Is it the problem with the shoes? No, we had made it even without shoes in the London Olympics in 1958. Then is it an issue with our physique? No, if not for that, we would never have competed in major league tournaments of tennis, hockey and wrestling to name a few which requires great physical strength and control. Then Is it the problem with poor funding? According to Sports Ministry estimates, India has spent Rs 55.22 Crore for the 46 medal prospects in 2012 London Olympics which means Rs 1.2 Crore per person. Not bad compared to Rs 105 Crores spend by Great Britain (GB) taking into account the Gold Medals the Country expects from 28 of its majors. Meanwhile, the Australian Olympic Committee President, John Coates informed that the Rs 168 Crores spend by Australia is not enough for their sportpersons to compete in the Olympics!! So what are we lacking? Is it the will power, don’t ever say that. In a country where 42 percent of the children are malnourished (Global Hunger Index 2012), around 50 percent in poverty with less than 30 percent getting a chance ever to see the Olympics through Television; it requires a strong will power to exist in India.
So what’s wrong in India? Everything has gone wrong since Olympics became the major sporting event in the world. From a country which had a strong medal representation through Hockey and periodic ones in shooting. We have become bad to worse and are about to expect bigger tsunamis in the future, unless things are put in place. But by whom? That is the question!! Is it the Sports Minister or the silent Prime Minister, or the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centres , the various federations or the victim sportspersons !!
Going by the huge population and its gold conversion, we are the biggest sporting disaster as per the Weighted Ranking system of at all Olympics, with 0.1 weight medal points per million standing at 48th position overall. If you do not take into account the 11 medals ( 8 gold medals) in field hockey, the record is further depressing. If we claim that our economy is poor and is not in a position to support sports, sports enthusiasts and analysts would prove us wrong. See table below
Total Medals (blue) and Gold medals by GDP and Population (Source: www.stubborn mule.net)
As per New York Times 2008 Report “Much of the problem with developing Olympic champions here seems to be rooted in the very same things that make India a perpetual also-ran to China in economic development: poor infrastructure, entrenched political corruption and infighting, and chaos and disorganization. Money earmarked for Olympic training is often mysteriously sidelined, facilities for training are in poor shape and equipment goes missing.”
If you go by this definition of issues, then we can blame the government and the governance system and those individuals who relatively make sportsmen run for their money! If China could turn the tables, from a sole swimmer in the Helsinki Games, 1952 to 100 medals in the Beijing Olympics as host and best country; where does India stand? One can argue to the near autocratic system in China giving them rigorous training for their Success, but we can’t afford to mention democratic countries like US or Britain who have been the top performing countries in Olympic history.
All these questions have been hogging in a country of numerous gods, where Cricket is God’s game under the kingship of one and only Sachin Tendulkar, no matter even if Coca Cola tells us to ‘Change the Game’. Interestingly, the government can be blamed for ‘supporting‘major sports while’ de-supporting’ cricket, which has hitherto grown sui generis under the clout of BCCI and host of politicians who represented and selected the Indian team. The success of BCCI and Cricket with its latest EPL like IPL editions has made the Sports Minister remark “Role of BCCI should be transparent; they should be subject to laws of the country”. It affirms that cricket is indeed a heavenly sport, which is under none and answerable to none!! But what we should understand and keep in mind is that cricket grew because of BCCI supplemented by TV rights and sponsorships. But take the case of football which was once one of the most viewed games, were left to IFA and DD Sports/National eventually falling out. We still have to dig the graves for Hockey’s glory and do a postmortem of athlete’s everytime our sportsmen/women hit the national mark but fails to hit the Olympic bull’s eye. For a country destined by fate and fear, it’s hard to get them march to the Olympic circles.
So now the question is the ball is in whose court? Government, Sports bodies or organizations, training institutes, sportsmen, ex-sportsmen, voluntarily hurt rather than retired individuals or masseurs or physiotherapists? We should never leave anyone in this blame game. Federer won because he is great, Leander won because he paired with Navratilova at Wimbledon and Stepanek in Australian Open; So he is “ain’t that great!” and that’s why he make fuss with Bhupathi who married a former Miss Universe and is still playing with Sania Mirza. Doesn’t she know that Mr Sania (Shoaib Malik, still out of Pakistan Team player) doesn’t like this!! We can then blame the Media for focusing on such things.
The state- central dichotomy over sports is one main issue which prevents the Centre to promote or develop sports at the local level; meanwhile some states find it difficult to sustain the flow of funds which are allocated unevenly. The complicated manner in which funds are allocated through the Sports Federations, Sports Authority Centres make it harder for sportspersons to get appropriate bullets in their armoury to fire at the Olympics or other sporting events. Prioritisation of sportspersons and sporting events has to be done a transparent and quick manner for furthering the cause of sports in India.
Sports Infrastructure: We have around 45 major stadiums including hockey turfs across India out which 29 are cricket stadiums and 7 hockey playing ones. In most of the stadiums its big Dada scaring local Pele’s, forcing them to the streets or waste dumping areas. The dispersion is heavily concentrated in Kolkata and parts of Goa and Kerala; which has a sporting culture but sports infrastructure in other states/cities are still a distant dream.
