With the closing ceremony of Rio Olympics 2016, the global mahasammelan of sports came to an end shifting the focus towards 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This quadrennial competition featuring 28 sports and 11,000 athletes came to an end with the US topping the medal tally followed by Great Britain and China. Once again these nations showcased their prowess of being a superpower. Aspirant India sent its largest contingent ever with 122 athletes but predictions and prayers of building on their previous 2012 London Olympics haul proved misguided. Sakshi Malik opened India’s medal tally with a bronze in wrestling becoming the first Indian woman to grace the podium. To understand the enormity of her challenge she hails from Haryana which has the lowest male-female sex ratio. She transcended the belan-choka stereotype.
PV Sindhu delivered silver in Badminton defeating the infallible Chinese but going eventually down to World no 1 Carolina Marin of Spain in the finals. Other than these two who saved India from returning empty handed, athletes like Dipa Karmakar, Lalita Babbar , Aditi Ashok , K Srikanth won the hearts of millions with their performance. Most sympathizers would point to ‘bad luck’. However it is not the lack of luck that gave us the disappointment but the lack of sporting culture among our populace and the system.
Countries like USA, China, Russia, GBR have made huge investments in sports enabling their athletes to perform exceptionally in the global arena signaling their intent being a superpower. Sports have been engrained in these cultures and they have organized systems to propagate new talent. In America sports are more popular at college level. Well, in some countries, particularly Asian countries sports are often seen as a distraction from academics. Athletes are often stereotyped as a low intellectual class subject to meddling by the ‘learned officials’. Offsetting this train of thought there are plenty in the West who believe that, the longstanding convention is that sports are beneficial to an individual’s development, including their academic development. The Ivy League is a sports conference which has turned out to be elite institutions in academics as well. Almost 80% of Harvard students are involved in athletics. This college system has developed a climate where athletes between the age of 18-22yrs age turn into Olympians. In case of China, athletes at a very young age are sent into boot camps, which are sports institution where they are trained rigorously in specific sports after assessing their skill. This also comes with their advantage of having hosted Olympics in 2008 thus creating the necessary infrastructure as a major asset for preparing athletes.
India being the second largest population in the world has persistently failed to hit its weight at the Olympics. A larger section finds consolation in the mere reality that such a large group has found its way onto the world stage rather than correctly assess the crutches of the Indian sporting industry. This attitude, prevalent not only in the bureaucracy but also among the common people, further demoralizes taking up sport. The problem starts here with sports being considered as a wasteful resource for a youngster. Harsha Bhogle, a famous cricket commentator and sports analyst points that Olympic athletes will never come from the education-driven middle class. It is not an indictment but a statement of facts because this knowledge seeking community has served magnificently for India but refuses to contribute for sports. Sports is just not ingrained into the Indian culture as it is into Western culture because taking up engineering or medical or any academic course is considered to be a viable option rather than taking any other sport because of the assumption that there is no scope and success in this field. After this, next problem that comes is cricket which is considered as religion for the masses and because of this there are vast infrastructural facilities for this sport and coaching and people take up cricket because it is the sport that everyone loves and you would most likely be a pagan for cricketing dislike.
India has the worst per capita medal tally but keeping statistics aside the harsh reality is the infrastructure and the assumption about sport and its significance. Sports in India being taken up as profession is a necessity for these athletes to perform well and achieve success which ensures them a job of fixed salary in government which is more than enough for their hard work. The athletes come from places where the downside to failure relatively small but the upside for success is huge. The main problem is the key job of a sports federation is to facilitate identification and grooming of sporting talent and providing a platform for their interaction with the spectators. As simple as it may sound, it is one of the most complex tasks that involves activities ranging from creating sporting infrastructure and providing training facilities to promoting sports through platforms like sporting events. In light of such complexity, the federations have repeatedly fallen short of public expectations and failed to carry out their jobs. It has largely been attributed to the way they are governed. The biggest concern regarding these bodies so far has been a complete absence of checks and balances. In the pretext of autonomy, they have been allowed to function in the most whimsical manner.
First solving this problem of Governance is by providing The Ministry of Youth and Sports which requires powerful and well defined sports legislation ( For eg:- National Sports Integration Act ) which needs to outlines rights, rules, guidelines for Sports Authority. The establishment of a sports regulator like SEBI, RBI or TRAI will be appropriate to regulate the sporting bodies and at the same time give autonomy to each arm to formulate and execute its decision. Disclosure of public information would also be expedited thus making it transparent. At the most, legislation should also curb the selection and appointment process of politicians who ignore the needs of athletes while making use of official trips as vacations by clearly defining the norms to appoint and select the head of the management. This should ensure democratization of sports governance instead of prevalent nepotism and favoritism. Further all the college and universities must be brought under a unified sports body instead of state department and further implement international best practices in these sports institution. This will further foster creating basic foundation at grass root levels.
Sports leagues such as IPL, ISL, Pro Kabaddi , Hockey league ,International premier Tennis leagues , World Wrestling League, and many other which is yet to start are a welcome step towards changing the fan base plus creating trends of sports enthusiasm within the nation for different sport is changing the broader picture with private sector investing in these, giving great salary for the sportsperson and opportunity for athletes to change their life. Recently Prime Minister Modi announced Task Force to create a strategy to help sportsperson prepare for the next three Olympics which will cover infrastructure, training , selection. However, even after these there is a long road to travel to make India a sporting prowess in the global arena, which requires lot of renovation. Becoming a sporting giant is not that difficult for India as Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA mentions India as a sleeping agent. The need to create a PYRAMID of Sport requires love, care and nurturing which is most important along with Infrastructure and Funding. If the message from this Olympics goes unanswered and the opportunity to create world class level athletes is ignored then our athletes will be left to fight the system first and then the opponent with whatever they have left. Something that they seem no strangers to, just ask Sakshi Malik.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
Get all our posts, blogs and video content via e-mail.