India's poor show at Olympics China has the answer

Samarjit Kambam *

While the Indian media is beating behind the bush or deliberately remaining numb, the Chinese state media had already listed out the reasons it believes are behind the poor show of India in every Olympics and most particularly the recently concluded one at Rio. These are: lack of infrastructure, poor health, poverty, girls not being allowed to participate in sports, boys being coaxed into becoming doctors and engineers, the popularity of cricket over other sports, India's fading hockey glory and lack of information about the Olympics in rural areas.

With a population of one plus billion, India's show at the recently concluded Rio Olympics can be termed as 'pathetic'. The sportsmen from India tried their best but experienced a free fall when the going gets tough except the sterling performance by PV Sindhu by plucking a silver in Badminton, the first in the history of India wherein a woman player catches a silver in Olympics.

While we are basking in glory with silver and bronze, other nations have already started intense preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics with their respective governments working to the best of their capability to nurture and inspire their sportsmen by carrying out innovative ideas, hunting new talents, moulding freshers, infusing funds for state of the art infrastructure and other intrinsics such as diet, medical fitness, new techniques, excellent training and exposure to sportspersons or teams of other nations.

It is really sad to learn that the national media houses hardly give any sincere effort to bring to the limelight the poor show of India in every Olympics and other world championships. Seems like India has regressed from London 2012 to Rio 2016. Discussions and deliberations among experts in the field is not prevalent. Switch the sports channel and we can witness cricketers popping out on the screen.

Out of the billion plus population, the sport of cricket has whisked away 80% and eyeing Pakistan as the only sparring nation in the world. To the Indians obsessed with cricket, the game of cricket has become too overwhelming that they are oblivious of the existence of other sports. No doubt, the cricketers are the biggest sports celebrities in India with BCCI being one of the largest cricketing body in the world.

Football is almost non-existent in the national psyche and the media. Indian hockey is still unable to revive its past glory. And the Indian mindset prevails viz, soccer is meant for Latin American countries, basketball is for the blacks, Gymnastics are meant for Russia and european countries, swimming is not in the blood of the Aryan and Dravidan race, allergic to cycling, fear of boxing, shy of athletics, not confident with archery and the likes. The irony is that the mindset itself has become the stumbling block in the growth of sports in India.

Over and above the factors cited by the Chinese media, there are factors galore for India's poor show in Olympics. One of the main factor is the mindset Indians possess. Another pivotal factor is structured corruption. The relevant sports authorities in India breaths and breed corruption from the grassroots to the upper echelons of the hierarchy. Compared to other countries the funds allocated for sports is miniscule.

Indians think that games and sports are secondary in the making of a powerful nation. There is no sincere attempt on the part of the government to infuse games and sports in the national psyche, taking it only for granted. The number of sports schools, sports colleges and sports universities are too few. Of all nations, India has for so long been able to accrue tolerance to a high degree the shame, humiliation, dishonor and disgrace associated with its poor show in sports in the international arena.

Kosovo, one of the smallest nations in the world, physically the size of a district of Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh came up with a gold in the Rio 2016 Olympics while India has to be contented sans gold. The whole population of India cannot live upto the achievements of a single individual by the name of Michael Phelps of Unites States who have won 23 gold medals in Olympics.

Healthy discussions, deliberations and debates on the prevailing scenario of Indian sports should be encouraged and transcended from local level to the top level of the system. Budding and talented players should be handpicked from a very young age. Sincerity on the part of the Indian government and thrust from the people should be symbiotic. Sports should be taken more seriously at the school level, thus enabling the development of young talents.

There is a world of untapped potential in schools, we just need to tap into it. Inclusion of sports in syllabus of schools should not be limited to just general awareness on sports but as a means to inculcate to the kids the beauty of sports itself by allocating sports as a separate subject as well as a goal to pursue like pursuing MBBS, IAS, Engineering, Management etc. Increased coverage of sports other than cricket in the national media should be made a necessity. Initiative to be taken by the Indian government to make way for companies to invest in advertisement slots which promotes the market for the sport.

Once prospective investors see that a sport enjoys high visibility, they will see it as a viable venture to invest in it. Increased coverage of sports on TV also creates fans of the sport who then take up the game for real. India has some of the richest people in the world. Instead of having them splurge on rich toys, they ought to direct their spendings to sports.

The Hockey India League's franchises have said up front that they don't expect a profit until a few years time and that this investment is more of a marketing initiative than something they plan to get returns on. Our sports federations are registered under the societies act; profit is not their driving motive.

As private sector is all about monetising things, they can take sports to the next level because their focus is long term, not just what they can make today. The government of India should construe inventiveness to lionize Indian sportspersons by imparting the best facilities to train and push their sports to the next level.

People generally prefer to watch the EPL or NBA over Indian football and basketball. The reason being given is that the quality of the game is better in those foreign leagues. Well if you had a choice to watch a game between Manchester United and Arsenal over watching your kid play in a game, which one would you watch? Which one would you be cheering your socks off? According to me, we just need to make our sportspersons as familiar to us as the stars of the foreign leagues and we need to relate to them. Sports need to be marketed better.

Maybe design profile cards of players, share videos of them in action, make them larger than life, and mainly, spread their stories and make them easier to relate to the common fan. The NBA has tied up with Mahindra, IMG Reliance and Basketball Federation of India to develop basketball in India. They provide technical expertise and other support to conduct various activities at the grassroot level and above to improve the standard of the game here and to spread the love of the sport.

There are a lot of other foreign bodies whose product sells on the back of the popularity of the sport they invest in. We ought to explore as many associations and tie-ups as we can with them. Better put qualified professionals in federation posts instead of honorary members. A simple one-shot tournament is not completely ineffective, but having well organised competitions over a long period of time will allow for better development and talent sporting. It will also give sportspersons an opportunity to compete and improve.

Corporate initiatives such as The Tata Trusts UDream Football programme is really a booster shot in the legs of those budding football lovers. The fragrance of sports will spread further if the mammoth corporates take up such measures and schemes as corporate social responsibility. Besides, the Indian government should learn from other nations of the world. Mention may be made of the state of Florida, United States where various major and minor leagues starting from school level and college level abound in various areas of sports with umpteen sports colleges and universities.

Heartwarming to say that we have a team of football players at Florida consisting of many talented budding footballers from North East region and is consistently faring well by engaging in numerous minor league championships in tandem with exposure to other teams of different nations which can be considered as giant stride in the arena of Indian future football.

India has tremendous potential in games and sports. What matters most is harnessing the potential. Time to realise that games and sports should not be taken for granted for they play a big role in the growth of a nation.

* Samarjit Kambam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on September 11 , 2016.

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