Sushil Kumar, Vijay Kumar, Gagan Narang, Mary Kom, Yogeshwar Dutt, Saina Nehwal… thank you for the medals and the memories, we’ll look you up after four years when the Rio Olympics come around – over and out!
The collective euphoria around the Olympics is hard to fathom, simply because for the rest of time, we’ll ignore all other sports and concentrate only on cricket. In a sense, the Olympics are like a fad that lasts for two weeks – and for that time, it’s cool to be a sports fan; it’s cool to know about Indian athletes; it’s cool to know about records; it’s cool to know ‘other’ sports.
But cricket is cool all year round – it’s always in the news – through controversy or triumph or through the kind of money that cricketers makes. Narang made a crore after winning a bronze at the Olympics, Yusuf Pathan made the same amount for sitting on the bench for most of India’s 2007 World T20 campaign.
The coverage cricket gets is pretty detailed as well and that results in us knowing every little detail about the sport and the players. It sucks you in; it’s a soap opera and a sport, all rolled into one. And then there’s the IPL – for good or for bad – it hypes things to unprecedented levels.
But this isn’t an attempt to run down cricket. It is in fact all about other sports learning from cricket; learning how to be cool.
The truth is that youngsters get attracted to ‘cool’ stuff. The idea of a SAI complex that is littered with drugs isn’t exactly a picture of cool and neither is the idea of associations being run by politicians who have one foot in the grave. Dirty training centres, girls being molested by coaches, top-level athletes having to wash their own clothes and a life of poverty isn’t cool either.
However, during the Olympics – all that is wrong fades into the background and is replaced by a spectacle so grand that cricket, even in all its glory, can’t match.
So is finding a way to be ‘cool’ the answer to India’s sporting dilemma? Other sports need to stop being just a fad. It’s hard to imagine anyone taking to something that they care about for only two weeks – which is why others sports have to be on our mind all year round as well.
For starters, Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken and Co need to start honouring every athlete – not just the ones who win a medal. Yes, reward the medalists but don’t forget the ones who gave it their best either. The curse of the Olympics is that if you finish fourth (Joydeep Karmakar) or seventh (Krishna Poonia) or eighth (Vikas Gowda) or tenth (K.T. Irfan) – you will not even make it to the footnotes. Society does not honour the defeated – but it should. They gave it everything too.
Secondly, sports need to be introduced in schools. Not just athletics, hockey, football, basketball and volleyball. But even sports like shooting and wrestling. Catch them young – that’s what cricket does. A child should be able to take up any sport he or she wants to, without having to worry about money.
Thirdly, find a way to telecast the World Cups that our shooters, archers, boxers and other athletes take part in. The Olympics showed us just how thrilling these sports are but youngsters these days live off the internet and television – introduce them to not just football (where India’s standard is really low) but also to sports where India does well at the world level. Why is that so hard to do?
Lastly, on twitter, @sidin had a nice suggestion to make: ‘Please take medallists around the country to schools and colleges. Inspire the next generation. Let kids touch those medals.’
One can’t help but agree with that. Those medals are everything – Grit. Dedication. Honour. Fame. Life.
Sometimes it can take one tiny moment – we don’t need a motorcade – to change the life of a youngster. And really, what can be cooler than touching an Olympic medal... well, having it around your neck of course.