The Indian Sports Saga

The Sports sector in India represents a vast chunk of under utilized talent. India is a huge country and our past clearly shows presence of immense talent lying in all parts of the country. In the past we have produced brilliant sportsmen that the world remembers till today, which clearly proves existence of immense talent in our country! But today, sadly, Sports is one field which is being neglected by citizens and government alike.

Let me quote the example of Cuba, a small island nation that has maintained its prestige among the global sports élite for the past three decades. This has been primarily due to the effectiveness of a mass, free physical education system which the government has supported through the ups and downs of the national economy.

Indian sports system on the other hand is characterized by lack of infrastructure, funds and inefficiencies. The Sports Authority of India, the apex body for promoting and managing sports activities in the nation is run by bureaucrats rather than technocrats! A peek into the Sports system in India shows that there are primarily 3 kinds of organisations working for the cause- one is the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, then the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and finally various Sports Federations. It is here that we encounter the first biggest flaw in our sports system-these three organizations function basically as separate entities with little coordination or accountability to each other.

Consider the much awaited Common Wealth Games for instance. Discussion is abuzz about various issues such as infrastructure for the games, roads, metro, tourism, hotels etc. But little importance is given to the thing most closely related to the Common Wealth Games-that is SPORTS. Not many know the state of those working in the SAI that has been caused due to these games. They have been displaced from the stadiums where they used to coach, naturally because of renovation work, but unfortunately without an efficient alternative plan of action. Some of them have been on deputation to schools or other Sports institutes or posted out of Delhi-however, a big majority is simply sitting at home and doing nothing! To add to that, a vast population of youngsters, who were earlier involved in sports, now do not have any place to go to! Of course the elite can still pay a bit more and join some camp-but what about the not so elite who used to come to SAI to nurture their talent or interest?

India lacks sports culture. Sports as a profession still does not have the social recognition it deserves. Being a sports coach is still not regarded in the same light as say a University lecturer though they both might be paid the same amount as salary. This problem lies is deep rooted in first-our minds and then in our system. Education and Sports are usually regarded as two things that are mutually exclusive rather than being two important parts of a bigger whole.

We perhaps have failed to recognize and nurture some things that we’ve always had. Hockey originated in India-our national game. In 1982 Asian Games, Hockey and Kho-Kho were used as our demonstrative games-something exclusive to India. Today these two games have not only lost their status but also have been forgotten over time instead of being promoted by us. Instead, after the Asian Games, specialists were called from India to conduct coaching camps in countries like Australia and Germany, where Hockey is now a popular sport. Though I am happy to note that Hockey enjoys an international status today, I am equally ashamed to know that we do not have a proper hockey team! Our players can not afford hockeys made of fibre glass because most of them are from the not so elite sections of society (and trust me this is not inspired from the movie ‘Chak De’-it’s a fact!).

Sania Mirza’s struggle to get sponsors for her first few international tournaments is known to most. We’re all proud of her today but I have no hitch in saying that Sania Mirza, Abhinav Bhindra and the likes owe nothing to the Sports system in place for their success. I can not help but wonder the immense talent that is suppressed in our rural areas because of lack of opportunities and money and the potential it possesses to take our country to great heights in the field of sports.

There have been some policies that our government took up in the past-one was starting a network of Special Area Games (SAG) where they targeted specific areas to tap talent. One major discovery was made in the tribal areas of Bihar. Under the SAG, people immensely talented in archery were found. They were nurtured, trained and as a result got our country great laurels. But soon, they were forgotten along with the SAG schemes. There is a similar plan under consideration where in the authorities plan to de centralize games to the Panchayati level which would help tap rural talent. This was being promoted by ex Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs, Manishankar Iyer who was soon shifted to some other portfolio and like many other things-this plan too was forgotten.

I would love to see a day when Hockey enjoys the same status it did earlier and we win the International Hockey Tournament! That would require investment from the governments end and passion from those who have ever been involved in sports and would love to see it be respected. A passion that should be channelized into changing a mind set, supported by sound policies that genuinely aim to change the status of sports in our country.

Hemantika Verma

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