At last the Olympics season has ended and it is now time for some soul searching. The Beijing Olympics had indeed been a fascinating show with the might of Chinese superiority on full display. Though India might still be years away before it can organize an event on a scale like this, we have some reasons to feel proud of. Yes-- One gold and two bronzes ( all individual medals) from a country that got its last individual medal decades ago and moreover the first INDIVIDUAL GOLD medal. While we should truly revel at this feat, we should not condone the bigger goals ahead nor the scale of work we have to do before we become a sports power. Let us look at the key issues that we have and how this could be rectified.
From time immemorial, sports was an important aspect of cultural superiority and male prowess. Historians attribute the ancient Olympics to have been initiated as early as 776 B.C founded by Heracles ( son of Zeus of Rome) ( source " "Olympic Games." Britannica.com, http://history1900s.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/2/0%2C5716%2C115022%2B1%2B108519%2C00.html ) ). The modern version of the games started in 1896 at Athens, Greece. The Games have touched the hearts and minds of people across the continents of the rich and poor, of the capitalists and socialists, of the blue collared and white collared but not as much in the vast, populous nations of South Asia. India with a population of 1 billion + people are forced to the level of mute spectators when a small island country like Jamaica which is difficult to be spotted on the world map is walking away with 11 medals among them 3 gold souvenirs. What a pity? What a sad state to a country that has arguably the world's best talent and a vast pool to choose from.
Cricket has never been a traditional Indian sport. However, since the Prudential World Cup victory in 1983, India has made giant strides in this sport. The traditional, classical, older version of the game is a time stealer, though it could be a time killer for many. A 5-day game, often with no results may not be able to keep up with the hurry- burry lifestyles of the Gen X and Y and even the highly popular one-dayers steal your entire day. Let us admit it. Cricket, as a sport, has its limitations mostly due to the vast amount of time it consumes. I have played this game quite a lot during my child hood days ( though I should admit that I was not a good player). To state bluntly, this is not a truly 11 member game like soccer as only a few players are actively involved during any particular session. For eg: during any game, only the bowler, batsman, the wicket keeper and maybe the close in fielders have something to do while the others are left making merry or sometimes even dosing off. Some years back, there was even a report of a famous Indian cricketer who was standing idle near the bounday line for quite some time chatting with some girls from the galleries. This could perhaps happen only in this particular sport. Let us face it.. Though cricket is an immensely popular sport and is like a religion in India, it does not have a reach beyond the comity of the erstwhile Common wealth nations. Of these, soccer had long replaced cricket as the major sport of U.K years ago and I read recently that even in Australia, the popularity of cricket is slowly but steadily slipping. That leaves us with only 3 nations who are active cricket playing nations- India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. That leaves us with one question. Is winning a cricket " world cup" something we should concentrate on when only 7 nations are playing the game seriously. Should we focus all our energies on this single mission? ( and sad to say, we have even won the cricket world cup only once in 1983 and that too as an underdog).
The answer is a hell - No. Forget the media that has immensely popularised the game, forget the business power houses who have reaped in bonanza after bonanza even to budding cricketers and tapped them for their commercials. We should only remember the fact that we are ranked 50 th out of a total of 190 odd nations that took part in the Olympics. The three medals were won by athletes who were least expected to win . There is no excuse for India's laxity. We recently did celebrate our 61st birthday as a free independent nation. All the lame thoughts on India's late independence holds no water. We are ourselves to blame for this predicament. We should not blindly follow the U.S system for the development of sports. But let us atleast take a cue from it. All the Universities here - with no exception-have strong athletic/soccer teams and they regularly play against each other. The matches are intense, highly competitive and above all supremely rewarding. The winners becomes champions and true national heroes. There is always an impetus for concentrating on sports even if that means sacrificing on academics. The top talents get enough points to merit admission in even highly ranked Universities in this country. The local media glorifies just not one support nor one player. Even the University level matches are given due coverage and respect by the print and the electronic media and people actually flock to see their local heroes. Moreover, sports is an integral part of one academic Curriculum vitae.
Sachin Romesh Tendulkar is a true hero. But he is not the only hero of India. There are thousands of them, in the streets of Ludhiana, in the slums of Dharavi, in the nomadic settlements of the Thar, maybe even the far flung Indian city of Kanyakumari. What is absent is the will to tap these talent at a young age, nurture them, support them, make them believe in themselves and enthuse them to play for the country. We have to reassure them that even after they have spent their life time for the sport, they can live credibly and have a good life. What we need is a system that is impartial, shunned of regionalism and with the right people at the helm. What we also want are policies that can convince parents to believe in their children, to make them feel that engineering and medicine career streams are not the end of the world.
Some years ago, people could argue that we are a poor nation and that we do not have the luxury to do all this. Believe it or not, India is a rising tiger. Our country has corporate power houses that can tame even the North American juggernauts and believe me -these guys have the big money that the state is lacking. The government should build a public-pvt partnership ( 20/80 ratio) that would help channel the required funds into the system. Let us all work together to bring India out of this rut. Do not stop at one Abhinav Bhindra- Let us create scores of Bhindras all over India. We will have our true heroes and the corporate bosses will have their poster boys too.