Today is a big day for any Indian sportsperson. Correction – today should be a big day for any Indian sportsperson. Because today the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award and Dronacharya Awards are given out.
Yes, I should have said that today is important for India because today is National Sports Day. Or to be more esoteric, today is Dhyan Chand’s birthday. In any other culture, this would have been treated as an occasion to popularise sports across the country. In India, it is just another Wednesday in office.
The Arjuna Award is considered to be one of the greatest achievements in a sportsperson’s career, if not the greatest. But give an option of naming 10 Arjuna Awardees and 10 IPL cricketers, most of us (including myself) would choose the latter.
The problem is not with us. The problem is with the powers-that-be who have used sport as propaganda to generate popular opinion. We are the richest cricketing country simply because we won the World Cup in 1983. The IPL is not a result of our disastrous performance in the ODI World Cup but of our successful World T20 performance. Field hockey is considered to be a national sport in India because before Astroturf happened, we were the best on the field. Were India to become independent in 1983, I am sure cricket would have been our national sport by now. Did anyone mention that kabaddi is more indigenous than either of these two sports?
Countries like Japan and Qatar use the occasion of a National Sports Day to spread the message of sportsmanship and to highlight the importance of sport in our personal lives. In a country which has a very high number of heart disease and cancer patients, National Sports Day is celebrated in a few sporting unions over plates of Dalda-fried samosas and bottles of carbonated drinks. The impact is almost as if there was no impact.
As for the Arjuna Awardees, they spend a couple of days in the limelight before most of them, who are generally not cricketers, fade away into obscurity. Quite a few of them, including ironically Dhyan Chand himself, have ended up in a general ward of a government hospital with no money and no support from the government.
The focus has never been on encouraging these prospective legends of sports to greater laurels. If it were so, we would have been closer to China and not Pakistan in the Olympics medals tally. The focus is on ensuring a gala ceremony in Rashtrapati Bhawan and oodles of media coverage for the event.
But, to be very honest, we are not completely blameless either. Sport is a celebration of the ability of the human spirit to push itself to its extremes and to derive exhilaration out of the same. We Indians are mostly couch sport stars – the greatest amount of physical effort we would wish to expend on sports is an animated war of words on your favourite EPL team or whether Ravindra Jadeja is better than Yusuf Pathan. In India, every day is Some Other Day. As long as it is not a public holiday, it is not important.
The best thing in this case would be to not celebrate a National Sports Day. As radical as it might sound, it is not radical – very few countries, including those who produce more athletes than us, dedicate a day for sports. And to be very honest, we are not a sports crazy nation but a cricket crazy nation. Hence it would make more sense to dedicate a National Cricket Day on June 25 or April 2 or September 24 and play an inconsequential Twenty20 international. It would at least generate more awareness and more money.
The money saved from the Rashtrapati Awards ceremonies and other such events could then actually be used for training sportsmen and increase our medal prospects at the Asiads and the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. It is a virtuous cycle – at the end of the day we would prefer more medals to awards because they are the true trophies of victory. And the more medals we win, the greater the number of Dhyan Chands it would inspire in a country of a billion aspirants.
He would take that any day over a National Sports Day.