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Why Indians Return Light From Olympics

Why Indians Return Light From Olympics

My daughter was barely seven years old when her sports teacher made an interesting observation: her legs were proportionately longer than her torso and that, he told us - the parents - was a perfect athletic body. We had encouraged our only child to play outdoors and she seemed to love physical activity. We enrolled her in the school summer camp during holidays to learn roller skating.

On her teacher’s advice, we arranged a coach to train her. In the coming years, she won medals and accolades and made us and her school proud. She represented her school and the State in the National events; she was a star kid in her own right. The training made her a balanced human being: junk and fast food was never her routine diet. Though not a topper in the class, she was good in studies. More importantly, she was growing into a cheerful girl, a perfect team player and valued human spirit above everything else.

When she was in ninth grade, her class teacher threw a bombshell on us: in her annual performance report, she wrote: She has the potential to do better but her indulgence in sports prevents her from doing so.

She had indirectly blamed parents for the ‘indulgence’ and we started pondering on our approach towards raising our child. As such four-hour regular practice at the arena was leaving her with little time to cope with huge syllabi and the disapproving looks of her teachers only added to her discomfort. She was not disappointed to quit.

As parents we had to take a hard call: is there a future in sports or are we just trying to take risk with the career of our child.

My experience of social disapproval of sports in India and many seeing it as an ‘indulgence’ is just one of the reasons why a nation of 1.3 billion people lags behind even poorer and smaller countries like Jamaica and Grenada at the Olympics.

Indians see studies as the only way to succeed in life and therefore a child who plays more and studies less has to face discrimination even from teachers. In our scriptures, the learned Brahmin like Kautilya can control the skilled warriors and Kings. Those indulging in sports are not the first-grade characters in mythology.

Besides, in sports the gestation period for a young man or a woman to touch the pinnacle of her career is long and the society is neither ready to support them nor does it approve of this ‘deviant’ behaviour. It’s another matter that after they become successful, the same person is paid too much attention and his struggle becomes folklore.

Why is India not a sports power to reckon with? Besides, sports being treated as an extra-curricular activity, cricket, a legacy of our colonial past, maybe the main culprit for our lack on focus on producing top-ranking sportspersons. Today, cricket’s domination on Indian sports remains unchallenged despite sporadic efforts to promote football and kabbadi. 

Cricket generates a national euphoria and this kills the nascent efforts to make our national sports hockey regain its glory. Other sports have to virtually beg of the fans and sports lovers to pay attention to them too. Baichung Bhutia, the national football team captain, had to take to social media to request people to watch their matches to boost them. His one-time effort moved India till the next IPL or cricket test match was played.

It seems during the World cup (cricket) in England one TV channel that got the rights to the event earned revenue of Rs 1,200 to 1,500 crore through advertising and an extra Rs 300 crore on streaming through its online portals. Cricket players get very rich and flaunt an envious lifestyle.

The same can’t be said about other sportspersons; they have to be content with a government job and a few commercial endorsements. The reality is that the big companies prefer to invest in cricket and it has emerged as the most viable sports in India.

The successes of all Indian sportspersons like Hema Das, Dutee Chand, P V Sindhu and boxers from Haryana or the legendary P T Usha are the stories of their grit, determination and sacrifices and the support of their families. In fact, Sania Mirza’s father had to give up his construction business to help his daughter become the world’s number 1 tennis star. The stories of abject poverty of many athletes are heart rendering, and yet inspirational. The State had no role in their lives till they became successful. Blockbuster Bollywood films like Shah Rukh Khan’s Chak de India and Amir Khan’s Dangal have depicted the murky world of Indian official sports management.

There is an intrinsic link between talent and achievement in sports arena. Yet in today’s world, training and equipment make all the difference between victory and loss. This is a reason why promoting sports is beyond the capacity of individuals, and therefore, the States have to invest heavily in sports for national glory. For example, it’s estimated that each medal that UK athletes won in the 2012 Olympics cost the State a whopping 4.5 million pounds. India, on the other hand, spent one-fourth of this money on an athlete. The results commensurate with the efforts and investments: India came back with two medals while their UK peers returned home with 67!

China’s passion for training athletes as young as four years old is well known. Western media have done stories about China’s gruelling 10-hour training schedule for children in the country. The State adopts children who show promise and takes full responsibility for their training, nutrition and finances. No wonder the Chinese are next to none in making a rich haul of medals in the Olympics.

Each time India returns with a low medal tally from an international sports competitions, the government of India pledges its support and everyone raises concerns about low investment on nurturing talents. There is no dearth of schemes as successive governments have launched schemes for promotion of sports culture in the country.

Despite the Narendra Modi government launching an ambitious and high profile scheme like Khelo India to make sports inclusive and a pan-national movement, huge gap in government’s intention to boost sportspersons and the execution of schemes continues.

While budgetary allocation for sports has been increasing steadily, it’s still short of the actual demand. Another flaw pointed out by the analysts is the lack of coordination between various wings of the government on spending. For example, the Khelo India gets the lion’s share of allocations and rest is divided between the state-level sports bodies and Sports Authority of India. Even ministries have a part of their funds for sports promotion: at the end, it turns out to be the case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

With the exception of Tatas, the Indian Corporate companies are not particularly interested in investing the mandatory Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds for sports; they prefer to spend on brand endorsements after a sportsperson achieves glory. 

According to a report in the Live Mint daily, in 2017, of the actual CSR spending of Rs 6,810 crore by the top 100 listed companies only Rs122.71 crore was allocated to sports.

Tata Steel Limited, one of the biggest Indian companies, however, spends 5.99 crores of CSR for rural sports. It has set up Tata Football Academy, Tata Archery Academy and the Tata Athletics Academy. These are besides the multi-disciplinary JRD Tata Sports Complex, and several sport feeder centres at different locations.

(Published on 02nd September 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 36)