Indian Sportspersons: Regulation of Dreams

I feel miserable and frustrated as I write this, having just read two reports of the irritatingly archaic procedures of the ‘guardians of sports in India’. This time, the esteemed body in question is the National Rifle Association of India [NRAI]. Suma Shirur is a world record holder in the 10m air rifle. She is also the only Indian woman to make it to the final round of an Olympic Games, in Athens, 2004. However, she was not thought worthy of being part of India’s 37-member squad for shooting’s Commonwealth Championships. Unbelievable, you say? Wait till you read this: India’s only individual Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra wants to quit. There was so much brouhaha about no Gold-medalist’s from India, and now that we had one, corruption and mismanagement seems to have got better of him and his sport so adversely, that he wants to quit! These reports merely brought to the fore the sentiment echoed by the dismal treatment of the hockey players. Clearly, these are not one-off cases. It is high time there was a thorough review about the system in specific and sports in India in general.

Imagine the amount of frustration required to make a Olympic gold medalist, a world champion consider quitting the one thing dearest to him. Really makes you wonder how ‘they’ got under his skin. Well, here’s how. ‘Bindra had been training abroad for six months for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and the Asian Games in China later this year. The NRAI wants him to turn up for regular trials in India, irrespective of his international results. Bindra came back from Germany to attend one such trial in December. It was postponed.’ Irritated by this, Bindra expressed his desire to be allowed to practice as he saw most beneficial, the way he had succeeded in the past. In his own words: “I’m not saying I don’t want to be accountable. I will go to international competitions and my scores there can be monitored.”  Similar rigidity of selection criteria resulted in Suma’s non-inclusion in the team.

Are the authorities justified in enforcing a system of overly-objective inflexible criterion, which often interfere with sportspersons’ practice? Isn’t the system and its rules designed distrusting the intentions of the players? Sports are largely subjective; stars have risen from the most adverse scenarios and the best facilities and sportspersons have sometimes failed to achieve success. It is not something which follows, or should be expected to conform to a Babu’s rulebook. Good sports management and encouragement to players is most essential. Indeed, lessons can be drawn from the exponential jump in China’s 2008 Olympic medal tally.

As if Abhinav Bindra’s announcement of being frustrated with the NRAI was not enough, the Men’s hockey team went on strike claiming that their dues to the tune of Rs. 3 crores hadn’t been met. The issue resolved only after Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Subhash Ghai agreed to hold shows to generate funds and several industrialists came forward and announced that they would support the hockey team. Barely after this issue got resolved, the women Hockey team went on revolt against the Hockey Federation wearing black bands in lieu of protest.

All these incidents clearly show the growing need of better management and infrastructure in our sporting systems. However, bringing flexibility into the system has its own risks in India. This is because the new rules will be drawn up by politicians who will first ensure, that they or a company they own makes a big profit off taxpayer’s money and player’s facilities. Yes, these regulatory bodies make loopholes before they make rules. Thus, what is required at this stage is, to very strictly and comprehensively draw up new protocols, or better still, adopt exactly a model which has worked elsewhere. Clearly, it is not a problem which can be solved easily. Tenders and contracts are synonymous with payoffs, and this is why nobody pushes for change. But, for a positive change, a mechanism with subjective rules and flexible decision making, but strict audit will be required. Distinguished sportspersons should be given the respect they deserve but even more should be expected, and not extracted of them. With our economy going strong and an increasingly young population, maybe these changes in attitude and function will give this country the heroes it needs.

Yashaswi Sankrityayan

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