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October - November 2008
India Sport Scene
BEIJING OLYMPICS 2008: A Moment to Celebrate and a Time to Reflect
Be it Athens or Beijing, whenever the Olympic Games start, my heart beats with nervous non-expectation. India, a nation of one billion people, would simply be invisible there. The Indian races are neither physically the weakest, nor is India the poorest country in the world. Games such as chess, polo and hockey are believed to have originated in India. Judo and Karate are advanced versions of Kalari, the martial art from Kerala that was taken to East Asia by the Buddhist monks. During the Mahabharat times, Dronacharya was the best archery teacher in the world, and Arjun the best archer, who could successfully hit the eye of a fish revolving above his head by looking at its reflection in the water tub underneath. Wrestling, called Malla-Yuddha in Sanskrit, has been practised in India since the Vedic times. And yet when it comes to sports at the international level in our times, the whole of India feels incapacitated! The general public mood is that of resignation expecting not to win in any individual sport or team game. Given the atmosphere of no expectations, a silver medal winner, or even a bronze medal winner, becomes a national hero! For decades, Indians have sung the folklore of Milkha Singh! The fact is, the Olympic Games are held every four years since 1896. And every time hundreds of sporting events take place. Our folklore hero actually never won a medal in any sport at any Olympic Games. ‘The flying Sikh’ came fourth in one of the races (400 metre race) at Rome Olympics in 1960. And India went on taking pride in that for almost half a century! It just reflects the total ignorance of Indians about the Olympic Games, and our inferiority complex at its worst.
Now Abhinav Bindra has brought a gold medal in Air Rifle Shooting, and Vijendra Kumar and Sushil Kumar have received bronze medals in boxing and wrestling respectively. The chief ministers of various states have been vying with one another in showering public money on them! Had Michael Phelps been an Indian, these politicians would probably have emptied the country’s coffers for him!
Of course, Abhinav, Vijendra and Sushil do deserve to be praised. These boys left a mark on the Beijing Olympics on behalf of India despite there not being a very inspiring environment back home. The farsightedness and sacrifice of Abhinav Bindra’s father particularly is admirable in putting all his savings into his son’s pursuit of excellence in his chosen sport. No doubt, India should celebrate its successes at the Olympics and other international sporting events.
However, the feudalistic approach of showering money on the winner would lead India nowhere. And, these athletes should not be used as new poster boys to hide the cracks in the infrastructure of sports in the country.
Not having the right perspective is the main problem with Indians. With any small success, we start saying: They have brought fame to the country! Let’s face it. India has achieved no fame in the world as yet. A country is noticed by the world only when its athletes do something unusual – something out of the normal. Sadly that credit doesn’t go to India yet. That credit goes to Jamaica whose Usain Bolt established three new world records at one Olympic Games! That credit goes to the US whose Michael Phelps won eight gold medals at one Olympic Games, establishing seven new world records! Moreover, that credit goes to China whose athletes won 51 gold medals – more than any other country - in the recent Olympics! With one gold and two bronze medals, India is not even on the map of the Olympic world. That is the REALITY. Even a poor country like Ethiopia with four gold, one silver and two bronze medals was streets ahead of India! And we feel so satisfied with ourselves! Unless we jettison our false sense of pride and see things from an international perspective, we would not really be able to come out of the confines of non-achievement.
The most terrible thing is the sense of complacency that the Indian establishment exhibits towards India’s place in world sports. Rather than getting lost in the celebrations of a few wins, the country should be hotly discussing why India’s performance has been so dismal in the Olympics held after every four years. India has got all the sports bodies – in fact quite an inflated bureaucracy. What it lacks is ACCOUNTABILITY! It seems the job of the Indian Olympic Association is not to produce winners at the Olympics, but just to gather a group for the four yearly holidays! In any other democratic country, if such bodies fail to produce results, the persons at the helm of affairs would tender their resignations and make way for new people to take over. It’s beyond comprehension how the officials heading various sports federations, the Indian Olympic Association, the Sports Authority of India, and the Sports Minister remain in their positions after the (latest) debacle at the Beijing Olympics.
And, it’s not just the political establishment that is callous about the subject. The media obsessed with cricket is equally at fault. For instance, NDTV as usual goes on discussing the so-called Cricket Controversies and Star News goes on wasting its air-time by proclaiming Wah Cricket! The other channels are doing the same.
