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India’s eternal search for Olympic Glory

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This is Olympic season, Rio 2016. Countries, from all over the world, are competing against each other with their athletes giving their best to bring glory and pride for their respective nations. When we look at the medals tally, it is usually dominated by nations which also dominate the world in terms of economy and politics, such as US, China, Britain etc. With these big nations, there are smaller nations as well, their athletes also make mark in this world arena. So, being an Indian, the question arises, “where is my nation, where is India?”

India, a nation of 1.2 billion citizens and an economy of 2 trillion GDP, can’t produce medal winning athletes in Olympics? India has been participating at Olympics since 1900 and this 2016. 116 years have passed and we still can’t get into top 10 ranks in medal tally, we can’t even get medals in double digits. There have been some very tremendous achievers who brought medals home and made India proud. But they are too little in numbers. The most medals we won in single Olympics were at London 2012, that too in single digit.

So, begs the question, what is wrong with our players and the sports as whole in India. Well, there are many reasons that one gets to hear over the years, while discussing sports policy in India. A few reasons mentioned below:-

1. Politics- Politicians and bureaucrats heading sport associations and making policies for sports instead of sportsperson. Nepotism and flavors through bribes are rampant. Undeserving candidates are chosen for their contacts while deserving ones have to beg and still get disappointed.

2. Infrastructure and lack of resources – since Governments, both at the center and in states, don’t think sports hold priority as much as other issues. So they don’t feel the need to invest in sports infrastructures and grooming talents. Playing arenas, grounds, Athlete hostels, sport gears and materials all are either in pathetic conditions or missing in most states of India. Our players make most from the least.

3. Sports culture in Indian society- As I remember this old saying while growing up, “Kheloge Kudoge to hoge Kharab, Padhoge Likhoge to Hoge Nawab”, which roughly translate to, “ if you are indulging in sports your life is doomed, only studies can make your life better”. Well, this has been the mentality of most Indian families. Sports, as a career, always meets with stern opposition from within own families. It is changing but still sluggish to overcome such mindsets.

4. Some people also argue that since cricket has ruled the sports arena of India, Indians don’t take interest in other sports. Even youths only want to join and play cricket because of fame n money it provides. May be true but there was a time when Hockey used to rule then 1983 happened and Indian cricket teams regularly provided the reasons for Indians to hold interest in the game. That’s how they grew this big and influential.

There are various other factors which will take whole book to write about. Instead we need to evaluate what is lacking and focus on finding solutions to the problem as to what could be done. In my point of view, several things can be done which I will point out below.:-

A. First and foremost, Government should completely stop indulging into sports matters and let professional handle those. For that Government should abolish Sports Ministry and all control over sports associations and game bodies. Bureaucrats who are heading such associations can be better utilized for various other government organizations. Make autonomous bodies with former sportsperson and professionals of the field to overhaul the whole sport policies. Government has no business meddling with sports. BCCI is autonomous. Yes, there are politicians in it too but it still runs completely out of Government control. That’s how it is functioning like no other sports body in India.

B. We, as humans, always tend to seek inspirations from our heroes to make our own names. We do have many such heroes in Indian sports history like Dhyan Chand, Prakash Padukone, Mary Kom and many others. But they don’t get to see as much fame as Bollywood stars or cricketer do. In books, in media, in news, posters, advertisement we usually only read, watch and hear about either entertainment personalities or cricketers. Legends in all fields should be part of our day to day life and also included into curriculum in schools n colleges for our next generation who can be inspired to be the future legends. We get to see very few movies or programs that are based on sporting events or sports culture. A few are being made or are in process of making, usually based on cricket. Dhyan Chand, for example, astonished Hitler with his game, is waiting for some producers to show his story.

C. The mindsets! It’s being said that old habits die hard. That is true. Society and families still don’t accept sports as careers. Only college degrees and paying jobs matters to parents in India. This has to change. Government should involve private sector, more, into promoting and encouraging talents from grassroots level, through scholarships, financial incentives and other such initiative, instead of doing everything by themselves, which always ends up into corruption. Private sponsorship should be promoted more and more and Government should spend taxpayer money into building sturdy infrastructure again with professional help/private sector partnership. College level sports need to be made into professional tournaments and recruitment should be done thru colleges. There are too many levels for a player to compete. School, college, district, states then they get to reach national levels.

D. End of the day it all comes down to wins/medals. One can’t expect people to take interest, participate or encourage different sports without giving them something to be excited about of inspired to. Same way, one can’t expect sponsorship without giving them the reasons that their money they are going to invest is going to bring those results. Wins/ Medal do matter in sport. No matter how much we sugarcoat with sympathies n consolations.

E. Last but not the least, instead of sending such a big Olympic contingent from India, Government should be focusing on smaller team with higher chances of wins. Or take break from participation for couple of Olympics games, which will give us 12 years for preparation. In that course of time, India should focus on national games and make it at par with the Olympic standards. As one of our athlete broke national record while qualifying for a track event. One can only wonder how low national records are that one breaks it while just qualifying for Olympic finals. For international exposure, we do have various other events like World Series or World Cups where one can participate. Also many gaming leagues are emerging in India in recent times where players from all over the world participate. More such leagues in every game should also be encouraged.

Real life heroes can never be replaced with reel life heroes. Be it Military, freedom fight, Sports arenas etc. All those participating in Olympics are fighting very hard and giving their best. It’s not their fault but we the people of India along with our governments are holding them back. I want to dedicate this article on Dipa Karmakar, who never gave up, fought with all odds and created history like never before.

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