London (Olympics) Calling: India’s Great Expectations?

Posted on March 1, 2012 in Sports

By Astitwa:

Let the dust settle now. For the time being, at least. Let us not overtly criticize the Indian team, in general and Dhoni, in particular for their worst performances in the Australian continent. Let us not wait with abated breath for Sachin’s hundredth hundred. Let us not incessantly hail Kohli as the next find of Indian cricket team. Let us accept that cricket has given us enough recognition all across the world. Let us forget about cricket for a few days. Let us end an obsession with a single sport and a single player. Let us demand something else than never ending cricketing seasons.

It is certainly the opportune moment to do that. Cricket has overshadowed almost all sports in India. In a nation with 1.21 billion people, higher than any but one other country on this planet, we have an abysmal record in other sports. The Olympics competition stands testimony to our incompetence in the international sports arena. Statistics are scary. They are enough to highlight the apathy of the Indian government and the citizens towards sports. Let us ignore cricket for some time, for a status quo of such sorts is pathetic. It presents a gloomy picture of how sports are looked upon in our country.

The Current Reality

Measure by any standards, India is one of the worst performing nations in the Olympics. It has been a regular participant in Olympics since 1900 and still it has just 20 medals to its credit! It ranks even below some African countries, whose economies are a mere fraction of the growing Indian economy. Even a country like Kenya, with a small economy relative to India has done far better when it comes to the total number of medals won in Olympics.

Why Sports?

Let us begin from the basics. Why should a country invest intensely in sports training? The following can be some of the most potent reasons to include sports as an integral part of a nation’s growth policy. Sports have immense psychological and physical value. They help in increasing vitality and health of an individual. Healthier individuals make a nation stronger. Sports are of immense social and cultural value. They bind countries and foster relationships. Sports have a significant importance in terms of economic value. Look at the grandeur and prosperity with which China hosted the 2008 Olympics. The state of sports and games in a country significantly reflects the overall growth and development of the country. Understanding why a country fails in sports can be a great tool to understand its performance in other sectors also. These are some very obvious reasons why sports greatly determine the social, cultural and economic fabric of a country. Why Have We Consistently Failed to Deliver?

Before we blame everything on the government, let us not forget that excelling in sports can’t be a fluke. Just like economic policies and security strategies, being a world leader in sports is directly a result of governmental support and citizens’ hard work. There are many factors that have led to the debacle of Indian sports.

Cultural and Traditional Attitudes: In India, we never had a sports culture. Sports never came naturally to us. We were never bothered to excel in it particularly because in the initial years of our freedom, we had hundreds of other issues to deal with, rather than excelling in sports. Ages of alienation from sports, except the British-borrowed Cricket, has inculcated a mentality amongst us that ‘Sports is a waste of time’. We all know that the best runner in our school competitions ends up graduating in engineering or medical or MBA. Parents are afraid to let children try their luck in sports. Sports are looked upon as a career for those who couldn’t do well in studies. I vividly remember many of my friends who didn’t do well in academics but had tremendous flair for sports ended up doing the mundane commerce courses or engineering courses, only to satisfy with something that they really never loved to do. So in India, it is a simple equation. Up till 18, if you are able to do something to be ‘famous’ in sports, you’re successful; else your career is doomed. And so, parents discourage their kids to follow any sports as an occupation. Rightly so. They are concerned with the career prospects of their kids. Why should they sacrifice their kids’ future in a country where career opportunities in sports and games are scarce?

No Imminent Rewards: The fear of losing everything in sports field, from the career point of view is very high amongst parents. They compare consistent practice, years of hard work and specialized training to ROI (return on investments), which seems miniscule, if their sons and daughters are unable to qualify for even State-level competitions. The middle class parents already have to struggle with bread, butter and education of the child. They can’t invest in expensive training and coaches. Vishwanathan Anand, Abhinav Bindra, Prakash Padukone or any other individual you can think about, most of them have done excellent because they had support of their families. Abhinav Bindra, the sole gold medallist in Olympics from India has his own building equipped with expensive technologies related to shooting practice. How many of us can do that?? Or how many of us have rich doctor parents like Bindra?? Very few. Right?

Lack of Expertise: We lack in providing excellent coaches and sports technologies for effectively training to our athletes. Moreover, consistent controversies with foreign coaches prove to be the final nail in the coffin of our players’ performances. Compare the situation with USA’s NFL or Basketball coaches. We stand nowhere to what those coaches are paid and the respect they command.

Infrastructure Woes: Lack of stadiums, training spaces relative to the population size, the endless permits one has to take to enter inside them, besides the expensive entry fee, makes it impossible for an average locality individual to even think of practicing or pursuing the sports. Crowded parks with little spaces are all that is left for kids to use. If for a moment we forget about kids and facilities at grass root level, even athletes complain of poor infrastructure. 19-year-old Indian CWG gold medalist Ashish said to Hindustan times in an interview, “I think I could have won the gold had equipment arrived on time for the Commonwealth Games and the venue were also ready on time. Then we could have got the home advantage which we certainly lost out”.

Too Much Cricket: Eat Cricket. Sleep Cricket. Drink only Coca-Cola. Well, the jingle was not just an average advertisement just to promote coke. It has been the reality, to say the least. Sponsors, be it the local firms, blue-chip companies or FMCG giants, all are interested only in cricket. ESPN’s effort to organize Indian Hockey Premier League failed miserably in the recent months.

