Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Vijay Goel greeting the Indian Boxer Manoj Kumar after he defeated Petrauskas E. of Lithuania, at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during Rio 2016
Since the Olympics occur once in four years, the pride and prestige over their winning are perfectly justified. India, a low medallist if there was ever one, more noted for its crumbling or even non-existent sports infrastructure may boast of immense hoards of gold in the vaults of its numerous temples, the bodies of its brides and in other hidden places but somehow deems objects of national pride like an Olympics medal with little importance for which other nations are ready to offer their arms!
This is a sad state of affairs but true. Somehow Indians, over the years, had forgotten to develop a feeling for sports and the role played by sports in developing character, producing dozens of stars though mostly from Punjab, Bengal and teams from Railways, Services and the Customs. That India was under the British rule for nearly 200 years could be another reason though this contradicts the importance accorded to sports in nations like Great Britain, the US, Europe, both within their borders and abroad. We have all heard of Robin Hood and his Merry Men who, when they were not shooting deer for sport and food, cultivated and improved archery which finds a place in the Olympics calendar even today. Mind you, the British rulers did play a key role in developing sports in India. Under their patronage and encouragement hockey flourished with Punjab and Bengal in the forefront. Customs was not far behind. Hockey players in these units were well-fed, provided with adequate rest and excellent practise facilities. The teams participated in leading competitions like the Aga Khan Cup, Beighton Cup and league tournaments in cities like Bangalore, Madras, Calcutta operating from Bombay and Bhopal. Crowds surged in watching these matches. However, the exodus to the UK and Australia continued and the Anglo-Indian numbers dwindled.
Thinking of those days, depletion on the Anglo Indians was not the sole reason. Hockey teams in the states were in charge of men who had no idea of the game. Since cricket was the national game where positions of power were occupied by many of the princely families, organisations for cricket were more like private clubs and one of them, the Cricket Club of India (CCI), owned the Brabourne Stadium which was given the privilege of hosting cricket tests and other major matches. But the power sadly passed into the hands of the state and under the reign of Chief Minister S.K.Wankhede, the Bombay Cricket Association had a spanking new Wankhede Stadium which was able to control the BCCI under the stadium’s roof.
Of course, with the never-ending thirst for cricket its coffers overflowed and it managed to survive one scandal after another including the latest one despite the sad fact that the Supreme Court forced to plan an increasing role in resolving one cricket crisis. The success story of cricket could not be repeated in other games. Take football, equally if not more popular than hockey. Again a British import, football did not need many resources. Like hockey, football could be played without many resources with makeshift goal posts and in the open ground. As in the past, football was highly patronised by the defence units and this filtered down to private clubs (Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting from Calcutta, Hindustan Aircraft, Bangalore Blues, WIMCO and some junior clubs in the Chennai league, and dozens of teams from South India, particularly Kerala). Like the famous English football league, where the more powerful teams poached players from weaker teams not only from Britain but national tournaments all over Europe, the powerful Calcutta teams poached star players not only from among themselves but also from all over the country which made the transfer season in Calcutta one to look for fireworks .
Hockey and football had been in the Olympics for a few years but what about events (track and field) where India had an interest in? While we did have an impressive track record in hockey, the deterioration was total in football. By this time the nationalisation and politicisation was near complete. The political takeover which was creeping in began to gallop, swallowing one item after another. The same politicians continued in power one after another despite growing age in senility. BJP’s VK Malhotra was the archery boss even while in his mid 80s, Delhi’s R K Khanna could not be dragged away from the tennis courts despite being 80 plus and T.D.Rangaramanujam would not let go his senior post in the TT hierarchy despite pressure from all sides. Our government nominees and elected representatives fought endless battles to retain their power and position.
Some of these positions may be termed honorary despite the absence of any honour in them. The representatives with years in politics and experience in ministries were experts in wangling plum posts and putting their own favourite men and women in high posts despite total absence of merit. The officials organised coaching, training and other camps by incompetents for other incompetents and the same process continued for the selection racket. Regionalism, casteism, favouritism were rampant. The loss in any match was attributed to all sorts of reasons except the major ones.
As if these were not enough, there are now other hazards. Doping is back with a vengeance and so are sex scandals. Officials travelling with the teams and supposed to look after the teams’ interests occupied the best rooms and other facilities, demanding that they be allowed to lead march pasts and get away with anything. Who can forget the unseemly photograph of Union Minister Goyal fighting with athletes for the honour of carrying the national flag and taking a selfie? That was the most embarrassing Olympics Of India at Rio.
Has any action been taken against the buffoons who brought the nation to shame? You bet, it won’t have been taken. The same clowns who know nothing about sports will be back again at the next international sports meet. After all, aren’t sports a major entertainment in our beloved India?