This month saw the most celebrated romance of mankind, a $14 billion one, with sports. The Games of the XXX Olympiad, or simply put the 30th edition of Olympics, saw the grandeur of individualism, solidarity and most of all patriotism notwithstanding the fact that it burnt a deep hole in an already lagging British Economy.
As anticipated, it was the sporting powerhouses who notched up the top honours. Talking of patriotism, we never got to sing our national anthem but thanks to Xin Wang’s injured knee, we did prove Goldman Sachs wrong by winning 6 medals and not 5 which the investment bank had predicted. We could have done with a gold or two but nevertheless, it was more than a decent outing for Team India as it was our best performance ever in the history of the Olympics and things can only get better from this point onward.
Frankly, how much silverware is good enough a parameter for success in Olympics for us? Is it 20, 50 or 100 medals? Being a patriotic Indian, I would say as much as we can and in whichever event we can. Is it possible? Definitely. The Chinese won their first Gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles games and since then have performed tremendously well in each edition of the games even though the backbreaking training of their athletes under an authoritarian government regime raises questions. Well, sports isn’t about forceful imposition by rule on individuals to claim some kind of political authority on the world. Rather, it’s about the vindication of the valiant efforts of those passionate ones who really give it their all for those resplendent moments which will be etched in the human minds till eternity. And probably that’s the reason why we see so many athletes from these so called ‘small towns’ of India who with their grit and determination capture a billion hearts.
Even though our love-hate relation with the government will continue, we can’t do away with it. It has a huge role to play if India wants to get better at the games. It’s very heartening to see the sports minister Mr. Ajay Maken announcing that apart from the cash prizes, all the medalists in the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the World Championships will be promoted as Grade A employees which is an Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer rank and all the Olympians will get an officer grade job with the Sports Authority of India (SAI).
This is definitely encouraging for the younger crop from the lesser fortunate economic strata who are coming up in sports which are financially not viable as steady career options. But this shouldn’t sound like a cover-up act for the work the government didn’t do and should have done. Pullela Gopichand, who runs his own academy, shelled out Rs. 52 lakhs from his own pocket to train the likes of Saina Nehwal and Parupalli Kashyap. Also the Indian walkers, Basant Bahadur Rana and Irfan KT had to buy their own kits after SAI failed to do so. The government can’t just wash off its sins.
There are many issues which it needs to sort out as soon as possible. The government may do its bit but can never ingrain a culture of sports among the people. This is where the private sector should play it’s hand. The Indian Premier League is a prime example of this. In an already cricket crazy nation, the amount of interest it generated was beyond our imagination. It gave a platform to players who could never play for the national teams of their countries. Also, who can forget the glitch-free Formula 1 race at the Budhh International Circuit which really put us up there in the global sports circle. Like the USA where sports is a privately owned business, the private sector in India should start playing an active role in sports other than Cricket also. TCS and HDFC recently joined hands to form Kids Out Of Home ( KOOH), a philanthropy for profit organisation, where the school outsources it’s sports education to them.Start-ups like this definitely see the basic problem even if its for profit’s sake.
The root cause is the sorry state of physical education in schools throughout the country which needs to be addressed seriously. All said and done, great success in sports can’t be achieved without the best sports management. Mary Kom‘s coach could not accompany her to London because he did not have the International Boxing Association (AIBA) 3 Star Certification, a pre-requisite for accreditation. There is a huge opportunity lying for corporates to get themselves involved in sports management – be it coaching, talent management, medicine, journalism, marketing, etc. If we want our athletes to be world class, we need to provide them amenities which are world class. Like the west where sports management is a lucrative opportunity, we need the elite institutions in India to teach it as a vocational course. The incentive here is the amount of employment this field can generate if India starts excelling at sports which are followed the world over.
We can either be cynical and rot in hell by saying that a ‘one-sport country’ of a billion plus people can get only a paltry prize from the Olympics or we can take a baby step ahead and work towards making our nation a dominant force to reckon with in the world of sports. And before the likes of Yogeshwar Dutt and Vijay Kumar fall into the curse of oblivion, we need to take serious measures to get a better showing at the Rio 2016 games. Every Olympics is like an alarm call for us. Let us not put this one into a snooze mode.