As the nation erupted with cheers, joy and well wishes, it brought back memories from last year. These memories had seemed to wane amidst all the tension in the Kashmir valley, heated debates over demonetisation and all the buzz around the elections.
Indian sports lovers cannot and should not forget the Rio Olympics. Sadly, it was not the aura, festivity or the spirit of the event, but the inability to win medals, which had weighed heavily upon the nation – until two Indian ‘heroines’ preserved the honour of a billion hopes. Thereafter, Olympics and medals became topics of household discussions – but for how long?
The fanfare receded gradually as attention shifted to the Uri attack, surgical strikes, demonetisation and other issues. Once this happened, we no longer had those insightful panel discussions over the lacklustre performance of India in the Olympics, no more postmortem of the facilities provided to the national athletes, and no more hue and cry over the inconsistent medal-population ratio.
Now, all these topics and concerns have been buried till the next Olympics.
On the evening of August 19, 2016, when an Indian girl was giving the badminton world champion a run for her money, a whopping 17.2 million pair of eyes were glued to the television or computer screens – an unprecedented record for any non-cricket sports in India. The whole of nation was in a frenzy. Offices, homes, and many public spaces were abuzz with the latest updates on the proceedings of the ‘match’ (a term generally associated with cricket, in India).
As millions shunned their engagements to fall in love with the awe-inspiring focus and grit of PV Sindhu, two things were learnt that night. First, it is not only a Sachin Tendulkar or a Virat Kohli who can bring the country to a standstill. Second, we Indians are no philistines. We proved that we do possess the throbbing hearts to back our sportsmen and women. The heart-warming reactions, emotions and waves of festivity in the country, generated by the courage and determination of the likes of Dipa Karmakar, Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu, were priceless, arguably unprecedented, and unarguably, worthy of nourishment.
What paved the way for cricket to become a religion in India was the fact that one fine summer afternoon, Kapil Dev’s ‘devils’ pulled off something unexpected. They defeated the so-called invincible West Indies and brought home the World Cup for the first time. This was a testament to our capability of leaving a mark on the face of world sports.
In India, cricket was, and is, luckier than most other sports, since it has always had a moment to cherish – a moment which could be termed as the next ‘giant leap’ in the sport. On the other hand, in the post-Dhyan Chand era, hockey has failed to live up to the humongous standards set by the game’s predecessors.
Even while talking about individuals, Indian cricket has always found a new flag-bearer in every era – someone who would add new dimensions, in keeping with the dynamics of the game. It’s not that hockey didn’t have potential, but the failure to live up to its golden past, especially after the introduction of AstroTurf post the 1980 Olympics (which was severely lacking in India) cost the game’s popularity and its inspirational potential dearly.
On the other hand, the ever-rising graph of Indian cricket after the 1983 breakthrough (aided by the BCCI and commercialisation), ‘channelised’ the viewership, fandom and craze into cricket much more than other sports. Indians started looking at cricketers as ‘larger-than life’ characters. Somewhere, they deprived themselves of the taste of other sports and ignored the heroics of sports-persons involved in these other sports.
However, as with cricket, single achievements set trends in other sports as well – with the result that in recent years, sports like wrestling, tennis and badminton have given us more than ever before. Youngsters like PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Yogeshwar Dutt, Sushil Kumar, Sania Mirza, Sakshi Malik – and many more, belonging to different sports – are doing their bits to make it large for their country and their respective sports.
After all, isn’t it saddening that many of us don’t even know that kabaddi is played at the international level – let alone the fact that our team is the undisputed ‘king’ of that game, having won a third consecutive World Cup in 2016? Therefore, it is high time that we, as a nation, valued their sweat and savoured their accomplishments throughout the year.
While the mainstream media has the greater responsibility of not letting the ‘flame’ die (which happened within 20 days of the conclusion of Olympics) social media too can be pivotal in carving a national icon out of a PV Sindhu or a Yogeshwar Dutt.
Celebrated authors may utilise their energies and skills in writing well-researched articles about the conditions of Indian athletes and facilities they are getting – especially during the intervals between two Olympics seasons, the time when this hard-lit ‘flame’ is most vulnerable.
As commoners, we all need to do our bit by at least keeping ourselves abreast of the latest proceedings and developments in the various games, even if we may not be intrigued by them. Moreover, let movies like “Dangal” be the means of ‘reliving’ the memories of sporting legends – and not the means of ‘introducing’ them to the masses.
Keeping commercialisation aside, a small recognition or a minute, vicarious support (even on social media), may do wonders to the morale of an athlete, and may motivate many others to join the game.
Therefore, let not the ‘flame’ die!