If You Dishonour Your Past, Do Not Expect A Future
Faced with a relentless media outcry of “wasteful expenditure”, the Goa government cancelled a state-funded trip of six legislators, including three ministers, to Brazil to watch the football World Cup that would have cost the exchequer Rs 89 lakh. CM Manohar Parrikar was humble enough to admit that this decision was taken “bowing to public sentiments”. However the moot point was that originally six footballers were intended to go, but the ministers edged in.
This was another example of the sad state of affairs for sportsmen in the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been talking on Indian pride, but somehow in the entire media campaign, sports and sportsmen took a back seat. The Indian public, it is said, has a notoriously bad memory. The very men who inspired the country by their experts in the sports arena are forgotten as time goes by. In a nation obsessed with cricket, sportsmen in other fields have traditionally got a raw deal.
Two recent films, ‘Bhag Milkha Bhag’ and ‘Pan Singh Tomar’ were good examples of the way we treat our sportsmen. India’s obsession with cricket has even led to the country’s national game, hockey going a-begging for sponsors. Some of Indian sport’s greatest moments have come from sports other than cricket. Rarely have Indian sportsmen, except cricketers, been given their due. In this era of endorsements worth crores, many of the persons who raised the glory of India abroad live in penury.
It is asked on occasion, why doesn’t India win many medals at Asian Games, Olympic Games? The nation’s poor performance in the medals tally initiates debates which last a month and are then forgotten. The onus lies largely on the administrative bodies which look after sports in India. Over a period of time, they have turned into the personal fiefdoms of politicians who have no knowledge or interest about the game. The entire edifice has been corroded with jealousies and prejudices, provincialism and communalism, anomalies and stupidities. Players are merely the pawns in the annual skirmishes for power, the stepping stones by which social climbers and careerists find their way into presidential and committee chairs. Power, pelf, influence, political clout, international exposure — the sportsmen might be denied all these, but the officials wallow in them. Politicians use sports as a platform, and if they divert sports funds for party work none is the wiser because accountability is not their strong suit. There is too the perk of disbursing profitable contracts to near and dear ones. Perhaps we get the sports minister we deserve. If at all Indians have succeeded in sports, it has been in spite of the administrative bodies and never due to them. Therefore, when a player retires, he fades into oblivion.
The government should take all steps to restore the honour of our sporting legends. For starters, the administrative bodies looking after the various sports can be purged of self-serving people with no love for sports. The next step would be to ensure that the expertise of our sporting legends is put to use in an administrative capacity. We would be getting people with the required passion for sports and who are committed to its betterment. The next step would be the creation of a benevolent fund to look after the financial needs of our indigent sportspersons. This would go a long way in ensuring that our sporting legends spend their twilight years in dignity.
There are innumerable examples galore. Makhan Singh won the , gold and silver medals at the 1962 Asian Games 1962. He was forgotten by a nation in whose name he ran, and ended up driving a truck for thirty years. Jamshed, the caddie who rose to win the Arjuna Award, is back to being an Rs. 50-an-hour caddie at the gold course. Hockey Olympian S. Dungdung once said that companies refused to hire him even as security guard.
There is a simple way to check how far behind the world India is in specific events. Take the 100 metres, for example. The Indian record is 10.3 seconds, attained in 2005. That timing was achieved by the Canadian Percy Williams in 1930. India trail by 75 years in that event! Forget about Usain Bolt and his 9.58 of 2009. Since 1984, we have won three Olympic medals. China has won 420. Enough said.
The grand panjandrums who run sport in India do not love sport, but are in love with its perks and the power that comes along with it. Government grants, publicity, political clout, foreign tours, and kickbacks from contracts. On his website Suresh Kalmadi, the black faced Commonwealth Games Organising Committee Chairman, informed us modestly that “As President of the Indian Olympic Association, I got the country the first-ever gold medal in individual event at the Beijing Olympic 2008.” In short, no sport in India except cricket is well managed. Indian sports are trapped in politics. New controversies arise almost every week. The financial status of the former sportsmen is very poor. Sports in India require a lot of improvement. Every sport has its own importance and deserves equal respect and management. The condition of the women teams is still poor. The government ought to analyze these issues before it takes some serious turns.
Recently, while interacting with two ticket collectors who had been Asiad medal winners told me that their plight was much better than the others; one was given the duty as an attendant in the parking complex outside the New Delhi Railway Station.