April 19,2016 was a special day- one that should remain etched in gold in India’s sporting annals if ever there were to be one. But that day also showed in bold, unmissable measure, our- yes mine and your absolute apathy towards sports other than Cricket, towards Indian sportspersons who are not Cricketers and a culture that has been relegated to the fringes of our sporting spectrum.
What a pity that we never followed a young gymnast through her course that lead her to the Olympic qualifiers- what a sorry figure our boisterous media had cut with this general disregard for the Indian Olympic dream? Why was there a feverish scramble to get to know Dipa Karmakar? After she, through her magnificent performance shouted out loud that she was going to be an Olympian- that she was good enough to be the first Indian woman gymnast at the Olympics.
Don’t such achievers with such potential deserve more? Don’t sportspersons who pursue anything other than Cricket deserve our encouragement- more so in the lead up to one of the biggest events in their lives?
The cricket crazy nation
It seems strange that we have been so religiously consumed by Cricket and everything remotely connected to it given that we have never consistently been the best team in the cricketing world. The Indian cricket team had to wait a good 20 years from their first test match before they could register a win. Isn’t 20 years a long time? But we waited patiently, we took the losses in our stride and still managed to hope for an elusive first victory and then elusive victories in test matches abroad.
Also read: Know your Indian Olympian: Chain Singh
This is not to take away even an iota of credit from the Indian Cricket fraternity, but an example to point out that as audience and supporters we have been consistent and faithful. But cricket seems to be the only sport that was and continues to be accorded this honour. If we want to argue that sports such as Tennis, Badminton, Basketball have all remained restricted to urban settlements, then there comes a point that Cricket was for a long time a very urban sport and generally accessible only to the upper strata of our society.
It was perhaps only after the late 80s that it slowly permeated into the vast expanse of the Indian society’s varied sections. While Cricket has steadily spread its presence, other sports have not been able to convincingly overcome this rural- urban divide- maybe this is their folly?
Cricket deserves its’s praise
The BCCI is generally in the news for wrong reasons, but amidst all that and its archaic nature, it has done incredibly well to protect its game, propagate it, popularize it, make it financially viable for cricketers and most importantly- create a brand and a cult following for Cricket in India.
It’s hardly surprising that more and more youngsters fling themselves into pursuing cricket- given the game’s infrastructure that has been set up across the nation. For most, it appears at least for a while that cricket could be a career option.
This immense popularity brings in an extraordinary level of competition and hence cricketers get sieved at every level of their attempt and ascent. For this reason alone, the BCCI should be appreciated and it is at this very point that boards that run other sports have floundered. Most governing bodies lie in a stupor inflicted by a gaudy and giddy mix of politics, power struggle, corruption and a complete lack of vision.
It is no individual’s or department’s fault that India’s Olympic performances have rarely been at a level that justifies the enormous potential that she has. It is a collective failure that we all as citizens, as administrators, as media personnel have a share in.
So where does the fault lie?
The rot begins when the athletes’ exploits don’t seem to bother us. Their personal bests, their victories and their failures remain purely theirs- in the Indian scenario. We do not recognise their existence and perseverance, for the media doesn’t show and even if it does- it rarely catches our eye.
It is intriguing to reason out that of the two aspects- the first being India’s continued poor show at the Olympics and the second being a systemic failure on the part of sports federations due to a killing dearth of funds, which is cause and which effect.
It is also surprising to see how Indians win medals at world events including the Olympics. One has to admire the indomitable spirit of these people, their support staff and certain administrators, who in conditions that are anything but suitable give everything they have- physically, mentally and financially to the Olympic dream.
Also read: Know your Indian Olympian: Apurvi Chandela
In a system that is barely existent in some parts and completely scuttled at others, it is a narrow but steady stream of world class competitors emerging that makes it incredible and miraculous!
If with so much stacked against them, these come out as champions, imagine what they would achieve if there was a little patronage and backing?
It’s a shame that most of us recognize no sportsperson that is not a cricketer and not one that does not play in these money-laden franchise leagues. It’s particularly disturbing that we as a people are making no effort to capture accomplishments in sports including cricket in our memory to re-live them later or perhaps to tell future generations about such glory in our era.