INDIA, NATION OF SPOIL SPORTS?
By Poonam I Kaushish
New Delhi, January 19, 2010
Welcome to the intriguing world of Indian sport. Where the
‘rebellion’ by the hockey players for non-payment of dues by
Hockey India and Olympic gold medalist ace shooter Abhinav
Bindra “frustration” with the attitude of the Rifle
Association has torn asunder the carefully cultivated image of
being a nation of sport lovers. Raising a moot point: Are we a
nation of spoil sports?
Tragically, not only our national sport hockey but all games,
have less to do with sport and more to do with becoming a game
of power and big bucks. Sports be damned. Wherein sportsmen
are branded according their network, and launched in the
sports arena as “companies” which market different products
each according to their brand appeal and market acceptability.
Resulting in the ignominy of over a billion plus nation being
unable to produce a team of international standards even after
six decades of Independence.
Olympics after Olympics, India continues to remain “also ran,”
despite the Centre and State Governments spending crores of
rupees year after year in quest of an eluding Olympic “Gold”.
The only hope from hockey, which India won last at the Moscow
Olympics in 1980, was lost when the team failed to qualify for
the Beijing Olympics. Ditto the case in Asian Games and other
What ails Indian sport? Why do we fail to produce great
champions? With a few honourable exceptions like cricket,
chess and tennis (where, even at the best of times, our
performance has been erratic to say the least), our
sportspersons and athletes like the ‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh
and the ‘Sprint Queen’ P.T. Usha have failed to find a mention
in the international medal tally, in spite of their best
efforts and glowing eulogies at home. The chances of our doing
well or making a mark in the international arena remain grim
till date. At home also, the standard in regional, state-level
and national-level games is fast deteriorating.
Is there a lack of talent in our country? Certainly not! A
nation that can produce outstanding sportspersons like
Vishwanathan Anand, Geet Sethi, Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal,
Leander Paes and Advani can produce, with proper support,
thousands more. All we need is administrators who have passion
for the game, who will work and toil as hard as our
But given that most of our sports bodies today are controlled
and headed by headed by politicians and vested interests.
Ambitious people with powerful connections and clout! Varying
from industrialists, businessmen to small-time managers. They
have little to contribute to sports, but everything to gain
from it. Massage their inflated egos, make money and
distribute patronage. Unlike in the past, when sports patrons
like the Princely rulers of Patiala, Bikaner, Jaipur and
Jodhpur graciously spent time and money for the healthy
promotion of sports.
The justification trotted out for their involvement is that
netagan are ‘experts’ in raising funds, even for khel-kood!
Especially in foreign climes. But not at the cost of sports.
So far so good, but what does one do when sports today has per
se degenerated from purely a sporting activity, requiring
physical prowess and competitiveness, to downright an object
of a nexus between politics, organised crime and bodies
controlling various sports.
This all pervasive malady has grown to monstrous
proportions in the entire sports arena and is now referred to
as a full-fledged industry and trade with a turn-over running
into hundreds of crores.
The entry of paid sponsors for games and sportsmen has added
an ugly dimension to an already murky arena. The decline of
standards in sports is in direct proportion to the increase in
the players’ affluence. When a game is no longer a game but a
commercial deal, why crib against those who handle one piece
of business and take steps to ensure its gains.
The result? Politicians and bureaucrats now swamp the arena in
a big way. Despite the recommendation of the first-ever
Sports, Congress in New Delhi in 1963 that no Minister should
hold any office in a sports federation, several Ministers and
politicians, bureaucrats and policemen have been doing so
without batting an eyelid.
Add to this, the politicisation of sports wherein regionalism
and favoritism dictate selection for a national or
international event. This coupled with a total failure of a
sports management system, leading to bad planning and lack of
basic infrastructure, has hindered any progress. While we have
built huge stadiums like the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in
Delhi, no small stadiums have been built in the rural and
semi-urban centers to encourage sporting talent in the early
Further, there our sportspersons lack competitive spirit and
are prone to rest on their laurels. Very few keep up the
strict regimen in respect of diet and training once they have
achieved name and fame happy to fade into oblivion. The acme
of their achievement is the Arjuna Award. How many chess
grandmasters like Viswanathan Anand or cueists of
international repute like Geet Sethi has the country produced?
Also, parental emphasis on studies, at the expense of sports
and game, is another cause for the desperate straits in which
Indian sports finds itself in.
More. Bindra hit the bull’s eye when he stated that India
today is all about cricket, thanks to the IPL and its big
bucks. But cricket can never be the true symbol of Indian
sports as it is played only in 20 countries around the world.
Over-indulgence in cricket is a major hurdle in way of other
games promotion. It is okay for the country to be mad about
cricket. However at the highest level policy makers must be
reasonable and ensure that other sports are also given
adequate support from their side.
For some sense of perspective, let's compare the salaries of
our hockey players and cricketers. While Team India cricketers
get Rs 1,60,000 per ODI/T20 game and Rs 2,50,000 per Test,
hockey players get a paltry Rs 25,000 every tournament plus a
small daily allowance. It is nobody's case that other sports
be put on par with cricket since there are good reasons why
cricketers are paid such handsome salaries. But at the same
time there is no reason why hockey players should be paid such
It is time for a great nation like ours to set up our house in
order. We should extend every possible facility to our
sportspersons and encourage them to take up sports and games
more seriously. It is high time that the authorities make a
firm and determined decision in this regard and start grooming
young talents. We need to design and implement a program that
will start with 10 year olds, nurture their talent and coach
them for the next 15 years or so.
District level talent spotting efforts need to be supported
with physical and mental conditioning, adequate nutrition and
of course, fitness regimes. In Russia, coaches scout for
swimming talent among three years old and for gymnasts who are
barely able to speak well. Famous tennis player Monica Seles
started playing the game at three!
Finally, the million dollar question? How is the Government
going to pull out the country from this sports morass? For
starters keep politicians and bureaucrats out of sports. It is
plain that rescuing sport from the Octopus-like grip of vested
interests, pathetic management, bad planning deceit and money
across the country will be a long and painful process.
Nevertheless, a beginning has to be made soon. We have to
be clear about what we want to achieve and how?
Clearly, if a healthy atmosphere is created and selections
properly made we can do a lot in this field. Simply to honour
the outstanding sports persons at functions or staging
international sports will not serve our purpose. Let there be
more accountability, those who cannot produce results must go.
The true legacy of sports will lie in whether money can now be
made available to build the training superstructure for all
sports and sportsmen. The fear of the fall of our icons should
not make us turn a blind eye to our own crime in queering the
pitch for what India desperately needs: healthy sport. Or,
else reconcile to being spoil sports! – INFA
(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)