People often try and compare stars of different generations, in order to determine who ‘the greatest of them all’ is. There is that thrill in trying to establish one man, one single individual as the greatest representative of the sport, the one who was better than all the others, ever. ‘Ever’ – implying that the generation and the era are independent variables. Understandably, apart from Muhammed Ali’s self-proclamation, this debate has, and in my opinion, always will be, a fruitless attempt.
The sport itself hasn’t changed. Football still means two sides of eleven, and to win the match, you score more goals than your opponent. A 100 metre sprint is still men starting at the same time, running a hundred metres, and the first one to cross the line is the winner. Cricket is still… you get the point.
What has changed radically though, is everything about the sport. Sports men have become sports stars and brand ambassadors. They have become global icons with staggering personal wealth. Sport is a full-time occupation for athletes now. Gone are the days when even legends like Duncan Edwards learnt a trade like carpentry as a contingency plan, in case football ‘didn’t work out for him’. From being a slightly glorified part time indulgence, football and a number of other sports have become serious business. While the football match itself still lasts all of ninety minutes, there is a lot more happening before and after, that has contributed greatly in changing the face of the game.
The player has changed. Simply having a knack for a sport isn’t good enough anymore; it doesn’t get you anywhere. Proper and intense training regimes, strict dietary regulations and constant player evaluation and therapy have made the individual a walking example of physical perfection. Sports Science is actually quite popular these days! It is defined as a discipline that studies the application of scientific principles and techniques with the aim of improving sporting performance. Perfectly developed muscles and extremely high fitness levels define every single sportsman. Training for six hours a day is not an uncommon thing now; in fact, it is quite the norm. Athletes often have an entourage of ‘support staff’- coaches, dieticians, performance analysts and sports therapists, who are vital to a player’s development and sustenance.
The technology has changed. Cricket bats are now aerodynamically designed while at the same time being lightweight, allowing the batsman to improve on his timing and speed. Football boots are designed to cater to specific needs- there are different boots for speed and finesse. Cyclists now have specially designed aerodynamic helmets and cycling suits that reduce the impact of wind resistance. Tennis players have different shoes for different surfaces. To take it a step further, many athletes are now getting custom-made gear designed specifically for the individual, rather than the role he plays for the team. Shoes are made taking into account the sole of the player, racquets are made to weigh just the right amount for the player to be perfectly balanced, thus maximising his output.
Usain Bolt is a perfect embodiment of the modern day athlete: ’9.58′ is a testament to physical conditioning and sports technology, and that might well change in the next two weeks.
But is that the lasting contribution this generation will have made to sports? Improvements? Enhancements? Is that all?
Imagine a ‘History of Sports’ book (e-book?) a hundred years from now. ‘The 18th and 19th century was an important time in the history of sports. Sports like cricket, football, rugby, baseball, lawn tennis, table tennis, badminton, cricket and basketball were invented. The 20th century was just spent making those sports really good. The turn of the 21st century saw the entire world say ‘Whoa’, because it was then that the sports became really really good.’
Simply put, why have we not invented a sport? Basketball is the newest of the lot, and Naismith invented it in 1895 – more than a century ago. Are we supposed to wait for another college professor looking for a creative way to keep his students fit and motivated? We know for a fact that it doesn’t take a lot to come up with a sport, per se. If you can hop on one leg, you can play hopscotch. School children are most resourceful when in the playing field. With limitations on space and time, they often come up with the most creative of games, which are often played by generations of school kids. On interacting with people later in life, in college and so forth, I realised that this was a national phenomenon. Every person I knew had played hopscotch!
Imagine if such creative inventions could trigger the creation of a full-fledged sport. In fact, with the introduction of iPads and smart phones, there is an even greater need to invent and popularise a new sport, wouldn’t you agree? If cricket and football don’t tempt youngsters, maybe a new sport will? It is possible that there are other sports out there that I’m unaware of. But that’s the point I’m trying to make. It’s been a hundred years since a sport went viral, and it doesn’t really look like there’s anything else in the pipeline. T20 and Futsal are the closest we’ve come to something new, and even we know we’re lying about it.
We are a generation that changed the game; how about we create one now?