Adolf Hitler was so impressed, that he had wanted to buy one of the hockey sticks which he had used in one of his Olympic escapades, yet, when Dhyan Chand, the wizard of hockey, died in 1979; he was in economic distress, a fact that M.S Gill had pointed out when he was nominated the Minister for Sports. M.S Gill went on to unveil a statue of Dhyan Chand at the National Stadium, New Delhi in 2008, years after a statue of Dhyan Chand, depicting him with four hands and four hockey sticks had already been erected at Vienna. Why did it take us so long to acknowledge his genius?
Between 1928 and 1956, India won six consecutive gold medals in the Olympics and went on to win two more in Tokyo (1964) and Moscow (1980). But in 2007, when the hockey team lost in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, hockey was downgraded to the “other sports” category, while Wushu (a martial art form) remained on the “priority” list. Is hockey really our national sport?
In the SRK-starring, Box-office busting Chak De, when the Hockey Federation official says women are not supposed to be running around in shorts on a playing field, it isn’t a statement meant to make the audience giggle. It is, in fact, a telling commentary on the abysmal state of women in sports and the attitude of the federations established to promote and protect it.
Does the name Karnam Malleswari ring a bell? No?
A bronze medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 for weightlifting, she has the distinction of being the only Indian woman to have won an Olympic medal in an individual sport. Gopichand slogged to win the 2001 All England Badminton Championships. Yet, the noise from Anil Kumble’s 10-wicket haul against Pakistan in Delhi in 1999 drowned out Malleswari’s feat, and Gopichand went unheeded when Harbhajan Singh took a hat trick, and V.V.S Laxman scored a 281 against Australia in Kolkata in the same week.
The National Sports Policy was enacted in August 1984 for raising the standard of sports in India. The preamble to the policy talks of broad basing sports, integrating it with the education system and infrastructure development. It talks about setting up various Sports Federations, providing scientific back-up to sports persons along with sports equipment and training and development of coaches, referees and umpires. Geographically challenging regions are to be given extra support and the Federations have been directed to “go rural”, in order to maximise the human potential. Incentives to sports persons include recognition and finance to “distinguished” sports persons during and after their career, and adequate insurance in case of medical emergencies. It also talks about using the media to popularise sports and mobilize resources for sports.
According to the provisions, its progress and implementation were to be evaluated every five years, and the Sports Ministry is anything but candid in admitting that it’s been far from successful in achieving the lofty goals stated above.
Looking at the current status of sports, other than cricket, it is something like a Shakespearean tragedy, with the bureaucrats’ hell bent on maximizing the money generator that cricket and its sponsors have become, while paying little attention to all else. The severe lack of sponsors and the inability of the authorities to generate sponsors for anything other than cricket says a lot for the one-track mindedness of the officials.
The list of examples is endless; to showcase the snubbing that young achievers (not just women) have received from the various sports associations and the public in general. The 2008 Beijing Olympic, gold medal winner, Abhinav Bindra was ushered into hastily arranged press conferences, because the authorities hadn’t even entertained the possibility of one of their own pulling off such a win. His reluctance to comment on the authorities’ lack of support and funding for training did not go unnoticed.
Why wasn’t there a ticker-tape parade when Vishwanathan Anand reclaimed the top spot in world chess? Badminton sensation Saina Nehwal, in an interview a few months back, had talked about how sports people who weren’t cricketers had to motivate themselves due to a stunning lack of support from the public. And who can forget the farce that was the fatwa against tennis star Sania Mirza playing in short skirts?
To be fair though, the importance given to cricket doesn’t mean that the importance is stretched to the cricketers themselves. Sure the investors and sponsors are all about the moolah and when you put aside the duties on Sachin’s Ferrari and the ridiculously opulent monetary rewards bestowed by the BCCI and IPL, ask yourself why was it that after the Indian team returned from the Twenty-20 World Cup, the politicos took pride of place on the podium instead of the cricketers at the felicitation ceremony?
2008 might have been the “best year for Indian sports”, but it brought out the glaringly obvious reality of what happens behind the scenes of the epic (though sporting) battles of grey-matter, muscle and sinew between athletes.
The quote that comes to mind is, “In the beginning, there was nothing. Then God said, let there be light and there was still nothing. But we could see it.” Seeing isn’t going to be enough this time around. It is time something was done to bring about a lasting change.