Even sports has not remained immune to the political slugfest between Bhartiya Janata Party’s campaign chief Narendra Modi and the Congress party with former Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken citing Gujarat’s poor record at the last National Games in Ranchi as proof of Modi government’s lack of vision for sports.
According to the media reports, Maken pointed out that while Gujarat managed only 7 gold medals even the Union Territory of Chandigarh had 10 gold to their credit. The statement was enough to show the sports loving public of the country how much clued in the former Sports minister was, as the data were factually incorrect.
Gujarat managed a total of seven medals – three silver and four bronze – while Chandigarh was two places below in the pecking order with one silver and nine bronze medals in the 2011 editions of the Games.
It is nobody’s argument that the ministers or politicians have to be statisticians. Nor is this an attempt to prove Maken wrong over his comparison between Gujarat and Chandigarh. But this exchange only proves that none of our leaders are really aware of what is happening in Indian sports. Worse still, they choose to ignore the state of Indian sports.
If Maken’s argument about judging the commitment of a state towards development of sports has to be judged by the medals won in the National Games, then there cannot be a more inaccurate mechanism.
The best example against this argument would be the performance of hosts Jharkhand in the Games. Jharkhand won a total of 96 medals -- 33 gold, 26 silver and 37 bronze -- to finish fifth in the overall medals tally. It was a huge jump from their previous tally of six gold medals in the 2007 Games at Guwahati and the state understandably took all the credit for the improved performance.
But if you thought that the improved performance had a direct co-relation with the state’s commitment to sports development then look at these facts. Out of these 96 medals, 55 were won by sportspersons who were only representing the state for the financial benefits being offered to them as outstation professionals, including the likes of Olympic bronze medallist M C Mary Kom of Manipur.
In fact, only Lawn Bowling boasted of an all-Jharkhand squad and they won four gold and two silver for their efforts.
The picture is no different for most other states. While these states do not borrow players from other state associations, they rely heavily on the players from Railways, the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board and even the second rung players from the Services squad to boost their medals tally.
It would be interesting to find out how many athletes from Manipur, which finished second in the overall medal tally behind Services, actually train in the North East state. Only a handful will be the answer, that too in sports like wushu and boxing.
Even Delhi, which boasts of the country’s best infrastructure, depends completely on the talent from the adjoining region of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh which comes to train there and represent the National Capital Region in the National Games.
From among India’s 29 states, including the National Capital Region of Delhi, only Haryana and Kerala can really boast of putting in a structure to produce champions. While Haryana provides financial incentives and foreign coaching facilities to the players, Kerala banks on a robust School Games structure to churn out athletes in big numbers despite lack of world class infrastructure.
Andhra Pradesh had taken giant strides in providing good infrastructure and financial support to local talent under the leadership of Chandrababu Naidu, but most sports administrators in the state would vouch that the situation has been getting progressively worse under the current regime.
So what is really stopping the states from having an effective sports policy that can identify and nurture talent. The answer is simple – apathy of the political class.
While most States are quick to announce financial benefits to cricketers or players who win medals in the Asian or World championship for cheap publicity, none of them really want to invest in a long term development program.
Take the case of Maharashtra. Once a sports powerhouse in the country, Maharashtra has the highest dropout rate of sportspersons after the age of 17 and 18. Even those who continue to pursue a career in sports like badminton, swimming, wrestling and many other sports prefer to migrate to Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh or Haryana for want of better facilities and recognition.
The Krida Prabodini scheme started in 1999 to identify and nurture talent from rural area is barely surviving as the state has no funds to spare for a project that gave the country two world champions – one junior and one senior – in shooting.
Maken, who is a former Sports Minister, should have taken all these facts into consideration before opening Pandora’s Box. What is even worse is that no matter who is in power, no one really expects them to do anything for sports apart from offering mere lip service.