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What ails Indian sport?

Young Indian slum-dwellers play a game of football on water logged grounds in Kolkata in the monsoons

Young Indian slum-dwellers play a game of football on water logged grounds in Kolkata in the monsoons

“Ladka to engineer; ladki to doctor”. This dialogue from the Bollywood movie ’3 Idiots’ perfectly sums up the situation in India right now. One might argue that things are changing and that the 21st century India is growing out of these medieval ideas. But these very ideals are adversely affecting the Indian sport situation. Here’s a look at what ails Indian sport.

The financial presumption

Whenever an Indian child happens to mention his dream of playing for the Indian hockey or football team, his parents immediately cut him off with the words, “Paise kidhar se aayega?” Apart from cricket, no other sport stands a chance against the Indian parents’ employment test.

Contrary to popular belief, sports like football and hockey have taken massive strides in the financial department within the last couple of years in India. I-League players earn around Rs. 1 lakh/month on average nowadays. An 18-year-old friend of mine, who is an amateur football player, won a scholarship worth Rs. 50,000 a few months ago. Not bad for a non-cricket sport, is it?

Politics and corruption

The under-16 Karnataka State Football selections commenced around six months ago. A friend of mine got through to the final round with no qualms whatsoever. However, in the final round of selections, a bunch of 18-year-olds were selected instead. He later told me that one of the over-age players had told him, “Money in the morning; birth-certificate in the evening.”

Now, I would like to draw your attention to the Commonwealth Games scam (or the CWG scam). Corruption within the Games’ Organizing Committee, delays in the construction of main Games’ venues, infrastructural compromise, possibility of a terrorist attack and exceptionally poor ticket sales before the event epitomized the sad situation of Indian sport.

Chief Organiser of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, Suresh Kalmadi (C) is escorted by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials to the court in New Delhi on April 26, 2011. The chief organiser of the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games appeared on court on corruption charges after a probe into alleged financial wrong-doing at the event.

Chief Organiser of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, Suresh Kalmadi (C) is escorted by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials to the court in New Delhi on April 26, 2011. The chief organiser of the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games appeared on court on corruption charges after a probe into alleged financial wrong-doing at the event.

Another example of how politics intervened in the smooth functioning of a sport is that of the AITA scandal. Tennis’ progress on Indian shores was promptly halted by the All India Tennis Association, whose actions led top players like Somdev Devvarman, Rohan Bopanna and Vishnu Vardhan to rebel against the Association. Later, a truce was called in the build-up to the Davis Cup in Indonesia.

In 2007, a young Indian cricket team led by the charismatic Mahendra Singh Dhoni made headlines and stole the spotlight as they won the inaugural T20 World Cup. These young champions soon became household names and national heroes. They were awarded huge sums of money by the Central government as well as the State governments. As these youths raked in their success and smiled through their glory, another band of Indian youths watched in disappointment as their achievement of winning hockey’s Asia Cup was over-shadowed by the ever-domineering cricketers. The Central and State governments, who so gladly went all out in an effort to financially reward the cricketers, failed to even give the hockey players a simple pat on the back.

Hockey players were once again given the cold shoulder by the government three years later as they beat the likes of Australia and South Africa in an all-out effort which saw them proudly life the Sultan Azlan Shah cup in Malaysia. Chess grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand’s achievements too would probably have slipped into the pages of history unnoticed had it not been for CNN IBN’s “Indian of the Year” award.

As the Kolkata Knight Riders won the fifth edition of the Indian Premier League, Mamata Banerjee spared no expense in rewarding ‘her’ players. After a dismal year in office during which she has not been able to usher in the promised changes, she personally scripted the felicitation function in an all-out effort to camouflage the state’s bankruptcy and poverty, making the KKR victory appear an outcome of her charismatic influence.

The IPL champions were felicitated by the Mamata-led state government at the 67,000-capacity Eden Gardens. The entry was made free by the government and, according to an unofficial count, about 1 lakh people turned up to witness the event. But 30,000 people were stuck outside and the situation turned ugly, prompting the police to carry out a lathicharge. The 25 gold chains and medals given by Mamata to the players left Bengal poorer by around Rs. 30 lakh.

“We have been waiting for this day (for) so long. Thank you, Didi. Thank you, Kolkata. Thank you, West Bengal, on behalf of every member of the team. Only Kolkata will rule.”

- Shah Rukh Khan, owner of KKR.

“Bengal is proud. The victory of KKR is like a victory of the world.”

- Mamata Banerjee, after the felicitation ceremony.

Truly, a national disgrace.

The 2013 Hockey India League saw all Pakistani players sent back to Pakistan due to political tension and a strained diplomatic relationship between the two countries. More recently, Sri Lankan cricketers were banned from playing all the Chennai matches after Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa refused to host them in retaliation against the anti-Sinhalese sentiments that prevail across the state.

“In view of the popular antipathy and anger in Tamil Nadu against the actions of the Government of Sri Lanka, the Government of Tamil Nadu is of the view that IPL matches involving Sri Lankan players, umpires and other officials should not be played in Tamil Nadu.”

- Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.

The Indian attitude

The “chalta hai” attitude that prevails across the majority of India is another spanner in the works of the Indian sports machine. Most Indian ‘sports fans’ limit themselves to a T20 game and a couple of EPL matches every other week. Hockey, considered our national sport, is widely disgraced and ignored while tennis viewership is restricted to Grand Slam finals and Djokovic-Federer matches.

Sachin Tendulkar and cricket will always remain dear in the hearts of every Indian sports lover, but it is time for India to awake to a new light and freedom; one which glorifies achievement in all fields and provides the necessary infrastructure, moral support and guidance required to fulfil the dream of scores of young children. It is time to forget the scams and scandals of yore and move on into a new era of Indian sports; one which provides opportunities to the talented Indian youth and takes pride in the achievements of every Indian to have exchanged their passion for glory on the world stage. It is time for India to become a force to reckon with at the Olympics and bring home more of those elusive medals. Like a breath of fresh air that sweeps away the sorrows of yesteryears, change must be welcomed with open arms and accepted with open minds.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”

- Maya Angelou, American author and poet.

It is time, India. Wake up.

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