The recently concluded London Olympics got me thinking. How does a sports culture get created? Rather how do certain nations become good at a particular sport. e.g. the dominance of Great Britain in cycling and rowing events, Jamaica in sprint running, USA & Australia in swimming etc. And why nations like India trail behind. After some thought I came to the conclusion that for an individual sport to be a success in a country, it needs a pioneer. It would be the one individual trail-blazer whose success will set the path alight for his countrymen & women to follow.
An individual achieving stardom in his chosen field leads to others following up. This is especially true in the post 80′s era since more media coverage has come into being. I can think of a lot of examples to back up this theory of mine.
The best example would be Chess in India. Till the early 1980s there was no Indian Grandmaster even though Chess had been invented in India. However all this changed with the arrival of Vishwanathan Anand. He has since gone on to win the World title many times and is considered amongst the best ever to have played the game. However his bigger contribution would be making chess attractive to Indians. Numerous chess academies have opened up in the country. The number of Grandmasters is now in the twenties. Though none of them has yet matched or even come close to Anand’s level, there have been quite a few champions at the age-group levels. Certainly the fruits of a one-man revolution.
The Russian Tennis revolution. There are countless Russian players in the Tennis upper echelons today. But this wasn’t the case till a few years back. I can’t recall any big name in Russian tennis prior to the 90s. Then came Yevgeny Kafelnikov and his French Open title in 1996 followed by the World’s top ranking and some other titles. (Interesting factoid – Kafelnikov is the last man to win the Men’s Singles & Doubles titles at the same Grand Slam – French Open 1996). Following on to his success, came up Marat Safin, who when in mood could beat up anyone and when not in mood would get thrashed by anyone. And also a bevy of Russian female Grand Slam champions – Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Myskina, Dementieva. All it needed was one individual to succeed and the flood gates opened.
Indian cue sports. No other sport has had so many Indian winners than Billiards and Snooker. Wilson Jones, Michael Ferreira, Geet Sethi, Om Agarwal, Ashok Shandilya, Pankaj Advani – it’s a very long and impressive line. Admittedly cue sports are restricted to a few countries but still India has a good winning tradition dating back to the 1950′s.
Similarly I can give lots of examples of such pioneering figures in the Indian context. Gopichand winning the All England title revitalized Indian badminton with his protege Saina Nehwal being the current flagbearer. But more importantly, Saina isn’t the only one there are other up and coming players like PV Sindhu, Kashyap, Ajay Jayaram as well.
The 1990s witnessed the arrival of India’s first ace shooter, Jaspal Rana. Although he couldn’t replicate his form at the Olympics, his success at the Asian & Commonwealth levels had given the
sport the necessary attention. 4 Olympic medalists including the only Indian individual Gold medal ever (Abhinav Bindra) in shooting shows that the tradition has been well and truly established.
Dingko Singh’s Gold medal in 1998 Asian Games opened up the India
n boxing front. Mary Kom considers him to be her Boxing inspiration Gursharan Singh’s near miss in Sydney 2000 was followed by an all round improved performances by the Indian boxers. Though it has only resulted in one Olympic medal so far, the overall numbers are rising and more and more are coming closer to top.
I guess for any sport to capture in the imagination of a nation, you need that 1st dash of success. The first pioneer and you will notice, more and more people are coming in. And soon a winning culture is established. So the primary job is to identify that one individual who would lead.
After all, success breeds success.