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A bad time to be an Indian Sports fan

I was planning to write this article couple of days ago and then I read about the suspension issued by the International Olympic Committee on the Indian Olympic Association. The Indian sports fan is in an odd situation, just when he thinks nothing more can go wrong, a new incident smashes his belief like Sampras smashing a loose return of serve. With even the boxers out in the open and only eligible to compete under the AIBA banner in all the international events, the entire sports set up looks in shambles and ready to collapse like a house of cards.

There seems to be no sense of worry or even the slightest concern for those running the sports for ages, and with India’s only sport worth a mention at the international state being run like a business, there is a great danger that others may follow suit. The introduction of the IPL and other entertaining businesses around cricket have led to a lot of avenues for those who struggled to shine on the big stage, but at the same time given extra cushions to all those set atop a perch to smile mockingly at the mere mortals. With the national cricket team staring at defeat on home soil, it is only a matter of time before the other decorations around this hollow stemmed tree come crashing down to present a sorry picture.

India’s national sport is not doing any better, after being washed away at the Olympics by every team possible, a washing that could have been bettered only by the Tsunami, the team went in for a revamp. Every time I hear this word in Indian Hockey, it makes me look forward to the next series, only to be disappointed by the result, and the excuses that follow often add insult to the injury. I wonder and I am amazed how such phases never come to sides like Australia and Netherlands or even Germany, who fight for a game of Hockey like it is a battle that would determine survival on this earth on Doomsday.

The Olympics brought a wide smile to the faces of one and all but there were many sports where a medal was a possibility but it did not materialize. Many shooters like Ronjan Singh Sodhi and even Gagan Narang did not fire as per expectations, and witnessing Gagan Narang’s performances after he won the Bronze was painful. It seemed as if he had achieved everything he had ever dreamt off and was just going through the motions. It was however very heartening to see the two-time Olympic Medallist Sushil Kumar give his heart and soul in the final bout and even Mary Kom exceeding her own limitations of height and weight to compete and win the Bronze. Both Yogeshwar Dutt and Saina Mirza also showed the other sportsmen around the country that excuses are just blankets with numerous holes; they only appear to shield you but won’t protect you from the cold.

We can either keep blaming the officials and the management or work towards making the sports in the country something we would love taking pride in. The commercialization of sports needs to be checked and kept under control. It is always good for the game if money is poured into it, but to alter the game so as to attract money towards it is the last thing that will help a sport. The cash rich Indian Premier League started off as an exciting platform for youngsters to showcase their talent but as the shine wore off, the management introduced many aspects into the league that made it entertainment and diluted many aspects of sports from it. To advertise a cricket tournament as a circus was a clear indication that all the governing body is looking for is money in return for mindless entertainment.

So how do we clean up the mess?

As far as the Olympic sports are concerned, the Indian government will have to take notice as it is our national flag that gets carried around in the parade before the games begin. The government should stop acting like a complete stranger towards sports, just like the one who gate crashed India’s Olympic parade, and start strongly directing the Indian Olympic Association, something that shouldn’t have waited till the suspension happened and should have started after the Commonwealth games administrative debacle.

First and foremost, the government should work towards fighting the bans. Once those issues are settled and out of the way, other strong decisions can be taken. Yes, the government has a lot of other issues to deal and is not very popular in taking prompt decisions or even just decisions, but the government must involve those who have lived the game and have been a part of it. People who have won Olympic and Asian Games medals and those who have played the sport at the highest level. They know what it takes to be there and achieve it and thus they have to be the ones running the show. They would respect the games and the processes surrounding them, because they are not just some person who has been elected because of his stronghold in some region of the country.

The body needs to operate transparently and the fans of the games must be given every right to question and ask for logic behind the moves. India is a country that breeds talent, many CEOs and CFOs in the Silicon Valley are Indians. I refuse to accept the fact that we do not have sportsmen who are capable to making the Indian National anthem play proudly in the Olympics arena. Pick teams and nurture the talent that’s promising and plan for the future. Once the administration is run by those with respect for the game, one can expect decisions to be taken without money being a motive. Just like you won’t call a vegetable vendor to repair your internet connection, it is sheer stupidity to hand the realms of your Olympic committee in the hands of a lawyer or a finance guy.

Tennis, Football and Hockey: It is about time the country realizes that sports are way beyond cricket. Tennis in the country needs improvement in infrastructure. It needs the interest of many ex-sportspersons and tennis officials. The first step is to make sure the Chennai Open stays with the country and doesn’t go to China. It is the only tournament that keeps the country on the world calendar. The association’s first goal should be to make 2013’s Chennai Open the best ever. This can happen if more and more people are able to watch this event live, something that hasn’t been happening in the last few years. The tickets and their sale should be managed well and the malpractices surrounding the same need to be cleared. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi need to put differences aside and talk to the ATP and work together to make this event a success. It is time we look beyond Sania Mirza because I am sorry to say, 2nd rounds aren’t finals and are not getting us anywhere.

Football is in, and probably the next big thing in this country. This is not because of the Indian Football Federation but ESPN and Star Sports. They have marketed both the English Premier League and the Spanish League so well that more and more boys are taking interest in the sport. The national team also plays with a lot of pride but is undone by the authorities who blame the lack of money in the sport. Bhaichung Bhutia needs to be put at the helm of things without a second thought as he knows more about world football, more than any one else in the country. With clubs like Manchester United and Newcastle United seeking investments in the country, this could be the right time to focus on developing a team that would do well 10 years in the future. Yes, 10 years. If China can plan 12 years before the next Olympics, we can try 10, can’t we?

Hockey needs a boss, a boss who looks at his hockey stick like a tiger would look at his new born. He needs to run the sport with love and not compromise on the discipline and integrity of the sport. The players need to be given respect. It is respect that these players seek and if the word or strategy of ‘revamping’ is to be used again, it needs to be done under the strict vigil of a boss who could, if needed, jump onto the field to direct a practice game.

If Harvard were to pen down organizations that run a very successful business in India, BCCI would feature on the list without a hint of doubt. They run the sport like a business and they run it not only like a well oiled machine, but a machine that is being oiled with magic oil. They command the respect, or fear as it is called these days, of every cricket running body in the world. They change and alter the rules and facilities used in the game. They pay their players so well that these players prefer sitting idly in their homes during the off season than competing in the world class leagues abroad. Even if the players wish to go, the board threatens their players to maintain their exclusivity in the IPL. The BCCI has milked a cow called ‘Cricket’ for a long time now, and even today it continues to produce the richest quality of milk in terms of monetary gains. Thus, they would feature on Harvard’s list, but if the performance of the Indian team is something to go by, one would say the cow is getting older day by day. The milk she gives might be the best for now but soon it will start thinning with each passing day. The business needs to take a break and Cricket needs to be looked at. The superstars need to be reserved for galleries and entertainment and the deserving ones need to take the field and play for the country. But again, a multi-million dollar title deal is inked for entertainment and not sport and in this trade off, it is difficult for many to choose sport.

As a sports fan, all I could do to ward off my frustration was write a long article and present it to fellow sports buffs, but if the authorities running sports in the country want our grand children to see another Sushil Kumar holding the Indian flag on the Olympic podium or another Leander Paes lifting the Wimbledon trophy or another Virender Sehwag scoring a triple hundred in Test matches or another Baichung Bhutia going all the way to the Football World Cup, the current state of sports in the country has to hurt them as much as it hurts us.

Right now, I am scared to switch on to ESPN or Star Sports or even DD Sports, for the fear that an Indian or an Indian team or an Indian sports body is at the end of a thrashing from a foreign individual, team or organization.

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