Why dismal show in sports
Since Independence, Indian sports have witnessed degradations. The only performance of note has been the gold medal in hockey won at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Abhinav Bindra won the gold for the Men’s 10m Air Rifle. But these occasional triumphs do not augur well for the future of Indian sports. A nation of 1.2 billion has not been able to produce a sportsperson or athlete of international standards even after five decades of independence. In today’s new climate of peace, a nation’s achievements in sports are valued far above its arsenal or military might. We have, however, lagged behind in every field in spite of a large potential manpower. What does really ail Indian sports? With a few honorable exceptions like cricket, chess and tennis (where, even at the best of times, our performance has been erratic to say the least), our sportspersons and athletes like the Flying Sikh Milkha Singh and the Sprint Queen P.T. Usha have failed to find a mention in the international medal tally, in spite of their best efforts and glowing eulogies at home.
The chances of our doing well or making a mark in the international arena remain grim till date. At home also, the standard in regional, state-level and national-level games is fast deteriorating. The malady, indeed, is deep rooted. The first and the foremost cause is the poor state of our economy. We cannot spot, nourish and nurture talent even in the initial stages. Whoever hits the spotlight is, by and large, a fluke. He or she has done it on one’s own merit. For instance, our cricket hero Kapil Dev has come up against all odds to make a mark in international cricket. Privatisation or sponsorship of the various games and sports is the only answer especially when we cannot spare enough funds for sporting activities in the country. The second cause of the fast-deteriorating standards in Indian sports is the politicization of sports. Regionalism, linguism and favoritism are all visible, when any selection for a national or international event is made. This, coupled with the lack of basic infrastructure, has hindered any progress in this direction.
There is a tendency in India to not trust politicians and businessmen and if politicians & businessmen come together it is apocalypse now. The reason Indian athletes’ struggles at the summit is heavily attributed to politicians running various Indian sports bodies. This has no real basis in truth. BCCI is run by politicians & private businessmen. M A Chidambaram, M Chinnaswamy, Mamen were tycoons who have done great things for cricket purely out of interest. BCCI’s ascent was powered by NKP Salve the savvy Marathi politician. He brought the world cup to India and the first world cup outside England was a rousing success. BCCI went from strength to strength and once Jagmohan Dalmiya, another businessman, took over, BCCI signed massive TV contracts and filled its coffers with so much money that it made Scrooge McDuck look like a street beggar.
Now wiseguys will ask “Ha what about other sports they are also headed by politicians and why don’t they succeed?” The difference between BCCI & other bodies is that BCCI is private and most of the other sporting bodies are Soviet-style government bodies and are run by the devastating machinery that is the Government Bureaucracy. There’s a high chance that a politician will do good. It is in their self-interest to do so but it is not so for the bureaucrat.
India lacks a sports culture. In the west kids play all sorts of organized sports regularly. Though things are slowly changing in India, we aren’t getting there quickly enough. Academics still dominate because it is the easiest and, despite rising education costs, the cheapest and highest hit ratio of success.
Many people casually say kids are forced by parents to study and unless that changes India will never win medals. This is not the complete truth. The reality is that sports is a very expensive venture with an extremely short shelf life (average 3-4 years) and less than 1 per cent of the competitors make it to the top to make a sustainable living and those who don’t make it will have wasted at least half a decade away from general white collar jobs that are on offer. It is already a merciless competition through sheer quantity if not quality and with a 5-6 year handicap it gets even harder to find employment.
Despite the TV shows & advertisements repeatedly showing an aspiring upper middle class, India still is largely a lower middle class blue collar country. Our families just cannot cope with losing the young & strong next generation to failure and depression through the hit & miss world of sports instead of increasing the quality of their lives through the surer path of academics.
Now comes the most important resource of them all: money. We must spare no expense for the training & dietary regimes for the athletes. Medical support is just as important. These athletes, especially the wrestlers & racket sports people, push themselves beyond the edge of what is humanly possible. It is inevitable that the occasional bend becomes a break. Proper surgery and rehab is not cheap. It is a very expensive affair but it is also most necessary.
The value of a medal or a trophy is priceless. The Olympic prize money is a pittance compared to amount of time and effort that an Olympian puts in. There was news a few days back that Brazil had spent $14 billion for the world cup they hosted 2 years ago. Had they won their 6th world cup in Maracana the said $14 billion would have been worth less than a torn rag when compared to the priceless trophy that Thiago Silva would have lifted in front of their home crowd.
It is noteworthy here that we must draw inspiration from whatever semi-success we had in the past and aim to better it. Dipa Karmakar is an inspiration to all gymnastic aspirants in India. She overcame injury, lack of facilities and official apathy to just qualify for the vault final. She was not even allowed to take a personal physio, a bare necessity that is taken for granted by the top nations, with her before the final jump. She overcame impossible odds to miss out on a bronze medal by a hair’s breadth. If she had even half the resources available to Simone Biles how well would she have done?
Finally, it is high time that the authorities make a firm and determined decision in this regard and start grooming young talents. With the right kind of attitude in its functioning and having a proper goal oriented disciplined approach , one is sure that India can also produce sportsman of the highest caliber and we can hope to have some of our long cherished dreams becoming true in the future.
(Uday India Bureau)