Monday 24 January 2022
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Olympics & Turnaround In Indian Sports

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Congratulating the Indian women’s hockey team for their historic win against favourites Australia in a semifinal match at the Tokyo Olympics, discus thrower Kamalpreet Kaur for bettering her own record while falling short of a medal, Mirabai Saikhom Chanu for the wrestling silver, PV Sindhu for the badminton bronze and Lovlina Borgohain for a boxing bronze, a lookback will be in order. As a hardly sporting nation, India has come a long way since fans used to make snide remarks at its achievements in the SAF Games where only SAARC members participated. It used to be said in the 1980s jocularly but with a hint of the bitter truth that India was a giant at SAF, human at the Asiad and a puny at the Olympics. Individual gold no longer eludes us while we just have to get back the glory in hockey that we lost with the end of the grass turf. From drawing a blank at one Olympic event after another, the Indian contingent is now coming back with some silver and gold medals. Not so much of an Olympic discipline — the world has debated for decades whether professionals as seen at the continental club levels and World Cups must be allowed at the Olympics — football is seeing better days in the country too. Persistence with certain state efforts such as the Sports Authority of India is paying dividends but gradually. The socialist approach of making the government take every initiative always yields slow results. So, the SAI, with world- sports infrastructure across the country, does not witness enough track-and-field wannabes reach the stage where they can access these facilities. It’s like Stalingrad that a Joseph Stalin envious of the skyscrapers of New York City built after returning to Russia from his US tour out of state money — only to find that few of those massive structures could find business occupants.

The private sector, for its own brand enhancement, must go for talent hunts and training budding sportspersons. Making the point against socialism was important, as one could point at the Warsaw Pact countries of the War era. It can be noted that when the pressure of the state was withdrawn, the medal tallies fell too. Eastern Europe, which was producing a majority of champion gymnasts, is no longer on top in the said discipline. Indians must excel in sports in a free, democratic and enjoyable environment rather than to make the general secretary of one ruling communist party of the country proud. The other socialist ghost that must be exorcised is a substantial percentage of bureaucrats in every games contingent from India. As many as 103 of the 228 who went to the Tokyo Olympics 2020 were not direct participants. While coaches are unexceptionable, why many glorified clerks are touring Japan at the taxpayers’ expense is a question the government that seeks pride in ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ must answer. Going wrong with this approach, the society here would, however, heave a collective sigh for not having the requisite genes for excellence in the global arena. That was when people with worse physical disposition on an average than Indians stunned well-built sportspersons from Africa, Europe and the US.

But finally, the economy needs to look up for the mindset of parents to change. In a still-emerging economy, children cannot be invested in an uncertain future. For the probability of an Abhinav Bindra or a Mary Kom is one in a million while securing a job that would fetch a modicum of money to fend for the family is no big deal even for university dropouts. As for the obsession with cricket, it’s a vicious cycle: for public interest, you need success but unless the people are inspired, you will not get a critical mass from where you can extract winners. India did not celebrate cricket the way it does now pre-1983 when Kapil’s ‘Devils’ won the Prudential Cup and then never looked back. Cricket’s popularity in India will not go down because some ‘expert’ wishes it does. Athletics will overtake cricket when at the Olympics someday in the future, India unexpectedly beats the world’s best as it had bested the West Indies at Lord’s 38 years ago.

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