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Why just cricket? An open letter to Narendra Modi

We need to wake up to the harsh realities of Indian sport.

Pitch

Dear Mr Narendra Modi,

I write to you as a concerned sports journalist/enthusiast/well-wisher of this country. This letter is directed towards you and solely you because I have attempted every avenue and channel to get a response from the Sports Ministry on various infrastructural and financial issues plaguing other sports in India.

The other day when I saw your tweets addressed to members of the Indian cricket team, I was saddened to the core. Not only because there are sportspersons who have achieved so much more, but also because the only reason you thanked them seemed to be that cricket is more mainstream than other sports.

And that wasn’t all of it

Do you know that India’s most successful Winter Olympian Shiva Keshavan will be participating in the World Luge Championship this week? Shouldn’t you thank him for his participation? I am not asking you to talk about every sport that the nation takes part in it, but the ignorance that is showcased towards others in comparison to cricket irks not just me, but several people who are incapable to voice their opinion.

  • Sita Sahu had to go from Paralympic bronze medallist to selling panipuri in her village.
  • Sports such as Taekwondo were being used as money making havens by administrators.
  • Where was the well-deserved attention for Sharath Gayakwad when he won six medals at the Para-Asian Games and beat P.T. Usha’s overall medal tally at an International event?
  • Maria Irudayam became two-time World Carrom Champion, and my friends were asking me that is even a sport.
  • There have been instances when coaches such as Satpal Singh from Delhi would pay money from their own pocket to fund para-athletes.

Merely handing out Arjuna Awards and Dronacharya awards is not the only way to back a sportsperson. Sure, the recognition that one gets is good for a while, but how long does that last? Cricketers have career options such as owning a restaurant after they have retired. That’s not really the case with other athletes.

Makhan Singh died due to sheer poverty despite winning several gold medals at the Asian Games.

The new Ministry, like the previous ministries, has given close to zero support to the country’s non-cricket athletes. Ministers and administrators fly to the multi-discipline events, spend all the money that is designated for the athletes, but are clueless about the sport.

The Taekwondo Association of India was under a criminal for the past 35 years, including your Ministry’s tenure. When I went to the Sports Ministry (Shastra Bhavan) with my queries, I was shooed away by being told, “if the Minister gives time to every other journalist, who would do the work?” I was shooed away by everyone, right from the Secretary to the Sports Minister. I don’t think I need to inform you of the person – you would know yourself.

What work? Where is all the work that they talk about? There is no development. There is no structure.

Is this how we want India’s future stars to train?

You had also praised the organisers of the National Games for their good work, but nothing was forthcoming for Kerala's Sajan Prakash, who won eight straight medals at the event. He is the same swimmer who will be representing India at the World Championship.

To put things into perspective, a contract C cricketer gets paid Rs. 2 lakh a month, whereas the National Games medal leader gets only Rs. 15,000 a month. 

Sir, in hindsight, your attempt to thank the Indian cricket team may well be a morale booster for them, but it demoralises other athletes who are representing the same colour abroad. 

Last year, India was in pole position to host the Asian Games. I wrote extensively on how the Ministry and IOA can only lose out because of negligence, and that’s what exactly happened. Sir, with all due respect, you are to blame as well.

Because you are the Prime Minister of the nation. You have been put at the helm for many reasons, one of which is to bring sporting change to a nation which is a dying need of one. The final decision before the deadline was yours. The IOA did manage to get an extension on the bidding date, but your lack of responsiveness to the issue meant that India could not send in their application for bidding on time.

The Olympic Council of Asia had also confirmed that India would be given priority. Yet, we failed to deliver on an opportunity that would improve the sporting infrastructure in the country.

 

The BJP’s manifesto states, “BJP recognizes the importance of sports in society and for all age groups. Sports have a direct relation to fitness, good health and productivity. India has not fared well in sports and needs to invest for promotion of sports in an organized manner.”

However, your ministry has done exactly the opposite of that. You spoke about the organisation, we couldn’t even register a bid on time. If you were so interested in financing sports, why did the Sports Ministry pressurise the IOA to reduce the Asian Games contingent, when the exposure would mean the world to them?  

The erstwhile infrastructure from the 2010 Commonwealth Games is lying barren, to say the least. The Thygaraj stadium, which was scheduled to host netball, now has weddings and paid functions happening inside. State-of-the-art infrastructure is being wasted, and only people who can pay Rs. 100 an hour can access the facilities.

Sir, when I approached the person in-charge of the village and asked him why professional athletes can’t practise, his response was “ Maintenance kaun karega? (Who will maintain it?) If these athletes can’t pay Rs. 100 an hour, then they shouldn’t play the sport.”

India’s former Netball team captain Prachi Tehlan, who went on to win the country’s first ever International medal, had to quit the sport because of politics and corruption within the sport at the age of just 23. Isn’t it unfair that we are losing out on such talent just because of internal issues?

An open letter written to you by the Odisha Taekwondo Association on corruption within the sport

It is very important for us to understand that the athletes outside cricket who are successful are only doing well because they are motivated to represent the country. But the environment provided for them to succeed is not up to the mark.

I write to you not because I am an activist, who only sees one side of the story. I write to you because I can see the state of Indian sports deteriorating on a daily basis. Leagues such as the PKL, ISL will come and go, but we are not tackling grass-root level policies.

It’s not that we don’t have talented athletes in the country; the problem is we don’t nurture them. We don't motivate them. If athletes shows some skill at a young level, we expect them to chart their own path. But just like you were a budding politician at some point, they are also at the infancy stage. If we don’t address their problems, we will not be producing world class talent on a regular basis.

I sincerely hope you understand how frustrated I am at this point, when I can see talent on a daily basis fade away because of negligence. And when I say I, I mean the whole lot of us. Please abide by the rules of your manifesto and let’s make India a sporting superpower.

JAI HIND!

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