Actually for a proper analysis of the sad plight of Indian sports at present, understanding the socio-political character of the omnipresent cricket is very necessary. The fact about cricket is that this game was developed by the English imperialists who were living off the exploitation of their colonies and had a lot of time on their hands for leisure. A standard match in this game that lasts five days was a perfect way for the exploitative elite to while away their time. Basically, it’s an imperialist game and is primarily played by England and its former colonies. No working nation in the world – whether China, Russia, Germany or the US – shows much interest in this game. And, after losing their empire, even in England this is no longer the premier game (Football is the most popular and most valued sport in England now). This game is hardly suitable for an economically developing country like India. Yet, due to our colonial mentality we are obsessed with cricket. Scoring a victory over our former masters, England, means conquering the world to us! And we are devoting all our energy into it. In my view, as English has killed off many languages in the world, in India cricket has killed our sports. Our pahalwans (wrestlers) are languishing in the muddy akharas (arenas) of our villages. Our footballers can’t find even one properly maintained pitch in their States! And, field hockey, officially India’s national sport, is a forgotten game now. Sportsmen from the fields other than cricket feel ignored. There is nothing to inspire them. No TV channel is discussing their problems.
The controversy Indian television channels should have been discussing is who played mischief with Monica Devi’s doping test, and what punishment has been meted out to those who squashed the only hope of India in the weightlifting category. The question before us is why we have consistently failed to make an appearance at the Football World Cup, despite Mohan Bagan and other football teams working on their skills for decades. Even a small country like Cameroon makes its presence felt in the Football World Cup tournaments! What do our football players need to have that level of competence! We need to ask the question (and be outraged) as to why we have got just two bronze medals in wrestling during the last one hundred years of the Olympic history, while wrestling is still practised as a traditional sport in many parts of the country such as Maharashtra, Haryana, Western UP, and Punjab. And, to my mind, the most important subject before us is, how our hockey, officially India’s national sport, has been led steadily to the point of death. A country that won Olympic gold medals consistently from 1928 to 1956, and again in 1964 and 1980, failed even to qualify for the Beijing Olympics! We only think of the Cricket World Cup. Why can’t we think of the Hockey World Cup! By the way, we are actually going to host it in 2010! And the last time we won it was in 1975!
Rather than asking all those questions, the whole of the media is taking comfort in the fact that Beijing has been India’s best Olympic Games. When would the media realise that India’s best is not good enough!
what are the
reasons behind it?
Most of the players and observers are in agreement that there is no proper sports infrastructure in the country. After being conferred an honorary Doctorate in Literature for his Olympic feat by the SRM University in Chennai on 07th September, Abhinav said: “We lack infrastructure and good coaches. Foreign coaches should be brought in for providing training to sportspersons at the junior level itself.“ Some people may say India is a poor country and cannot afford the required infrastructure. Former Prime Minister Charan Singh opposed hosting the Asian Games in 1982 on this ground. Now, firstly, this argument is not correct. Kenya, Jamaica and many other countries poorer than India have consistently performed far better at the Olympics. Secondly, not just the central government plans, even the state governments’ development plans now run into lakhs of crores of rupees. After all, how much does a good football pitch or a field for hockey cost! Construction of good swimming pools, athletic tracks, gymnasiums, and cycling velodromes is not beyond the means of the state governments anymore. And, if we could hire foreign coaches for cricket, why aren’t we doing it for other sports?
However, it’s not enough just to say that we need a proper infrastructure. More than that, we need to change the culture and the public attitude towards sports. If the public attitude is healthy, the infrastructure would automatically develop. Transparency and accountability in sports administration is a must. Indians need to question and grill the sports officials for their failures. And, their decisions should not be allowed to be influenced by communal and regional considerations. India has adopted the system of parliamentary democracy from Britain. It might be an idea to have a serious look at the culture and structure of sports in Britain and the US. If India can produce world class movies, the same can be done in the field of athletics. It’s a question of working on it.
What India needs to do is to set targets of at least 10 gold medals at the next Olympics, 30 gold medals for the 2016 Olympics, and 50 gold medals – the right number for a country of India’s size – in the 2020 Olympics, and the new officials at the Indian Olympic Association and the other sports bodies must be made to meet those targets
Giving up on the Olympics as a bad job is not an option, if India wants to take its proper place in the community of nations. Performance in sports is as important as achievements in the fields of science and technology, and trade and industry.