Rampant Corruption: With people like Suresh Kalmadi at the helm of CWG, the world saw the real face of India, which we had been hiding for years. With such ministers and chairpersons, we showed the world that we are a truly corrupt nation. Transparency International, the global watchdog for corruption has consistently ranked us amongst the most corrupt countries. If anything could signify the extent of corruption in Indian sports and its administration, it is the sorry figure we cut out in Olympics. Pot-bellied politicians, bureaucrats reaching retirement age and traditional sports policies have made Indian sports bodies nothing more than a puppet in the hands of those who are at the power. With Ajay Maken, the current sports minister, trying to clean the filth scattered by Kalmadi and company, let us be hopeful for a better dawn.

Lowest Quality Physical Education: The quality of physical education, if at all it exists in our schools at primary and secondary levels, is poor. Swimming, horse-riding and shooting are only accessible in International and expensive private schools, where only the affluent kids can study. It is in fact only for very few, who can make it to good schools with good infrastructure. Our physical education is worst with unqualified teachers. Do we have any syllabus for physical education course? Do we try to find out unique sports talents in kids?I fear, we don’t have any such mechanism operating in our schools. There is a world of difference in the training provided to us during the teenage years and the way Chinese train their 10-year-old kids.

Poor Technologies: We are way behind in infrastructure, in providing basic stadium for athletes to play; forget about laptops with best machines to measure athletic performances.

Females in Sports: Women and their contribution in Indian sports has been nil, if we compare to the size of our population. Chak De India had highlighted the plight of an Indian coach but it also reflected the way we value women in sports. Even in cricket, the coverage and money awarded to Indian women cricket team is a merely a fraction of what our men in blue earn. In other sports, it is a rare sight to watch Indian women teams being promoted by hundreds of sponsors.

Poor Awareness: To test the awareness of Indian youth, just ask them about any sportsperson or teams except for Sachin, MSD or the Indian team. How many of us can identify Jwala Gutta, Anju Baby George, Mihir Sen, Pulela Gopichand, Karnam Malleshwari, Geet Sethi, Ram Singh Yadav, or other athletes and sports persons who have made India proud, to the best of their capacities? Forget about identifying them! How many of us even know what they have done? Most of us know about Indian football only by the name of Baichung Bhutia, who has now retired from International football. Many of us must be aware of Liverpool, Manchester United and almost all football clubs but we hardly know about Indian football clubs. It is certainly not the fault of youth. The way cricket and only cricket runs in our blood, it is difficult to accept other sports. The Herd mentality, the obsession with cricket has led to a complete extinction for most of the sports. It is indeed true that every country has a single sport that is followed frantically by its citizens. Canada is known for its love of ice hockey, America for baseball and NFL. But that doesn’t overshadow other sports in these countries. It also doesn’t lead to a poor show in other sports performances. For zealots of cricket like us, cricket is nothing but our religion and Sachin, its God. The only God!

Drugs and Doping: The frustrated coaches and players, both looking for promotion and a chance to do better, rely on nothing but drugs and pills. The recent outbreak of endless number of doping scandals is another blot on our national image.

Passion Quotient- ZERO: Hai Ren, a member of Beijing Olympic studies and a physical education professor, mentions in one of his case studies that when China lost to Sydney in the Olympics bid of 2000, the whole nation had cried! Millions of Chinese were glued to their televisions to see their country host the Olympics. Further, the way Chinese have researched about their culture is worth knowing. They have meticulously integrated Taoism, Buddhism and other spiritual realms of their countries with games and sports. That has boosted their core values and drives them to perform the best. Their hunger for excellence is unparalleled. As a nation, they’re passionate about the things they do. The Beijing Olympics Nest is still a symbolic of their passion in what they do. And if we look at our CWG fiasco, it seems hosting Olympics is a distant dream for us now.

2012 London Olympics – Don’t Expect Miracles

We should not be expecting something miraculous from London Olympics. We are just sending 27 athletes this year; just like we have been doing it in the last few years and as per various media reports, the Sports Authority of India is expecting 10 or 12 medals this year! I think it is a highly inflated number. Given the state of our preparations, that has gained momentum just 6 or 7 months before the London Olympic games, It seems preposterous to expect wonders from our sportsperson. As reports,

Just six months to go for the Olympics and only 27 Indian athletes are on track for London. Others are still in training, hoping to be found eligible. The sports ministry, along with the Sports Authority of India (SAI), seems to be in mission mode, having launched a special project called Operation Excellence (OPEX) for the ‘core probables’. However, scratch the surface and you’ll find that despite qualifying, many athletes face bureaucratic delays in getting support“.

Let us be hopeful that with programs like Operation Excellence (OPEX), at least some athletes will be benefited and they can bring us more than 3 medals, better than the previous Olympics. If the Indian government is able to provide such measures with total transparency and can invest effectively in integrating sports as a major part of Indian culture, we can be hopeful that if not 2012, may be in 2016 or in 2020 Olympics; we can win more than 20 medals in a single Olympics. Let us integrate sports as one of the prime objectives in our ‘Vision 2020’ dreams to make India a stronger nation. Is the sports ministry listening?

P.S.: The Indian hockey team has performed exceptionally well to qualify for the London Olympics. Let us be hopeful that it brings us a gold medal this time, reviving the legacy of our past Indian hockey teams.