Sports & Politics A Knotty Affair
Sports and politics, both adrenaline pumping traditionally male dominated fields, have always been intertwined. But with more and more commercialisation of sports in recent times, this relationship has proved to be very chaotic. With sports’ deals turning more and more lucrative as far as commercialisation is concerned, politicisation of sports has increased manifold, in recent years
Whether it is the recent Lalit- Srinivasan saga, or the Pillai story in hockey, politicisation of sports has proved injurious and degrading for sports. If sports are to get back its lost innocence, it must no doubt be freed from this unnecessary, mindless political influence. However, it becomes necessary to examine the causes behind such politicisation over the years.
Kings and Heads of State have traditionally been patrons of not only sportsmen but also of the major sporting events. Often such involvements led to undesirable interferences, robbing sports of its innocence. But magnitude of such interference, no doubt, increased in the latter half of the twentieth century. Even the greatest sporting extravaganza on earth the Olympic Games have increasingly been marred by political contentions and have undermined the avowed aim of modern Olympics to foster international unity.
This happened especially during the two World Wars. World War I saw the cancellation of the Olympic Games of 1916. In 1936, Hitler tried to use them to demonstrate Aryan superiority and Nazi power, but was snubbed by the extraordinary exploits of the black American sprinter Jesse Owens (who won an unprecedented 4 Gold medals). The games scheduled for 1940 and 1944 were also cancelled due to World War II.
Tragedy, resulting out of the political contentions in Middle East, marked the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, as members of a Palestine group ‘Black September’ killed two Israeli athletes and took nine others as hostage, who were later killed. The US withdrew from the 1980 Olympic Games held in Moscow in the former USSR due to political reasons; the erstwhile USSR retaliated by dropping out of 1984 Games held in Los Angeles in the US.
The Games thereafter have, however, managed to keep out political issues from the sporting arena.
Similarly, popular games like football, cricket and basketball have been victims of increasing politicisation. During the second half of the 20th century, these games have been increasingly, commercialised. Football, for example, has become a very big business and a branch of the entertainment industry.
Inevitably, these have been rampant corruption and instances of bribery, match-fixing, fraud, and illegal or irregular payments. Football players are paid huge salaries and millions of pounds change hands over transfers of players between football clubs.
Apart from the rich culture and diverse arts presence, India has tremendous experience in different sporting activities such as athletics, cricket, shooting, hockey, chess, badminton, boxing, golf, kabaddi, wrestling, swimming etc. Besides this the country has respectable traditional sports such as boat racing,kushti, gilli-danda and others. But the most popular sport in the country is cricket. This sport is played at all age groups starting from the grassroots right up to the international level. The game has given rise to popular personalities such as Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar ,Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli etc.
Apart from the players the sport has given rise tothe popularity of coaches and even commentators. Cricket players are given a lot of attention by the media and advertising companies. India wins one match against Pakistan or Australia and there goes the line of cash prices and cheque’s being showered on them by ministers and state governments. Even in terms of incentives, the other sportsmen and women lag far behind the cricketers.
Hockey is our National sport, but has lost importance in the past few years; it even failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. In the London Olympics 2012 the Indian hockey team came out last losing all its matches. Not only hockey, but tennis, football, golf, badminton all shares the same pathetic condition. Neither are the sponsors interested in financing them, nor does the government raise enough funds. Even football has lost its importance to a great extent except for Goa and West Bengal; no other states are interested in football. In a nut shell, no sport in India except cricket is well managed. Indian sports are trapped in politics. Controversies galore in the sp[orts arena of the country.
It is really shocking to see politicians and ex-bureaucrats holding positions as Chairman and Committee members for several decades most of them having no clue about the sport in general With the government of India pumping several crore rupees into the various sports bodies for promoting sports and encouraging the sportsmen, these sports bodies have become fertile ground for the politicians and ex-bureaucrats to make money. For example take the case of Lalit Bhanot. What is even more disturbing is that even after the stinging observations made by the international Olympic association against the Indian Olympic Association, the office bearers are still holding on to the positions and have not thought it necessary to quit the job.
Indian sports seem to be run by dynasties. There are many examples that show how politicians and their families run committees as if it’s a family affair. Parminder Singh Dhindsa of the Akali Dal is president of the Cycling Federation of India and the son of Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa is currently president of the Punjab Olympic Association. The Chautala brothers Abhay Singh and Ajay Singh have heralded an era of total politicisation of the sports federations. Between them, the two brothers control the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation and the Table Tennis Federation of India.
In 2008, Kamakhya Prasad Singh Deo stepped down as president of the Rowing Federation of India. He was replaced as president by his cousin, CP Singh Deo. When CP Singh Deo ended his term, he was succeeded by his wife Rajlaxmi Singh Deo.
Similarly is the case of N Ramachandran, vice-president of the Indian Triathlon Federation (his wife is the president). He is also president of the Tamil Nadu Cycling Association, World Squash Federation, the Tamil Nadu Squash Rackets Association and the vice-president of the
Tamil Nadu Olympic Association. Jadgish Tytler, a Congress leader, has been at the helm of the Judo Federation of India for nearly 20 years on a trot.
Sport’s is one area where India lags behind even some of the poorest nations in the world despite a huge pool of talented sportsperson. At the junior levels, our boys and girls can compete with the best in the world in almost every sport. However when it comes to the senior levels, where the actual capabilities of our sportsperson are tested, we fail miserably.
Even though, huge amount is spent on training and grooming of the players we still have not been able to achieve the desired results. The prime reason for poor performances is corruption and political interference. Due to this many time a good player is left out. The government and the respective athletic boards are the main culprit for letting down India. Most of them are corrupt, lack professionalism and very biased. However the fundamental problem lies in the absence of a sporting culture in India. Sports in India are considered a secondary and supplementary activity. This explains to a large extent, the apathy on the part of the government machinery towards sports. The corporate indifference too stems from the fact that they are not sure that the sponsorship money will be efficiently used in promoting the game and the welfare of the players.
Those who suffer due to such sordid conditions are the athletes, who have the talent and desire to compete and excel themselves in the international arena but they need to be given proper grooming and training which they have been denied. The ugly conditions in the sports bodies have been repeatedly revealed by several stories such as the coaches misbehaving with women athletes, selecting people in the team based on favouritism and bribes etc. Elections to national squads for most of the games and sports smell of bureaucratic and political influences. It is hardly surprising that India seldom performs well at prestigious events like Olympics or other international sports events, given that talented sportspersons are often overlooked due to political rigging.
It is essential that sports bodies be run along professional lines so that a degree of responsibility and accountability is introduced in sports administration. For the BCCI which is by far the richest and most powerful sports body in India, it is of utmost necessity that it be subjected to professional discipline, not only for the millions of fans who sit glued to television sets following every match but also for the small-town, starry-eyed Dhonis, Patels, Rainas and Pathans Who dream of making it big one day.
It is these aspiring sportspersons, who want to excel in the less adulated games like hockey or football, who should know that their talent will get duly recognized. Moreover, in this age when a thirty something player has to regularly compete with eighteen year olds, it should be seen that the sportspersons have a certain degree of financial security. Only this can encourage a long term commitment towards any sport and prevent the burning out of young players due to excess pressure.
This should not be very difficult, given the increasing revenues earned from increasing commercialisation of most of the sports. However, this is possible only when politics is not allowed to mess with sports. Only then can sports survive and restore its lost innocence and vitality.
By Nilabh Krishna