When will our sporting prospects improve?
With the London Olympics concluding, one cannot help but feel disappointed at India’s dismal show at the Games. In spite of sending the largest contingent ever, our performance has been most ordinary – at the most, we can console ourselves by saying that this is a definite improvement from our performances in the previous editions.
For a country of a billion plus people, not winning an Olympic gold mirrors serious failure on multiple fronts, they being – the inefficiency of the government and sporting authorities to provide conducive sporting atmosphere; the lack of encouragement on part of schools, universities and parents for talented youngsters to pursue sports seriously; a dearth of sporting icons, barring a few, for youngsters to look up to; petty politics in selection of athletes where merit and talent are bypassed and, most importantly, complete mismanagement of our sporting bodies by money greedy politicians. When countries smaller than us in size, population and economy can manage a decent medal tally, we must seriously introspect reasons for our below potential performance.
Comparisons with China are inevitable even in Olympics. While China’s performance, with its first gold coming in as late as 1984 and since then surging ahead to the top of the medal list is certainly one that raises eyebrows, our performance has been near disappointing. If you keenly observe, performance in Olympics is also an indicator of overall national performance– with an improvement in the economy resulting in a noticeable improvement in the performance of the country at the games. However, there are a few African countries which are an exception to this. One of the reasons for the corresponding growth in national economy and success in sports is that the surge in economy provides the much needed impetus for governments to invest more in creating sporting infrastructure and also the general attitude of people to think beyond the most basic needs of life.
Though there has been a remarkable improvement in India’s economy in the past decade, we do not notice this economic success translating into sporting success at the Olympics. The largest blame for India’s poor show in sports falls squarely on the Government’s shoulders. Nobody knows what actually the sports policy in the country is, if at all we have one. Most of our sporting bodies are (mis)managed by politically unemployed appointees instead of former sportspersons or people genuinely interested in the sport. The rules framed by these sports body managers are not ‘athlete oriented’, but are ‘commission driven’.
The country recently spent a whopping 85,000 crores in organizing the Delhi Common-Wealth games. Apart from the corrupt political class, neither the sporting federations nor the sporting atmosphere in the country benefited from it. In fact, large scale corruption in organizing the games brought much disgrace to the country. A fraction of money spent on organizing the Games would have sufficed in building permanent sporting institutions to support and groom our talented youngsters.
It is sad that most of our national sportspersons do not have a competent personal coach, physio or a support team. Only five of our athletes had a support team in Beijing Olympics. The number, has thankfully, gone up to 31 in this edition. However, there has been some positive changes in a few sporting organizations. The work of SAI in the recent years inspires confidence. It has shown that with better focus and concentrated spending of resources, we can definitely achieve better results. But for that to happen, the sporting bodies have to be first cleansed off all the Kalmadis, MC Khannas and such other corrupt politically unemployed parasites.
The other reason for failure is the petty politics at the selection levels. I have heard from many athletes themselves, on how the selection procedures are opaque and unfair. Selection committees many a times select athletes based on caste, language, region, selector’s individual preferences and likings, instead of merit and talent. How can we win medals if we do not send our best athletes to the games? Changes have to be brought about in selection procedures to make them completely transparent and fair, where merit is the sole factor for consideration.
That apart, the need for inspiring sporting icons to motivate youngsters to take to sports is equally important. Like how in cricket one Sachin Tendulkar could inspire and motivate an entire generation to take to cricket seriously, resulting in India today seeing match winners in Yuvraj Singhs, Mahendra Dhonis and Virat Kohlis, a Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, Vijender Singh, Sushil Kumar and Mary Kom will inspire a lot many youngsters to take to sports seriously.
Speaking in the long term, India’s medal prospects in the future can be bright, only if we start encouraging our talented youngsters right from schools and colleges. Our colleges and universities find it more comforting to mechanically churn out unemployable degree holders than to serve as a breeding ground for successful and talented youngsters irrespective of the field they choose to pursue. Also, the society in general has to start respecting people pursuing sports seriously. We Indians have a general tendency of looking down people who do not have a conventional 9 to 5 job. To use Subramanian Swamy’s words, “We have respect for intellectual endeavors, but have not cultivated dignity of labour”. This attitude has had dangerous consequences – it has served as a great obstacle and has prevented people in pursuing their passion and taking risks.
Unless encouragement for talented kids first at homes by their parents, coupled with enough support– both monetary and infrastructure – by schools and sporting bodies is ensured, we will continue with our dismal performance. We have all seen many of our friends, who were extremely talented in sports, discontinue their sporting pursuits and choose engineering or some other ‘future securing’ options in life. They however, cannot be entirely blamed for that. When the plight of some of our best athletes like Shanti Soundarrajan – who was seen recently working as a construction labourer – poor, unrecognized and uncared – before their eyes, will they be willing to take to sports seriously? With that being the case, what confidence can we inspire in our youngsters of a secure future in case they take sports as a career? This is one of the primary reasons why many of our talented kids, back out of sports, right in the initial stages. It is not a dearth of talent or potential. It is a dearth of encouragement and support. If nurtured appropriately, our youngsters certainly have the talent to make the best use of any opportunity.
Let me tell you what my friend told me yesterday. My friend, an extremely talented table tennis player who even represents the university, approached his principal to know the progress of his application made to him a month ago requesting a table tennis board in college. His principal asked him to meet the Dean who then asked him to talk to the Secretary who informed him that the matter was before the college trust management committee and would be discussed in the next monthly meeting. After all this running around, he came back and reported this to his Principal, who took it upon himself to give him a ‘valuable’ piece of advice. After having a look at his marks sheet and pointing to some low scores in a few subjects, the Principal advised my friend to concentrate more on academics and not get ‘distracted’ by ‘other activities’.
The day’s newspaper had a headline saying – “A disappointing day for India at the Olympics.” The truth of the matter is, each day we discourage a talented and interested youngster from following his heart – be it sports or any other field of interest – we make it a disappointing day for India.