No nation honours its sportspersons as much as we do. Nowhere does the Prime Minister- a man beyond the reach of ordinary mortals-- give a special audience to a medal winner in the Paralympic Games-- an event largely ignored for its triviality by the global media. We are one of the few nations that has a separate Ministry for Sports. I am happy we are doing so (any achievement needs to be appreciated) but I see the irony of it all; a nation of 135 crores ‘clutching at straws’ when it comes to sports.
History of Indian sport over the last 70 years has admittedly been pretty bad. We won the Olympics Hockey gold eight times from 1928 to 1956 before Pakistan beat us by a solitary goal in the Rome Olympics in 1960. We did win again in Moscow in 1980 but very few teams participated. Abhinav Bindra won a Shooting gold and Neeraj Chopra won the Javelin gold recently. We have won a few silver and bronze medals and some great performances like Milkha Singh coming fourth in the 400 metres and P.T. Usha also came fourth in Hurdles. That, I guess, sums up our past performance in Olympics for 90 years till Tokyo. In other fields India of Science, Technology and Liberal Arts India has come a long way of course.
We have had significant successes in Cricket though it should be admitted Cricket is played only in 10-odd Commonwealth nations. Even then our achievements are creditable. Success attracts crowds and no wonder crowds throng Cricket games and families remain glued to TV sets for hours.
Corporates buy time at usurious prices. Dhoni and Kohli are household names and rival Bollywood stars in popularity. “IPL” is considered by many to be the most successful Indian brand globally. Why is Indian sport-sans cricket-such a pathetic story? For every failure many reasons are cited and Indian sport is no exception. Let us look at some of the reasons and look at some possible solutions. Sports is not seen as a viable career option due to lack of remuneration and job security to athletes. As a result, parents hesitate to choose it as a profession for their child and focus more on academic excellence. I am reminded of a joke a friend told me sometime when we were discussing this subject. A mother comes and asks her husband “Shruti wants to join Advanced Swimming lessons. If she does well she will be selected for the Nationals”. The Father frowns “Are you stupid? She has to prepare for her NEET exams”. There ended a bright swimming prospect.
Further, there is no reservation of seats under sports quota in topmost educational institutions of the country which is against the practice followed globally. For example, the prestigious American colleges are a hub of sports excellence along with academic brilliance whereas this is not the case with IITs and IIMs in India which focus only on academics. As a solution, all government enterprises including PSUs should be directed to employ sportspersons on certain percentage of vacancies.
Besides, private sector should be incentivized to employ more and more sportspersons. Further, government should make a provision to pay stipend to state, national and international level playerssomething similar to “sports allowance” in many countries. In addition, to augment old age security for athletes, govt. should provide for pensions to the retired sportspersons. A feeling of security is sine qua non for any success.
The bodies that control sports in India have long been dominated by influential politicians and fat cat businessmen. A political bigwig was President of the Indian Archery Association for nearly 40 years without knowing how to fire an arrow from a bow. There is no common law for governing the administration (elections, funding, schedules and events, qualifications and time limit for different admin posts etc.) of different sports associations. As a result, they are neither transparent nor fair to athletes as well as officials. A law should be enacted tackle this which would include rules for basic administration structure for all sports.
Lack of representation of ex-sportspersons in administrative bodies has been a common problem with all sports in India. Most of the associations have their official staff which is clueless about that sport. It leads to dissatisfaction among players as their problems are not understood and solved by that superimposed staff. As a solution to this problem, a minimum quota of 50% should be reserved for exsportspersons in administrative posts in all associations.
Absence of organised mechanism to spot talent from grass root level to national level is another major concern with Indian sports. There is no system to spot and nurture the talent at school, block and district levels and then promote the talented athletes to state and national levels. As a result, many gifted athletes are not able to reach at the topmost echelons of sports and are lost.
To put it in the immortal verses of Thomas Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard : “Full many a gem of purest ray serene, The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear: Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Dearth of sports infrastructure at grass root level makes things worse. Sports associations should be established at block and district levels which will supervise respective sports academies at that level.
These academies will provide infrastructure and other needs of athletes like proper nutritional plan, anti-doping awareness campaign, fair and timely selection trials, conditioning camps, overseas exposure etc. These academies would become a breeding ground for the future champions. In India, Sports funding is inadequate as compared to global standards. For example, we spend only one-fourth of that of China does on sports. Besides, most of funding in India comes from the government as compared to USA where 90% of the endowment comes from private organizations. Though Indian corporate sector is willing to lend more financial support to Indian sports, due to lack of transparency in spending and adequate incentives, they refrain from doing so.
Sports is important for a nation. It builds national pride and fosters unity. It creates a citizenry with a healthy body and a healthy mind.
The Author is an Investment Banker and Political commentator. The author is an investment banker and political commentator. His Twitter handle is @pnvijay.