Sports in India
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As Indians, the word ‘sports,’ brings to mind the game of cricket–and hockey to some extent. No other sport can compare to the popularity of cricket in India. But why is this so? Why does a country with one sixth of the world’s population obsess about just one sport? The answers lie in facts, in our history.
About 3000 years ago, India was as active as the ancient Greeks, in terms of both physical and mental sports — chariot racing, polo, archery and wrestling to chess and cards. Much later, just a few centuries ago, the British brought hockey and cricket to India. Indians discovered new sports and their inherent talent at them. Cricket took over as the most popular sport after we gained independence, mainly due to the low requirements. All one needs is a bat and a ball–unlike hockey, where everyone needs to have a hockey stick.
Though we won 8 Olympic gold medals in our national sport — hockey — the first in 1928! The first hockey gold as an independent country was in the 1948 Olympics in London, England, where India beat England 4-0 in the finals. The Indian team went on to win more Olympic hockey gold medals in the 1952, 1956, 1964 and 1980 Olympics. After that, the medals dried up — India only managed solitary bronze medals in tennis, weightlifting and shooting in the last 3 Olympics!
In contrast, the popularity of cricket grew — especially after the 1983 Prudential World Cup win by Kapil Dev and team. India needed sports heroes, and cricket seemed the only answer.
What is the problem?
Many claim that it is our diet that is to blame. The fact is medical opinions always seem to contradict. Some medical experts blame the physical deficiency on the fact that the majority of Indians are vegetarians. But, horses are vegetarians too, and most athletes would kill to get the stamina and strength of a horse! So it can’t be our diet!
It is a known fact that India lacks sporting infrastructure. The only stadiums we have are used for cricket, while the majority of hockey, football and athletic sporting events are held on sub-standard fields — mainly open air mud patches. But then why do countries that are much smaller, with a lot less infrastructure than us win more Olympic medals?
Another cause for concern is the competitiveness of sport today. It’s not fun anymore, it’s a full time job! Most sports professionals across the globe spend 8 hours a day training. Their job is to excel at sports and keep themselves fit. The governments provide them the necessary money and training, and advertisers throw in even more for their fancy cars and houses. In India, unless you’re a cricketer, you only get a pat on the back, a government job and a few months leave to prepare for major events. This just isn’t enough!
Last, but by no means least of the problems is our society and its mentality. People all over India ridicule our dismal performance in the Olympics, but how many of us will encourage our children / siblings / friends to take up sports as a career? We place absolutely no importance on sports, mainly because unless you’re a ‘Sachin Tendulkar’, there’s no future. You may win the countries’ sole Olympic bronze, but are forgotten as soon as the next Cricket event takes place. At the end of the journey, you still have to go back to your job and try and provide for your family, and your Olympic medal becomes nothing more than a fond memory, an impressive addition to your resume and another ornament for your display cabinet.
What can be done to fix these problems?
There’s a simple list of things that are needed. Easier said than done, but necessary nonetheless:
1. Encourage all sports, not just cricket
2. More government funding for sportsmen and women
3. More advertising coverage for sports other than cricket
4. More International coaches and trainers
5. Participate in more international tournaments in all sports
6. More training camps for pre-teens that show promise in any sport
7. Compulsory college and school scholarships based on sporting achievements
The money needed to improve sports can only come from advertising. Advertisers look for the popularity of a sport. The sport isn’t popular because it lacks quality athletes. The quality of athletes is bad due to lack of training. There is no training because there is no money for professional trainers. There is no money because there are no advertisers.
A vicious circle!
Only if we change our own perceptions can things begin to change. We need to support local ‘non-cricket’ tournaments, not just by donating money, but by showing up at the venues and supporting the athletes. Once advertisers see the support, the funds will start trickling in. Once the funds come in, the quality will improve. A chain reaction!
A vicious circle, or a chain reaction, the choice is ours!