports arena took a hard knock.
Three of that quartet of golden girls—Mandeep Kaur, Sini Jose, Ashwini—who flunked dope tests were also in that gold-medal winning squad that went on to win the Asian Games title also a month later. Jauna Murmu, another runner in the dope net was part of the team in the preliminary round in CWG.
The doping scandal involving leading athletes will definitely effect India’s preparations for the London Olympics, with their women relay team virtually destroyed. It is not the first time that athletes in the country have failed the drug test, but this is perhaps the first time that so many top stars have tested positive. Till some time ago, it was the dope-tainted weightlifters who were scorned for bringing bad name to the country but now the athletes have hit the ‘notorious zone’ big time bringing forth all sorts of conspiracy theories.
“They ran off down the street,” the chairman of Athletics South Africa’s Anti-doping Commission, Chris Hattingh told The Times Johannesburg, about the Indian athletes fleeing when a team from the SA Institute of Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) came calling. “One even left his shoes behind,” Mr Hattingh was quoted as saying. Indian Olympic Association (IOA) acting president Vijay Kumar Malhotra did not hide his disgust over the dope scandal. While holding no brief for the tainted sportspersons, he said the coaches and other SAI officials were equally responsible for this mess.
“It is no small matter, Country’s reputation has been tarnished in the international sports arena,” he said adding: While the Sports Ministry’s single point agenda is to take over the sports federations, it cannot make its own agency—Sports Authority of India (SAI)—accountable.
So far 21 sportspersons including eight shooters have qualified for the Olympics. “We expect that about 50 or more athletes will represent the country in the Olympics,” opined IOA secretary General Randhir Singh. “The competition to qualify for the mega event has become very competitive and tough, but I am optimist that many more Shooters, boxers, wrestlers will qualify along with Hockey team.”
Needless to say, seven months before the Olympics Indian sports faces a huge challenge and it remains to be seen whether we will get more medals in London or slip. Also the sports buffs are waiting nervously for the Olympic hockey qualifier scheduled to be held here in February next year, fervently praying that national team makes to the games, where it had once won eight Gold medals.
By Harpal Singh Bedi