I have never been much of a cricket fan. Actually, I don’t ever recall watching an entire cricket match from start to finish. Although that might be due to the fact that I don’t even have a rudimentary working knowledge of anything to do with the sport. That being said, the almost religion-like devotion that cricket commands in our country completely baffles me.
It truly is a religion. Lives are put on hold and priorities are revised. Work hours are shortened, family functions are rescheduled and study breaks are longer: all in the name of the ‘match’. Scores are recited like the alphabet and players are worshiped like idols. The insanity has reached such a level and created such a breed of fanatics that cricketers themselves as well as their homes require guarded security.
It is indeed unfortunate that in a country as diverse as ours, a single sport gains so much focus, while others are left to merge in the background. The obsession can, to an extent, be blamed on the quintessential Indian mentality: cricket is life, all else will follow. The commercialisation of the sport only adds to the madness. It has quite literally become a money-making racket, with film stars and industrialist pumping money into what can now safely be called the ‘cricket industry’. The bidding for players at the IPL (Indian Premier League) further proves my point. Almost obnoxious sums of money were being shelled out in order to bid for players. In fact, some of the lowest bids at the IPL 2008 are the same figures at the funds at disposal to certain other sports for a whole year!
Hockey, at least on paper, is said to be our national sport. Although it did attain the pinnacle of glory during Dhyanchand’s time, one barely hears of any laurels that the sport has achieved in the recent past. In fact, 8 of the 9 gold medals India has won at The Olympics have been in field hockey; all of them before 1980.
The problem now lies not in the lack of talent, but in the simple fact that there is a lack of a proper cultivation of the sport. Most, if not all funds, are directed towards cricket with very little infrastructure left for the rest. People refrain from taking up any other sport professionally simply because it is not lucrative enough.
Apart from the financial aspects, we lack in the basic level encouragement of any sport other than cricket. As Pullela Gopichand, All-England badminton champion puts it, “A cricketer bags an Arjuna Award after playing for two years. But it is not so, when it comes to a sportsman from another field. This is not right.”
The government, politicians and authorities alike almost appear to condone our near-dismal performance in other sports. When the cricket team performs poorly, all hell breaks loose. As far as all other arenas are concerned, we are so used to poor performances that we have gradually become indifferent to them.
I don’t mean to say that we see no talent from any other sport. 2008 witnessed Abhinav Bindra win the Olympic gold medal for shooting and the country won two medals for boxing as well. Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza have all proved their mettle in tennis. But credit is due only to their families, coaches and well-wishers, certainly not to any Indian sports authority. The same is the case with chess player Vishwanathan Anand and several other accomplished sportspersons in the country.
It is time the authorities and the public alike move on from their cricket-mania and focus on catapulting other sports to the forefront as well. More establishments providing infrastructure and encouragement are the need of the hour. If we as a nation are proud of our respect for diversity, it is high time we show it in this field too.