Ask this question to any Indian- What is the national sport of India? What would most people reply? The answer would be unanimous- Cricket. Yes, this happens in a country where Hockey is the national sport. What about cricket then– somebody uninformed might dare to ask. The answer is simple. Cricket is religion. Cricket is passion for the one billion people who reside in this country. Cricket is also the excuse which we give ourselves for our non-performance in other sports.
A review of how we performed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in comparison with other countries should be a matter of shame to most of us. The medals tally is a scary figure. India was content with 3 medals- 2 silvers and 1 gold. China finished at the top of the ladder with a whopping century of those dazzling discs-51 golds, 21 silvers and 28 bronzes. The critics chose not to take the moment away from Abhinav Bindra. The whole country erupted into a state of euphoria. Abhinav Bindra became the golden boy for the Indian media. He fired at the 10 m shooting mark and the echoes were heard a billion times in the bordering nation. Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar who won a bronze each in boxing and wrestling respectively became the talk of the town. But public memory in India is short- term; probably Aamir Khanes-que in Ghajini. After a week of celebrations, it was back to normalcy for most of us.
The 3 Olympic medals were followed by a horde of announcements by different state governments, the ministry of youth and sports activities and other over-enthusiastic organizations in the form of fat cash prizes, incentives and some tempting advertisement offers. Can we spot a pattern in the way we react to our sporting achievements in fields other than cricket? These moments of joy are few in number hence applauded to the hilt. The media (vultures as I chose to call them) gets something to write about till boredom strikes. The government takes pride in announcing to the world that we have an Abhinav Bindra, a Sania Mirza, a Pankaj Advani etc .What it fails to realize is that the achievements of such individuals have been solely because of their own efforts and the availability of resources to hone their skills. Abhinav Bindra practiced in a state of the art shooting range built by his father for him. Are the same kinds of resources available to the rest of us? Is the government listening? Is the government even bothered? The reasons why the condition of sports in India is so deplorable are many.
Firstly, it is the mindset of the people of India. The only question which I have heard people’s asking kids is whether they are going to become engineers or doctors. People from middle class and lower middle class families cannot afford to allow their children to pursue a career in sports even if one has the aptitude for it. Why? Because unless its cricket and you find a place in the Indian Cricket Team, a career in sports cannot guarantee you the fulfillment of your dream of becoming rich. India is a country where a large chunk of the population struggles to meet the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter and education. Most of these people think twice before sending their kids to schools, a career in sports is way ahead. Let us attempt at changing this mindset. Efforts need to be made at the grass root level to spot talent and nurture it. The government can begin by announcing schemes wherein it takes the responsibility of the education of such kids along with their training. Local sport of a particular region needs to be given preference and the required impetus. The number of matches played on a monthly basis should go up and the prize money for local tournaments should be increased. The sporting culture of a region should be nurtured and boosted. We need to explain to our kids the importance of sports in daily life.
We need to spruce up our infrastructure. The government should focus on improving the condition of existing stadiums and grounds and also allocate resources properly to build state of the art stadiums and training centers. Let all the non-performers at the organizing committees, people who took up the job with a dream of stuffing their pockets with money, be shown the door. We need dedicated individuals with a passion for sports responsible for the resource allocation. Corruption at the grass root level is the most fundamental problem. Political interference in selecting deserving players has been a hurdle which we have not been able to overcome.
We can collaborate with the industry for producing the desired results. We should not forget that the industry puts its money where it thinks there would be assured profits. Privatization of training institutes and academies, sporting events should be increased. Only then can we ensure better coaching, training and equipments for our players.
The media needs to shift its focus from being the paparazzi to being an instrument responsible for awakening of the masses. The media should devote less time towards gossip and petty issues related to our sportsmen like their love lives, injuries etc.
Cricket is religion in India because it has been marketed and sold in a very efficient manner. The transition from test matches, to ODIs and now the upsurge of T20 cricket stands testimony to this. We need to decentralize our focus from cricket to other sports in India. For that we need to make other sports saleable. And the media can play an effective role in this. This will ensure a steady flow of cash from the private sectors and proper resource allocation will help us achieve our vision. Efforts and profits on a local level would translate into greater results at the national level.
India has an abundance of untapped potential and unearthed talent and this needs to be nurtured. Dedicated efforts, a drastic change in the mindset of the citizens of this country and an impetus to all other non-cricketing sports are the need of the hour. It is high time that we stop criticizing the way things have been happening in this country and make things happen. Better late that never. Chak De India!