During the years of Rajiv Gandhi, one of the initiatives of whom was the SAARC under which there were SAF Games, an official of a foreign contingent of athletes had remarked on the conclusion of a chapter that saw India top the medals’ tally that we were “a giant in SAF, a human in Asiad and a puny at the Olympics”. While we have had Leander Paes, Karnam Malleswari, Rajyawardhan Singh Rathore, Abhinav Bindra, Vijender Singh, Sushil Kumar, Vijay Kumar, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, Gagan Narang, Yogeshwar Dutt, PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik as Olympic medalists in the intervening period, for a country with a 1.25 billion plus population, that is still faring far below potential. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth Games — a nationalist Indira Gandhi had famously desired that India withdrew from the grouping that reminded it of its colonial slavery — is no SAF Games. The politics of yesteryears apart, the sporting event offers the athletes of the country a wonderful exposure to some of the best in the world, given that the British Empire covered the largest geographical span of all imperial empires. To rank third with a tally of 66 medals at the CWG is no mean feat. The greatest contribution having come from shooters — 16 medals — however, brings forth a predicament. Rifle and pistol events are expensive sports. In a country where securing a job with a fixed monthly salary has been a priority for ages, this is a gamble for the parents. Despite this, if shooters have been making us proud year after year, one must draw an inference from the record that population is not the right parameter to judge a country’s capabilities in sports. For, these medalists are coming from a small pool of families that have dared to let their children chase their out-of-the-ordinary dreams.
The period between Delhi Asiad of 1982 and Seoul Olympics of 1984 and CWG in Australia in 2018 flags another concern. Since the era of PT Usha and a marvellous 4×100 relay team of that epoch, sprinters from Kerala have not shined as bright internationally. Going back further, Punjab hasn’t produced another Milkha Singh. At the level of Asian Games, Bengal isn’t giving the country another swimmer of the calibre of Bula Choudhury. And we seem to have forgotten how brilliant Adivasis are at archery. In fact, India boasts of many a world-record beating shooter and archer. If they get nervous at the Olympics, they need psychological counsellors. That calls for a greater investment in our contingents. But this chapter of the Commonwealth Games saw the unfortunate episode where Mirabai Chanu and P Gururaja went without a physiotherapist to relieve them of pain during their pursuits for the elusive medals. On the one hand, the strictness of the government to check the ridiculously large sizes of our past teams, where the majority used to comprise bureaucrats, is welcome. On the other, there cannot be a ludicrously rigid rule governing the budget that would exclude coaches and sports doctors.
Finally, as in the defence sector, private players have to come into sports big-time for India to be a power to reckon with in the world of sports. For long, the Tatas have contributed to sports, but it was more out of the industrial group’s urge for philanthropy and management of the benign brand of the corporation. Even in that, the group received no cooperation, let alone help, from the state. By the yardstick of a free market, if the state should not have helped out of the apprehension of being labelled as a government for cronies, it should not have erected bureaucratic bottlenecks either. As in the IPL of cricket, there has to be a profit-making model for the corporate sector to get interested in athletics, especially track-and-field events. But they cannot wait ad infinitum for the Indian society to produce a critical mass of players in whom they would invest. If a game as rustic as kabaddi can be marketed with fanfare of late, so can every sporting discipline. An advertisement blitzkrieg will attract the young in hordes. The countries that excelled in sports despite domineering, ubiquitous governments were communist countries that inculcated a military-like discipline in their citizens, which wouldn’t be a feasible — leave alone advisable — proposition for India.
We lay emphasis on sports for it, like music, is not only an expression of a living being — as is evident in the behavioural pattern of the young of every species — but also a sublime tool for character building. A sport helps an individual imbibe the spirit of a fair game, so necessary for developing a healthy society. With this message, Sirf News congratulates the winners: Saina Nehwal, Vikas Krishan, Manika Batra, Vinesh Phogat, Neeraj Chopra, Gaurav Solanki, Sumit Malik, Sanjeev Rajput, MC Mary Kom, Bajrang Punia, Tejaswini Sawant, Anish Bhanwala, Sushil Kumar, Rahul Aware, Shreyasi Singh, Heena Sidhu, the Indian mixed team for badminton, Jitu Rai, the Indian women’s table tennis team, Manu Bhaker, Punam Yadav, Venkat Rahul Ragala, Satish Kumar Sivalingam, Sanjita Chanu, Mirabai Chanu, Indian men’s table tennis team, PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth, Dipika Pallikal Karthik, Joshna Chinappa, Dipika Pallikal, Saurav Ghosal, Manish Kaushik, Amit Panghal, Mouma Das, Anjum Moudgil, Pooja Dhanda, Mausam Khatri, Seema Punia, Mehuli Ghosh, Pradeep Singh, Heena Sidhu, P Gururaja, Tejaswini Sawant, babita Kumari, G Sathiyan, Sharath Kamal, Harmeet Desai, Sanil Shankar Shetty, Ashwini Ponnappa, Sikki Reddy, Somveer, Sakshi Malik, Naman Tanwar, Manoj Kumar, Hussamuddin Mohammed, Divya Kakran, Navjeet Dhillon, Kiran, Ankur Mittal, Om Mitharval, Apurvi Chandela, Vikas Thakur, Ravi Kumar, Deepak Lather and Sachin Chaudhary.