Friday, July 10, 2009

What ails Indian sports

I was paging through random blogs when I came across this post. . To hear a fellow Indian say that we are somehow inferior to foreigners. That really hurt. But that got me thinking. What ails sports in India?

Having once played top level badminton, I can assure you that there's very little more that I, or many of my mates, could have done in terms of effort. I have seen players from other countries play and there is very little that differentiates them from us. After coming to USA I realise that elite athletes here don't work any harder than us in training. So where does the difference come from? To understand that, take the following analogy. Consider two kids. One from one of the proper metros in India, say Bombay. The other from some less developed town, say Kohima. Both decide from a young age that they want to make it to the IITs. Let us even that the chap from Kohima is smarter and works harder. What are his chances of beating the guy from Bombay? The guy from Bombay has an entire system at his fingertips. People ahead of him have excelled and shown the path to success. People around him are currently doing research and figuring out ways to make him better. What chance does the guy from Kohima stand. If he makes it to the top 1000 in the entrance he should be applauded. Not treated as a loser. Similarly, for any Indian sportsman, just to make it to Olympics, is an incredible achievement. He would have overcome tremendous odds and made huge sacrifices to get there We should not speak lightly of his achievements. Obviously I'm not talking about the ones born with the proverbial silver spoon and who trained in foreign countries.

So what is the problem with sports in India. The glaring one is the lack of a sporting culture among the general population. The orientation toward that needs to start at schools. But we have our limitations. We are a developing country. First lets get all our kids to go to school. Then we can focus on improving the school environment. So that's a far away goal for now.

What else can we do? It is laughable to say that the government doesn't help. Why should the government develop sports in India. What return is there on that investment? Is that how it is done all over the world? Few people realise this, but India does have an excellent structure to nurture sporting talent. Sports authority of India have set up sports camps in numerous states. Kids come it at roughly ten years of age. Assuming they pass a few physical tests, they are housed, fed, trained and given an education, all at government cost. If they make it to the national team, they often get a job in the public sector. Unfortunately, like everything else in India, this structure is rooted in corruption. Bureaucracy eats away most of the funds. Camps get cancelled, gear does not arrive, coaches run from pillar to post to get basic facilities allotted. Even so, the skeleton is in place for a sport to grow. Then why doesn't it?

To understand that we need to look no further than that malaise that has spread to all walks of life in India .. political goons. In every sport in India, these scoundrels are kings. All they do is sit with a begging bowl in front of the government. Government funds are just a means for politicians to pay off their goons with taxpayers money. Once the funds are allotted they fall upon it like rabid dogs. They go on tours all over the world. Umpiring workshops, fact finding missions, booze parties etc etc. And when the last penny is spent, they pick up their begging bowl and sit again. These monsters actively ensure that sport does not grow in India. That is in their interest. If the sport grows, money flows in. And once it becomes a business, businessmen with a nose for profit will step in. Then the sport will become professional and organised and there will be no place for these goons. These guys know that and they will never let that happen. Cricket somehow managed to slip through their fingers. So Cricket is the lucky one. It isn't the one killing all other sports.

Is there a solution to this mess? Yes, but it's going to take some time. As I mentioned before, our biggest problem is that we, as a nation, don't care too much about sports. Each sport needs love and attention. Be it tennis, badminton, squash, we need people who are willing to nurture the game, grow it from the grassroots. People who will stand up and question injustice. And that cannot be just one or two people, it needs to be a movement. To that end, we need to start Amateur leagues in cities. Leagues for people of all ages and skill levels. Not just for champion sportsmen. Leagues that are outside this corrupt system of ours. Small clubs, weekend matches, a season ending playoff and a rolling trophy. Once there is a critical mass of enthusiasts the corruption in our present system will come down by itself. And it will happen. One day these leeches bleeding my beloved badminton dry will wake up to a sport so huge it is crushing them under its weight.

And oh! my friend who wrote that blog .. please don't call us inferior. We are what we think we are. We have survived thousands of years and thousands of invaders in this land we call home. We drove out Alexander, we drove out the Moguls, we drove out Genghis Khan and finally we drove out the British. If we were inferior, we would have been a footnote in history, not the second most populous nation in the world.