Sindhu, Sakshi, Dipa And So Many Others

Source : The Pioneer


Something is fundamentally flawed with the way we treat sports resulting in meagre medals to celebrate with in events like the Olympics. It’s time for a recast.

The victory of PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik at the Olympics led to unprecedented exuberation. For once, the nation, which our TV channels want us to believe as grim and riddled with problems, seemed to be rejoicing the spirit of victory. For once, it seemed we have grown past being a cricket-only nation and enjoyed ourselves at our victory in badminton and wrestling.

Thanks to the stupendous efforts of Dipa Karmakar, we also celebrated a sport that was hitherto unknown sports to the common man and woman — vault gymnastics. The excitement will prevail for some time till other narratives squeeze past this, and occupy the public sphere.

For many of us, while the significance of this victory is humongous, it should go much beyond ritualistic celebrations, awards, brand endorsements, special TV shows, and angry and emotional down pouring of ideas in columns. The victors and performers of this Olympics should become torch-bearers, bringing about a paradigm shift in the way we look at sports in the country.

What can be done to make our sporting culture more vibrant, so that we are able to perform better? More than that, what can be done to ensure that our stature in sports is at par with our reputation as an emerging superpower? It certainly pinches our conscience when tiny countries go back with more medals and pride than we do. What can be done to exalt our pride in the sporting arena?

Ethiopia, often perceived as a nation of starving children, bagged eight medals including one gold this Olympics. What does this tiny nation of 10 crore people do to beat a nation like India that is 12 times bigger, many times mightier? Possibly, it thinks simple, and acts smarter. Ethiopia is working diligently to put sports on the public agenda to ensure sustainability of sports development.

Other than setting up sports infrastructure, Ethiopia is running a special Growth & Transformation Plan, which is providing scientific training to 22,000 youth in the first plan, while in the second phase 55,000 youths are being trained. Focused and specialised training is key, even as regular efforts are being made to rope in all stakeholders to broadbase sports. Ethiopia has also roped in universities and private individuals for the same. It is expanding the number of sports academies from nine to 22.

Now compare this with an Indian State with has almost the same population as Ethiopia — Bihar. This State, which has been in the news for desperately trying to enforce alcohol prohibition, does not seem to even have a sports policy. Its website doesn’t show one. The Art, Culture & Youth Department which administers the Directorate of Youth Welfare and Sports functions has an annual report, dating back to 2008-09, which fails to provide any clue to its sports policies. According to the Directorate’s home-page, 70 per cent of the Indian population is in the age bracket of 15-30 years; therefore, the departmentm feels that the 21st century belongs to the young generation but does little about it.

In fact, while Ethiopia will soon have a stadium with a capacity of 60,000, Patna’s Moin-ul-Haq stadium with 25,000 capacity has hosted only two matches which includes a one day international cricket match 20 years ago. This speaks volumes about the Bihar’s sporting infrastructure. Sadly, the situation is no better in many of the other States.

I am in agreement with senior Congress leader and former sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar who recently wrote that we may not be able to match the previous Olympics medals tally, and that, “It is the inevitable consequence of our never having had a comprehensive sports policy aimed at developing a sporting culture to make ours a sporting nation.”

We need drastic realignment of priorities, a massive policy push at the national and States level, gigantic efforts at sprucing up infrastructure, scientific talent-spotting, and at least four zonal sporting excellence centres providing holistic training to selected sportspersons. Icons like Karmakar, Sindhu and Malik should be used for igniting passion through mass media including films, social media and special programs in schools and colleges.


By 2024, let’s aim to rise up the medals tally list!

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