Political Corruption and Infighting: Yes, we do have scams; not to mention the Commonwealth Games; but we do have Anti Corruption Movements also. It’s a balancing game which is heavily tilted in favour of the government, especially if it involves any Sports Department who give tampered shuttle corks and bullets, leaking hostels and restrooms, bouncing cheques and endless ‘sleeper tickets’ to the sportsmen and women. We expect to see the top sports authorities meet and discuss often on sports development and measures to be taken to improve the performance of sportsmen in the country. We also need to expect them to come and taste the latest biscuits and afford them the luxury of a good sleep during meetings for progressive sports!!
Fighting against all odds, do require a lot of infighting, so that’s what Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi has been doing with or without the support of Bopanna and Sania Mirza. This also stands true very well for Hockey India and Indian Hockey Federation, with the Sports Ministry still unclear as to who is playing hocus pocus with the future of Indian Hockey. The All India Football Federation has been known for playing against the Professional Clubs of Indian Football, whether at the Indian (I)- League or International tourneys. Thankfully Sunil Chetri has escaped the act by getting into Sporting Lisbon; with some of them already calling him as the Christiano Ronaldo of India. Guess, Ronaldo will have to forget his past!!
Last year called the Year of Scams had put Suresh Kalmadi and Lalit Modi into the limelight, which made even cricketing stars jealous. Both their progenies have had changed the sporting culture of India with politicians and businessmen cheerleading the Commonwealth and IPL bandwagon. It’s estimated that the total damage caused by the games runs to Rs 95 Crore while the IPL took the bails off the Minister of State for the Ministry of External Affairs, Shashi Tharoor while bowling out Lalit Modi.
Chaos and Disorganisation
Just like any Indian roads infested by sneeking ‘risk’shaws and bicycles, honking cars, hitting buses and urinating cows; the scenario of Indian Sports is chaotic due to disorganization and mismanagement. To get them follow lane discipline or rules of the game; is a humungous task. The problem more or less lies in the cultural context in which sports originated in India; with an average Indian psyche viewing it as a mere entertainment than a profession which demands full attention of both body and mind. The concept of livelihood associated with sports has been disenchanted for the majority of Indian’s owing to the larger ignorance of sports and absence of sporting culture. Indian’s are intellectuals and praise the intellect more than the outcome; it is the kingdom of Birbal and Tenali Raman where Vishwanathan Anand is a Genius in line with the Mathematical King Srinivasan Ramanujam. Where Amartya Sen is the final word in Economics and Gandhi of peace. Indian’s tend to idolize individuals. Sachin is the perfect example of a culture which believes that individuals stars can do anything which gods can only expected to do. This idolatory gives these stars a non-human status with people expecting them to do miracles. “We expect our team to surprise everyone in the Olympics”, is the usual comments which comes from an average sports enthusiast of Indian teams chances of wimming in the Olympics; just like winning a lottery competition.
Solving the debate
Amidst the cultural issue, host of other factors mentioned have a debilitating effect on the sporting scenario in India. So what can be done? There is no one single solution, neither one effective solution. We require a concerted effort from all stakeholders to ‘make the change’ than expect someone to change it. While corruption, disorganization and chaos is an administrative affair which the government has a huge role to play, accepting sports and people willing to work for sports as professionals will work in favour of the change mentioned above.
Governance: At the governance level, the role of Sports Minister needs to be revisited and should be confined to a monitoring role than a noisy neighbor who pokes into all issues. The Sports Federations has to be structurally disbanded as they act more as agents of corruption ruled by people totally unrelated to sports. The Sport Authorities need to be given autonomy in matters related to its functioning with less possible interference from other quarters. While we can blame BCCI for profiteering, but we should learn from BCCI for the way in which they conduct events, recruit talents and work systematically; which can be considered to be tremendous within the Indian state of affairs. We should have similar autonomous bodies for Football, Shooting, Archery and other events also, without belittling any specific sporting event. Corruption can be curtailed through other effective means, than not giving them freedom to act and work.
Funding: Funding and financial support has been a subject of controversy and issue. Attracting major investment into the sporting arena has been a misnomer owing to the governmental hierarchies existing. Private participation and funding needs to be encouraged in the sector giving them due benefit and credit, essential to get them interested. This exists in all countries and which all major sports merchandise companies like Nike and Puma eye for. The government shall support individuals who are not able to afford getting foreign coaches and participating in international events, but shall not dictate who should be the foreign coach and which all events the concerned individual should participate.
Sports Infrastructure: Infrastructure building should be long term and not confined to a sporting event such as commonwealth or national games. Scope of floating Infrastructure bonds and scope of PPP on specific projects shall be explored. While attempts like Lottery for sports floated by Kerala government is a welcome step, it requires appropriate marketing and funding strategy. Special Taxes and Cess can be levied to raise money specifically for sports instead of taking from the common pool. Loan prioritization shall be given for sports academies and for sportsmen/women for various loans; which will give a boost to their confidence and assist them in long term planning. Salaries require to be stipulated in accordance to the credentials of individuals or the team involved. Appropriate scholarships and other benefits shall be given on continuous manner without delay.
“Impossible is nothing”, same stands true for all the steps to be taken, which is difficult and strenuous but definitely worthy. A strong will coupled with a positive attitude will help improve the state of affairs. It’s a matter of support and belief that drives every sportsmen who cherishes each moment of his career, be it hearing of national anthem at the Olympics or qualifying for the games. As the Olympics motto says ‘faster, higher and stronger’, the spirit of each Indian Sportsmen shall strive to reach that level. With the right attitude and mindset, we can bring in glory and create history.
Project Lead, CPPR