Y Udaya Chandar
India is, undoubtedly, a poor performer in international sports. Why? India has a population 1.3 billion strong, but it won only two medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics, a silver and a bronze. This is an utter shame, one about which every Indian ought to hang his head in humiliation.
The Indian medal winners in the international arena are household names in India, because there are so few of them-a number that can be counted on fingers. This is like the 1.3 billion people who have not been able to win even one Nobel Prize for science in nearly 100 years. This shows that we are simply a ‘quantity’, with ‘quality’ found nowhere. We, the people of India, can only make noise, nothing else. The poverty of the country, coupled with nasty attitudes of so many people, mar our sports efforts.
India is a tropical country where summer temperatures soar above 45 Celsius. Such a climate can be blamed for sapping people’s energy, but this is not the reason why we are not good sportspersons. In India, armed forces personnel routinely walk distances of about 60 kilometres during their training events, all while carrying a load of more than 20 kilograms, and they suffer no ill effects.
Let us consider the sports scene in India. We are good for nothing in any game apart from cricket. This is because it is a comparatively easy game, and the rewards for good performance are fantastic and fabulous. Virat Kohli’s yearly package is rupees seven crore in this poor country, irrespective of how many matches he plays. All the other sports are on the backburner.
In some games, like golf, chess and billiards, a few Indians have reached the top, and the same people make headlines year after year. Hardly any new blood appears among them. In a few other sports, like women’s badminton and women’s tennis, there are a couple of players who steal the show regularly. Here, there are also no enviable players in the pipeline.
There are several reasons why Indians fail to make it to the top in sports. First, there is hardly any incentive for being good in sports. In India, if one is not good in school, he or she is doomed. The studies one chooses to pursue, too, should be in areas that are in demand, like ‘information technology’ at present. Today, everyone wants to be a good information technologist, so that, after graduation, he can move to and settle down in the US. There are many other subjects, like sociology and history, where universities have closed their doors entirely.
Indian parents are very particular that their children do well in their studies. They know that, if a child does not do well in an in-demand subject, he or she will have trouble finding a job and may simply starve. Otherwise, the parents must earn enough money that the next two to three generations can survive on what they amass. This is the main reason why Indian society is so rampant in corruption. If a child shows the slightest inclination towards any sport, the parents are the first ones to dissuade him or her from it. In India the one area, where parents spend as lavishly as their capability will allow, is their children’s studies. Parents are prepared to spend any amount to pay coaching centres to prepare their children for competitive examinations. This is how the mushroom growth of coaching centres has emerged.
There is a great deal of difference between India and the developed Western world. In the US, one can excel in almost any field and be assured of a nice living. Look at the cycling champions and Formula One winners: what lives they lead! This is not the case in India. Very few jobs bring with them an assured and comfortable livelihood, so everyone is after those jobs and working to prepare for them. China and India are akin in many respects, including rates of personal wealth and the incidence of poverty, but China is hundreds of miles ahead in sports.
The State and Central Governments keep a few jobs reserved for sportspersons, but there are truly very few of them. The Railways, Telecommunica-tions and Government Departments offer jobs to people who are good at sports. Unfortunately, those who fill the vacancies meant for the sportsmen often simply forget the game and do not practice even once a week. This trend of corruption is very high among the Indians. They think that they have achieved their ambition by securing a Government job. Furthermore, people cannot be thrown out of a Government job.
Nepotism, a close ally of corruption, is rampant in India. A mediocre person close to an influential person can often secure an appealing job. Other times, these jobs are sold.
The wealthy in India usually keep themselves away from sports, because playing sports requires sweating. Instead, they overeat and become lazy and have no interest in games whatsoever.
The children from the poorer families take to games half-heartedly, but they have hardly any money to spend on the coaches and other support needed to pursue their interest. The equipment for pursuits like archery and shooting is very costly; only a few can afford to buy it, and there is typically no one willing to donate it. Poorer children give up sports when they realise that they are getting nowhere and are simply wasting their time, or when they marry and have to shoulder the responsibilities of a family. If they cannot afford nutritious food, they certainly cannot afford to hire a good coach.
Because we do not have good players, we also do not have good coaches in India. We have to spend a fortune to hire skilled coaches from abroad, but obviously we cannot afford this. Next, there is an acute dearth of playing fields in India’s towns and cities. The land sharks grab all the empty spaces. Children practice cricket in every nook and cranny, causing immense inconvenience to the residents.
Some of the State Governments open training centres to train players, and in the process, some administrators pocket a good amount of the funds released to those centres. It is also easy to embezzle funds from such organisations. Here, also, nepotism plays a big role in filling the centres with mediocre people. Even in the selection of the players to represent the state or the country, the selectors are not always honest. Everyone in India seems obsessed with travelling to foreign countries, so again mediocre people with the ‘right’ connections are selected, leaving the genuine candidates behind unable to compete.
When international tournaments take place, politicians and influential persons all talk about sports, but after a few days, they forget everything about them. They are too busy making money for themselves and their associates. Some awards from the Government also include a minor monetary reward. Many people say that such awards are rigged.
Don’t know when can India catch up with China!
Y Udaya Chandar