Time to grant Indian sports independence from 70 years of government enslavement

Looking back at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the next generation will see it as the beginning of India's resurgence as a sporting nation.

Bikram Vohra August 17, 2016 20:47:30 IST
Time to grant Indian sports independence from 70 years of government enslavement

It was tough getting into the school team, and to make it into the college first string was even harder. Then came the state XI, and finally the glory of wearing the national colours.

Looking back at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the next generation will one day see it as the beginning of India's resurgence as a sporting nation. They will say, okay, that’s when we woke up.

I don’t send out tweets drenched in dismay or derision, or wring my hands in agony. Seeing how late we have started in most disciplines and considering the bumbling bureaucracy and political interference that mars the Indian sports administration, it is a wonder that we get anywhere at all.

Time to grant Indian sports independence from 70 years of government enslavement

Dipa Karmakar performs during the artistic gymnastics qualifying round. AP

Of course, we are guilty of neglect. From officials, who only seek power and position to a layman like you and me, who express deep grief over the performance of Indian hockey but can barely name even half the team, our callous approach towards upcoming talent is to be blamed.

Yet, we know what Virat Kohli had for dinner.

This time round we sent 120 athletes to Rio, the biggest ever group to go the Olympics from India. Good going. Next time send 240 and downsize the officials.

They tried, these boys and girls, they tried their best, but unlike the medal winning nations we neither give our athletes financial security and top training facilities nor does our corporate world step up to the plate and sponsor talent.

We don’t take skilled children and hone them at ten. We don’t have talent scouts whose life’s mission is to strive, to seek and not to yield.

We have never seriously undertaken, beyond sporadic forays, any long term steps to locate born talents, runners and archers and swimmers, in our rural areas. Look what the Kenyans and Ethiopians have done with their endurance runners, not since yesterday but for the past twenty years.

They invested in their country's talent. We didn't.

Our tribal belt would be brimming with talent. Our rural boys and girls would have the stamina of a lion but there is no planning, no system to harness our sporting resources.

And yet, two people indicate that there is hope for tomorrow. Dipa Karmakar became the first Indian girl to qualify for the gymnastics despite being from a country where the facilities don’t even exist.

Dattu Baban Bhokanal, an army jawan from a drought hit village, set the lake on fire in Rio by becoming the only Indian ever to reach the Olympics in the sculls rowing event. Most Indians would not even know what sculls is; they may even mistake it for the phonetically similar word 'skull' (which means the bone structure of the head).

But against all odds, Karmakar and Bhokanal epitomise tomorrow. They opened doors that were not even considered as options.They are India's heroes and we should give them laurel wreaths.

Will some multi-billion turnover company take them under their wing and put them through the hoops over the next four years? Doubt it.

Individuals like them will open more doors in more spheres to more raw and natural born talent. Archers will hit the bulls eye. Our boxers and wrestlers will continue with high spirits. Shooters will bite the bullet. Our tennis squad will rise above their petty squabbles. But if they fail, they must be replaced with fresh talent. That is the key. Replace, restore, replenish.

All this said, there are three elements that need to be faced and these were reflected in our hockey match against Belgium and they impact right across the sports board.

We lack killer instinct. We would rather be nice guys, which is why we even have Fairplay awards in cricket. No one understands what purpose does it serve, but they still think it’s an excellent idea. Our love for legends borders on the ridiculous, we keep them way past their ‘sell by’ date, as if we owe them a debt of undying gratitude. Get past it.

There is no strategy or tactic or even a recognition of the critical difference between the two. That is why we don’t catch potential talent when they are young and ready to be moulded into champions.

Our coaches do not inspire. They do not get stuck in. I am watching the basketball game between Argentina and Brazil and the score is 95-95 in extra time and the coaches might as well be on the court, they are desperately scribbling ‘plays’ in the timeouts and are so into the team. They are all Mourinhos on speed.

Our coaches wear track suits, suck in their bellies and look glum.

If we could just get the bureaucratic and political foot off the neck of our sports persons, make it a private enterprise, and put our money where our mouths are rather than being bitter in the absence of medals, we can exult in the fact that despite all the shortcomings in our approach we did pretty well.

But these heroes will come home to a non-welcome. Nobody will give a damn. Not a hoot.

If we truly want to be a nation known for sports, we must make it a business and run it like a business, unlike a government sponsored money making racket. Where else in the world do officials travel business class and players in economy.

For starters, let the official breakdown of how much was spent on athletes and how much on officials at Rio be made public...that will offer us proof of how casually we take our players and yet expect them to be on top of the world.

Time to grant Indian sport its independence.

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