Olympics: The Sob-Stuff
What is the right methodology for proving our mettle? Why do sports get the last priority in our country? Could it be our gene or psychology? Or is the Indian mentality flawed, that does not allow sportsmen to be classified as skilled human resources?
No youth would ever choose a career in the discus, gymnastics, or swimming for that matter. Sports draw less attraction as a future career opportunity in general. With the current sponsorship-advertising regime being in vogue, money is not the object. Average Indian looking for a job is unable to adapt to the concept of short-term security. We begin with long-term planning such as retirement, before we start working. Sports, unfortunately, deviate from such thought process. Not everyone gets to be a legend.
Our government is striving hard to come up with some solution for the above problem. Almost every other athlete has a job with the government—state or central—and even in public sector. Unfortunately it is not enough. Let us take the case of Mary Kom, the 29-year-old world boxing champion from Manipur is employed with the Manipur Police. But deprived of resources she couldn’t take her coach to the Olympics. How unfortunate and sorry state of affairs! What is needed is to promote sports to the status of a viable vocation. A serious thought has to be put.
Occupation is the key factor in a person’s upbringing. In India where a child is initiated with his future profession much before he/she is able to understand the meaning of the term, sports fall back as a shining prospect for many parents. We do see a sizeable enrollment in sports clubs, children training hard in various games. But can the Indian mind-set actually look beyond “extracurricular” activity or perhaps “hobby” ? The percentage is pretty low for those who get an opportunity for a job. So it is self-explanatory that in India sports do not guarantee returns, which is quite evident. We also need to understand the system other countries have opted for. China for one has proved to be an excellent case for topping the chart in Olympics after the USA and what were they before in comparison to the USA and other European countries?
At lot many hurdles one has to overcome to become an athelete. Perhaps in other countries one does not have to face the similer situation. There was one such incident in Sikkim , where a participant trainee went without meals during night and it was not for a single night. Later it came to the notice that the hostel did not have adequate ration. Even hockey, the national sport, is not barred from this deprivation. The players practice on a natural turf due to lack of availability of artificial ones. Therefore, they compete on unfamiliar turfs and we expect result from them with such facilities at their disposal! There is no dearth of talents but certainly dearth of equipment to facilitate them to face international competition.
In India, the grave situation for sport infrastructure is quite evident. In hockey it has only 15 astro-turfs all over the country, whereas a small country like Holland has more than 200 astro-turfs (artificial turfs). This is a perennial problem. Also not to forget the withdrawal of football team from the 1950 world cup, despite qualifying for it, because of lack of funds to travel. While the financial state of that time may not be known, the current state is visible to all to analyse. In 2008, Rs 1111.81 crore was allocated to the union ministry of sports. So one can’t help but think that, each year Indian sports are hard pressed under corruption, as was witnessed during the Commonwealth Games. And this occurs somewhere within the Sports Ministry.
Another problem which is deep rooted is socio-economic cause. In an interview, a well-known veteran Indian footballer said that quite a few players initially began practicing because of early morning breakfast, bread and eggs which were the center of attraction. Although there are other underdeveloped and third world countries facing malnourishment among children, India isn’t far behind and it is well known all over. Generally successful Olympians start young. Michael Phelps was 7 years old, Ryan Lochte was 5 and Nikolai Andrianov was 11 years when they started training. How can we expect such performance when, during that age, a large number of our children are malnourished?
The private sector should also come forward for promoting other sports. A situation like IPL, which has shot up and is recognised all over the world, needs to be created for players of other sports. A positive step like this would brighten future prospects for winning medals. Furthermore, there should be greater transparency and accountability on the budget allocated to the ministry of sports.
However, it is not the government alone that holds the most important key. Every individual, the average Indian, has a vital role to play. We need to popularise other sports quite akin to cricket. Almost every individual should be bestowed with celebrity status. True hero’s spirit of the Indian athletes, who, despite all the odds, work hard not only to train themselves but also to make the country proud. It is about time we gave them what they truly deserved—our respect and reverence. And next time when you see some child pondering over his career prospects, remind him/her of the glory that Sushil Kumar and Mary Kom achieved in Olympics 2012.
By Siddhartha Bose