The Plight of Indian Sport

Twenty four years ago, Team India brought pride to an entire nation when it lifted the prestigious Cricket World Cup. Thenceforth, sponsors began to queue, endorsers struggled to cash in and the ball was rolling. Steadily, as the sport transformed into a religion and its players into celebrities, all others began to asphyxiate. In spite of every effort, the honour of raising the cup again was never again ours, till date.

Few are aware that ‘Hockey’ is the National Sport of India and that the sport brought us six consecutive Olympic Golds from 1928 to 1956 and two afterwards in 1964 and 1980. Why have we compromised on a long-held bastion for one that hasn’t delivered quite as much?

Today, poor performances in international cricket invite riots, as in the 1996 World Cup semi-final, or storms a controversy (2007 WC Debacle) while the highs and lows of other sports in India attract limited interest. Sania Mirza comes to mild attention only for breaking records and brewing controversy over her dressing sense. Afterwards, she is conveniently forgotten. Vishwanathan Anand lands his name in General Knowledge books as a chess grandmaster and Dhanraj Pillai and Anju George may be a topic of conversation for the educated. However, it takes Rahul Dravid and Kapil Dev to make tea-table talk. Sachin Tendulkar’s life and times can be related to practically anything.

The discrimination is evident and, though arising in the media, is a reflection of the whims of the populace.

Weddings and birthdays in Indian cricket attract more attention than trophies in Indian hockey.”

Bhogle, Harsha. “India Needs To Rediscover Another Sport.” The Week 27 July 2003

The propensity to turn a blind eye to reality has cost many individuals a chance to pursue their ambitions. This nation of 2 billion has lost out on a promising profession and a platform of global honour. The term ‘Sport’ has been reduced to a single “Cricket” by the collective efforts of our government, media and the people. Seemingly, there are many to blame.

The imbalance in sport patriotism in the nation cannot be attributed to one source but is a cumulative effect of riveted patronage towards cricket, incompetent or corrupt sports officials, dismal attitude of the public and an unfortunate state-of-affairs. After the culmination of a glorious era of Indian Hockey in the Olympics, there’s nothing to substantiate a belief that the future of Indian Sports is promising. Time and again the debate surfaces, there is a demand of better sporting facilities, merited felicitation and incentives to players. Action is unfailingly lacking.

Indian hockey’s tragedy is that its most glorious phase preceded the era of live television.”

Gupta, Shekhar. “Hockey Just Isn’t Cricket.” Indian Express 7 September 2002

As the Commonwealth Games 2010 approach, anticipation is on the cards. The Delhi Government aims at playing a good host so that Delhi falls in league with other “World Class Cities.” That of the general public is set to cash in on upgraded infrastructure and a clean Yamuna. Newspapers publish more of DMRC work in setting up a mass transit system to assist through the event and paucity of bidders to develop the Games Village. In all the hum-drum, an important aspect seems neglected: Sports. There is little mention of the country’s prospects in winning accolades or of sports camps being set up. While larger and larger amounts of money are pooled into improving infrastructure, there is little mention of investments in initiatives to recruit, train and ready athletes.

“We sit in our cozy little drawing rooms and come up with our cozy little theories about what is wrong with Indian sport. We are what is wrong with Indian sport”

Alter, Tom. “The Cruel Gods of Indian Sport” The Sunday Observer 27 September 1998

The present attitude is defeatist and only assures lesser initiative towards encouraging struggling athletes and sportspersons. The first step towards redemption can only come from us. When the media ventures into covering a budding tennis player, discus thrower or the hockey team, we turn the page or change the channel without a glance. In their tender age, we hand our little children not a badminton racquet or a football but a cricket bat. We maniacally idolise cricket stars when unwarranted. The choice is ours and ours alone. Everything else: media coverage and government policies, is a reflection.

Dhruv K.