In a country where we have over 1.3 billion people, we only have a handful of Olympic Medals. In the last two Olympic games, there was a medal tally of 9 total medals. They reflect on how the conditions of sports infrastructure are in India. Everyone has heard about the deplorable conditions of the sports infrastructure and mindset of people towards sports other than cricket. Every kid on the block wants to be the next Yuvraj Singh, Sachin Tendulkar or Virat Kholi, but I have yet to meet a person who wants to be the next Mary Kom, Sarita Devi, Milkha Singh, Fauja Singh. These sportspersons are only remembered or brought to light when they win medals for the nation and make it proud, if at all or the film industry finds a way to exploit them. This is in view of the recent Sarita Devi incident at the Asian Games 2014 held at Incheon.
Before dwelling into the deplorable conditions of the conditions of sportspersons as well as the infrastructure provided for sports and government incentives, let us first worship the one religion that does prevail in India, which is cricket. I love the excitement of a super over in 20-20 matches as much as the next individual. This game has indeed united the nation. The one thing that truly defines the spirit of nationalism in India has to be Cricket. It always has been and it looks like it always will be Cricket.
Not that I have anything against the cricket team or even the sport, but one cannot overlook the disparity between the sport of cricket and any other sport in India. Even the national sport of Hockey is greatly overlooked. Do the rest of the sports even stand a chance? Sports like tennis, football, wrestling, kabbadi, athletics can never ever gain the same importance as cricket has over the years. With the abundance of people, there lies untapped potential in every street and galli if one to look for it. Even the media forgets our sportspersons. They are only brought to limelight for a few seconds when they win an award and make the nation proud.
Media can actually influence people to take up sports in which there is scope. I refuse to believe that in such a huge population, there are only a handful of sportsperson representing our great nation and actually wining medals and trophies. As long as cricket in prevalent in such a huge grandeur in the country, it is very hard to draw people to other sports. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, used to be a football player but now he is the Captain of the Indian National Cricket Team. Scouts recruited him for cricket, tapped his potential and worked hard to get where he is now.
The same resources are not available to the rest of the population for any other the sports as well. I have never heard for scouts recruiting for boxing or shooting or athletics. Having a team for the sake of it is not enough anymore. Finding people and carving them into the great sportsperson that they can truly be should be the goal. Abhinav Bindra, the sole person to get an Olympic Gold Medal in an individual sport had been born with a golden spoon in his mouth and he achieved what no person had ever dreamt of achieving, an Olympic Gold Medal. But not everyone is as privileged as him. What about the rickshaw pullers who carry fat aunties for a mere 20-30 rupees over a span of a kilometer and their untapped potential? Can’t they represent the country in cycling events once their talents are drawn out and honed? I am not saying that every single one of them can be a contender for Tour de France, but there is a serious gap in making resources available to the masses of the country.
There is a serious requirement of exposure of the resources as well as knowledge of the types of sports and their equipment to the population at large. For instance, even if we hypothetically believe that there is enough exposure in various fields of sports, there aren’t many incentives. There is a huge disparity between how the government and the people of this country treat cricketers and how they treat other sportsperson. When Yuvraj Singh, a member of the Indian National Cricket Team consecutive sixes in an over, he is heavily rewarded with prize money by the central and state government and every person in every household knows his name.
But, when people like Sarita Devi who has been a prominent name in the lightweight boxing arena, wins championships her name is not known by the common masses. A special small article on the sports page is not enough to ensure that the sportspersons get their due recognition and doesn’t ensure that many more people would venture into alien sports, such as female boxing.
A well-known name in female boxing, Mary Kom who has won 5 World Championships in boxing in her lifetime, was not known to anyone in the country. Even I didn’t know her before the Olympics controversy. Some of the people in the country got to know her because of the Olympic controversy on female boxing, (where they still hadn’t introduced it until the 2012 Olympics) but a majority got to know her because of the mega hit biopic on her life. Even Milkha Singh, the great athlete was unknown to people until his biopic came out.
Sarita Devi would not be known by anyone today if she hadn’t tried to take a stand for herself. During the semi final match in Incheon, she lost the first two rounds to her South Korean opponent, Park Ji-Na, but came back stronger than ever during the next two rounds. However, the judges thought differently and gave the match to her South Korean opponent, who later went on to win the Silver Medal. Overwhelmed with the outcome of the result, the lightweight boxer in the 60 kg category,in tears, refused to accept the bronze medal awarded to her and then handed, rather put the medal around counterpart’s neck.
Sarita Devi claimed that she had to do this, with a fight so close, she needed to do this to ensure that the memories of this fight won’t affect her career in the hindsight. After the declaration of the result, the Indian officials refused to take a stand on the matter and stood back and watched the show. It took Sarita Devi and her husband an hour to figure out how to file a formal protest with no help from the Indian Officials. Even in that instance, you could clearly see that her own people were not behind her. If news reports are believed to be true, then she had to borrow the $500 from a journalist just to file a formal protest. If that doesn’t say anything, I don’t know what does.
In lights of the recent Asian Games, there was a sudden wave of feeling of despair that overwhelmed me. Where the teams of Kabaddi and Hockey won laurels and our hearts, Sarita Devi put up a strong fight in the semi finals. But when she took a strong stand during the medal ceremony, there was no one to back her stand. Where a person is not ensured of emotional, mental and resource backing from the government and his own country members refuse to support their claim, how is a person supposed to succeed in any sport other than cricket?
I don’t doubt that there has been immense change in what the situation was before 2008 and now. But that change should have happened long ago and now that since it is, it should continue to grow. One of the most effective ways is to use the tool of media to a great extent possible and ensure grass root penetration of awareness, incentives and resources We need more movies on the likes of female hockey team to ensure that the respect for sportsperson increases in the hearts and minds of everyone alike along with a overall change in the allotment of resources towards other sports. Once there is knowledge of opportunities and other sports, then there are greater chances of people grabbing these opportunities.
Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.