On the eve of our Independence Day and the aftermath of our Olympics campaign, the real national ‘sport’ of India took its place under the limelight – of course, blaming, by the fans. We blame the government which has corruption penetrating into each layer of its hierarchy, the sportspersons who apparently do not put enough hardwork, the Sports Ministry again for not providing the athletes with world-class training facilities, the coaches for neglecting the ethics of the games, and even the weather, for not being conducive to sports. Sigh. Will our list of blames and accusations ever end? Maybe, maybe not. But we in our incessant index of implications, we fail to mention one of the fundamentals of sport, one of its cornerstones – an integral ingredient devoid of which sport, simply would not be as spectacular as it is now. The fans of course.
An average Oxford dictionary would define the word ‘fan’ as ‘a person who has a strong interest in or admiration for a particular sport, art form, or famous person’. And it would be hard not to agree with this definition, to be frank. Any sport or for that matter, anything we do in the world in itself today, is born out of some desire to have people who develop a curiosity and perhaps appreciation for it. Maybe even inspire people. Once you gather attention and high regard for your work, you start to spend more time on it, striving to make it better and further supplying your new ‘fans’ with the kind of work that would further impress them.
Now, back to the topic. Let me ask you, how many of you watch the I-League? Or follow the Indian Hockey Team? Or regularly look out for updates of Sushil Kumar and MC Mary Kom and endless other boxers and wrestlers’ competitive fixture?
I-League football seems of ‘lesser’ quality to us, because we’ve just been gaping our mouths at the Champions League and shrugging off the Indian clubs. Could we do some more than that? I-League matches are reasonably priced for practically anyone to step in and enjoy the football. Seeing empty stands makes my heart convulse – Indian clubs’ football is pretty enjoyable once you start watching it extensively. We may not have the Adidas and Nike sponsored jerseys and studs of the European Leagues, only Nivia and Star Impact. We may not have strikers who look alluring (girls, this goes to you) and change their hairstyle at halftime. But people, this is our league. The Indian League. For those who have watched it, I plead you continue watching, because believe me, this sport in India has miles to go and the stars in its eyes. And to those who haven’t watched it yet, go watch one Kolkata derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. That, my friends, is perhaps the greatest ever advertisement for the I-League.
Aah, our dear wrestlers, boxers and shooters. Those revered national heroes that seldom don’t come back with medals. Those hardworking souls whose existence we only remember once every 4 years and that too, only those who are ‘lucky’ enough to make it to the finals stages. Does anyone follow the championships that Vijender or Sushil participate in, in the void between the instalments of the Olympics? Or the records that our shooters Gagan Narang and Bindra set? If our nation’s so called sports fans been a bit aware and done some homework, they would’ve been less surprised that Vijay Kumar turned up a medallist – after all, he is the Arms Specialist of one of the most efficient armies in the world.
The Indian Hockey Team, to be honest, is in a mess like never before. And what did we do? Just sit at our plush sofas, sipping at hot coffee and shaking our heads, tut-tutting at the state of our ex-National Sport.
What can we do? “Arrey yaar, yeh India hai. Yah aisa hi hota hai aur aisa hi hota rahega”, will be the astounding reply. But, are you even trying? Imagine, in a few years, when the population watching I-League football rises exponentially, when seats at every match are sold out months beforehand, coveting for autographs of stars like Nabi, Nirmal Chhetri, Gurpreet; discarding our ‘Rooney’ and ‘Messi’ jerseys for one of ‘Jeje’ or ‘Martins’ or ‘Odafa’, preferring to watch the pre-match with Bhaichung Bhutia and Novy Kapadia instead of Paul Parker and Steve Dawson. Seems something to look forward to right? We can achieve this, only if every one of us pledges to be a fan of our own nation’s sports first.
All I want to say is, “Yeh desh badlega. Hum badlenge”