It goes without saying that the year 2023 will go down in history as India’s major success story in the field of sports. For the first time since its inception in the 50s, India’s total medal tally at the Asian Games crossed hundred, something that is truly remarkable and that should make all Indians feel proud about our sportsmen and sportswomen. They brought laurels to the country by securing multiple medals in various sports. The event also saw the athletes excelling, boosting India’s standing in the international sports arena. India finished with a record haul of 107 medals which include 28 golds, 38 silver and 41 bronze. Now we have new sporting icons in badminton like Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy. Then names like Ojas Deotale in archery, Jyothi Surekha Vennam in the women’s archery, and Avinash Sable in men’s 3000m steeplechase athletics have suddenly become household names for their impressive performances. If Neeraj Chopra became a national icon in the last Olympics, this Asian Games of 2023 has produced a galaxy of sports stars who are now being recognised and celebrated along with well-known cricketers like Suryakumar Yadav, Shubman Gill, and Virat Kohli. However, does India’s outstanding performance at the 2023 Asian Games indicate that cricket’s influence on our national consciousness has significantly diminished? Not by a long shot.
India showcased its prowess in a diverse range of sports including athletics, badminton, kabaddi, hockey, archery, mixed doubles tennis, shooting, equestrian, and squash. This remarkable achievement signifies a significant shift in societal attitudes, as sports that were once dismissed as inconsequential are now embraced with unparalleled passion and dedication. However, on social media, we still tend to follow the success of the cricketers, eagerly anticipating and sometimes dreading their every move. Social media platforms at times homogenise public opinion by creating echo chambers, where diverse perspectives are lost in a sea of similar voices. It seems as though our lives are intricately intertwined with their cricketing fortunes, creating a deep sense of connection and anticipation. There are around twelve countries in the world which play cricket at the international level. Now that the Cricket World Cup has kicked off, cricket-crazy fans are posting their views on India’s chances of winning the cup. Rarely do we come across our sports fans posting about athletes on our social media feeds and even mentioning the glorious achievement of a Jyothi Surekha or Avinash Sable. Cricket runs in our veins. We not only dream of it but also live and breathe cricket. We live under the illusion that cricket is the only competitive sports in our country. Additionally, the IPL presents lucrative prospects for young talent, opportunities that are unparalleled in any other sport in our country.
There was a time when parents aspired for their sons to emulate icons like Sachin Tendulkar or Kapil Dev. Even today, some parents continue to dream of their children growing up to be the next Virat Kohli or MS Dhoni. However, a shift in perspective appears to be taking place on the ground. Determined and diligent young individuals from average middle-class backgrounds are daringly pursuing ambitions in sports other than cricket. Their leaps of faith have been rewarded with success, evident from their medal-winning achievements in events like the Asian Games. It is crucial to note that their accomplishments have been made possible through the support of government institutions, private organisations, and dedicated coaches.
Neeraj Chopra’s gold medal win at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Javelin Throw sparked a surge in popularity for the sport in India, with youngsters showing interest in pursuing it as a profession. No Indian sportsperson had accomplished the feat before Neeraj. It is heartening to observe a shift away from prioritising cricket over other sports. There is a growing sentiment that if India can secure the Cricket World Cup twice, similar achievements are possible in other sports. This sentiment was affirmed in this year’s Asian Games. Additionally, it’s crucial to recognise that national pride should extend beyond cricket to encompass all sports. Whether it’s a gold medal in Equestrian or a silver medal in Golf, these achievements should evoke feelings of pride and happiness. Media coverage, which often heavily focuses on cricket victories, should also dedicate attention to other sports to ensure a balanced representation of our nation’s sporting achievements. Meanwhile, hopes are high for India to perform well in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games and bring home a rich haul of medals.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi