A Country Without A Sporting Culture
A nation which treats sports as 'Time Pass' or Recreation tells all about our sporting culture. Since the govt. doesn't care, the people don't bother either. That pretty much sums the plight of sports in India. And why just government, the sports authorities, the media and the society and its deep rooted orthodox beliefs can all share the blame. Only if our successive governments had dedicated even less than a quarter of the effort for betterment of Sports instead of indulging in Beef, Religion/Caste, Cow, Election rhetoric and vote bank politics etc we would have had a flourishing sporting cadre to make us feel proud of and cheer for at different sporting events. The buck just doesn't stop there, our politicians, bureaucrats, family members and sycophancy living a lavish life and having a gala time travelling with the sports contingent on tax payers money is almost like music to ear. Then on the ironical side time and again we hear stories of apathy shown towards our sportsmen from the authorities and the govt (both centre & state). Just recently in Rio some poor athletes like sprinter Dutte Chand was made to travel economy class for 36 hours. Gymnast Deepa Karmakar's physio request was initially denied as physio was considered an excess baggage but our sports minister and his entourage having a ball on tax payers money and acting like thugs clicking selfies brought laurels to the country. Boxer Shiva Thapa was embarrassed and almost faced disqualification as his jersey didn't carry the country's name. Situation has been worst in the past with athletes working daily wages, to selling snacks street side, to somehow just surviving making ends meet. Archery champ Nisha Rani Dutta who won silver medal at SAF Championship '08, Bronze at Bangkok Grand Prix '06, had to even sell her only prized possession, her Bow for mere 50 Grand to repair her mud house as INR 500 stipend and family's deteriorating financial condition added to her woes. Nisha is just one reference and there are plenty such examples which will make our hearts bleed for these champions who once made the nation proud however themselves succumbed to financial crisis and faded into the oblivion!
Most nations today have a culture to pursue sports, keeping academics and sports hand in hand at the same level and that's what makes them bring best of the best athletes forward. Unlike in India, where sports always take a back seat vis a vis studies.We compare ourselves with other sporting nations when it comes to delivery but we fail to realise that "Rome wasn't built in a day". Expecting these athletes to deliver competing against the world's best is a bit too much to ask for when they have neither trained well nor had the best of gears or facilities. This time around at Rio 2016 we had the largest ever contingent but irony was most of our top medal hopefuls already made a modest exist and the remainder giving their heart and soul to keep our hopes alive. While disappointing it was seeing them crash out but even more disappointing was witnessing the second most populous country of the world with 1.3 billion struggling to even open an account at the Olympics and then some two bit columnist taking pot shot at our Olympic contingent suddenly outrages the nation. Of course we should be appalled but then how do we justify our ignorance and insensitivity towards those countless sportsmen that have been abandoned by the nation and left to rot despite them bringing laurels to the nation in the past. Let's even forget the past, how well do we even know our 119 athletes representing India at Rio or their hardship and struggles to make it to this grand podium of the world's largest sporting extravaganza without the state or centre taking much interest in them. The young Tripura-girl Deepa Karmakar though she could not clinch the glory but she did win a billion hearts for her brave effort and became an overnight sensation. A talent from our North-East that we probably haven't even heard of before the onset of Olympics. What also makes her special is that she's not just the first Indian gymnast to qualify for finals but she's also only the fifth gymnast in the world to have successfully landed what is often referred as Death Vault (Produnova).
India @ Olympics
The Road Ahead
So the important question is where has it gone wrong, why we are still struggling like this? Well! the answer partly lies in our own hypocrisy and selective amnesia. One month down the line, the Rio Sports Carnival will be over for most of us and for next 3 years and 360 days we wouldn't even give a damn about Olympics, associated sports and even our Olympians (medal or no medal), let alone their effort and hardship!! In fact Forget recognition, forget appropriate facilities, sporting gear or a proper healthy diet which is a must for athlete to stay fit, some of these athletes or the aspiring ones will face difficulty even making ends meet. And to top it up, extreme apathy of govt would aggravate the situation. And why just Olympics this is the story of almost every sport or sporting event in India. Unfortunately the story and glory of sports in India is only confined to just one sport 'Cricket'. Even a kid in remote village will know the sport and its history, legacy and the hits and misses. It wouldn't be wrong to say it's a religion here and we very well know how religion has always served as a medium of abuse and dominance in this country. Billions are shelled out on this sport each year to nurture talent across various Indian states through local cricketing bodies, in organising tournaments (national and international), advertisement, sponsorship, broadcasting etc in lieu of the massive profits generated as revenue by various stake holders. That's about it, so much money involved, hefty paychecks, nobody seems bothered even those public representatives are too blinded by the bling bling of this one particular sport that they conveniently ignore other sports and their plight. So do the citizens but when when our athletes fail, critics rise like zombies from the corpses.
Neither there is scarcity of money in this country for producing world class infrastructure nor it's like we don't have dedicated sporting authorities/ministries or the supporting framework, but they are either too indifferent, ignorant or have probably surrendered to nepotism and corruption. Indian hockey few years back was a classic example. Sports also has its representation in the Parliament of the country infact we have 4 representatives at present 2 in each house of Parliament but irony is, their contribution to betterment of sports is zilch so far. Apart from just drawing pay checks they haven't actually achieved much and that genuine push for uplifting sports culture in India is far from missing. Been in those shoes, nobody would better know the struggle and fight of these athletes better than them. With the Rio fiasco ending and a country with 1.3 billion producing 2 medals is more like on the face both for the citizens and the government. We celebrate those little achievement with a hope that we usher into a new sporting era but with some relevant points to consider:
- A change in the orthodox view point towards sports. Promote sports and keep them at par with academics. Push them for pride, for career and not just for recreation with onus both on citizens and the government
- We don't need a once in a four year recognition through an award or gratuity or a one month glorification of the winners but rather a concrete framework where our young talents can be nurtured and trained to become professionals. With the onus completely on the govt both state and centre
- A thorough payment and retirement plan for our sportspersons for sports to be viewed more as a career option and pursued by more rather than just those passionate about it
- Charity begins at home - Start with Curbing the corruption and nepotism in sporting authorities and make them more accountable