WHAT THE @#$! Ails Indian Sport?!!?!?!?! – Part II

So if you are through the 1400 words of part uno here’s part dos.

Lack of Sporting culture

India lacks a sports culture. In the west kids play all sorts of organized sports regularly. Schools/colleges have proper sports schedules based on summer and winter sports. Even the professional leagues are organized as such. Though things are slowly changing in India, we aren’t getting there quickly enough. Academics still dominate because its the easiest and, despite rising education costs, the cheapest and highest hit ratio of success.

Sports are an extremely expensive venture. It is a heavy burden for a sportsperson find the right training facilities, a good coach, a capable dietitian/nutritionist and, if injured, competent medical support in the fairly developed west. There is a separate field of study called sports science where there are specialized doctors/surgeons who deal exclusively with sports injuries/surgeries and rehab. We have no such thing available in India and our bureaucracy refuses to give clearance to avail these expensive treatments and this for the crème de la crème of the sport.

Talent will most certainly to you to the top but it won’t keep you there. Sports are an extremely cutthroat world and the shelf life is extremely short. India has been playing cricket since 1932 and the number of cricketers at each level (first class, U-19, U-16 etc) has been growing exponentially year after year and yet only 285 players have played test cricket for India with an average of 19 tests per cricketer & just 3 new test cricketers per year. India has about 30 first class teams with about 15-20 members in the squad. So of the 500 odd test cricketers each season only 3 players i.e. just over1 0.5%, make it to the national team.

Many people casually say kids are forced by parents to study and unless that changes India will never win medals. This is a half-arsed argument which is made mostly by unmarried childless folks. As mentioned above the reality is that sports is a very expensive venture with an extremely short shelf life (average 3-4 years) and less than 1% of the competitors make it to the top to make a sustainable living and those who don’t make it will have wasted at least half a decade away from general white collar jobs that are on offer. With the heavy Indian population it is already a merciless competition through sheer quantity if not quality and with a 5-6 year handicap it gets even harder to find employment.

Why would parents want to see their in prime 27-28 year old son or daughter, for whom they should be finding prospective partners, still searching for employment when most of their non-sporting contemporaries are through paying 1/6th of their house mortgages? Despite the TV shows & advertisements repeatedly showing an aspiring upper middle class, India still is largely a lower middle class blue collar country. Our families just cannot cope with losing the young & strong next generation to failure and depression through the hit & miss world of sports instead of increasing the quality of their lives through the surer path of academics. Like they say its easier to advise when its not you who’s being affected. I call it the ungaLukkunA raththam engaLukkunA thakkALi chutney2 syndrome.

Sports as a political tool sans Cricket

I dunno for how long sports have been used as a political tool but the earliest tournament that I can think of is the 1934 football world cup. Mussolini having assumed power as fascist dictator wanted to show Italy’s hospitality by hosting a magnificent tournament and superiority by winning it. Just 2 years later, Hitler used the Berlin Olympics as his political tool to show Aryan superiority and I guess USA3 then saw the value of sports & politics when Jesse Owens showed American superiority by his brilliance in athletics.

The world evolved into USA vs USSR a few years after world war II and the Olympics became a giant pissing contest between the two powers. USA would typically dominate athletics whereas USSR would dominate gymnastics & weightlifting. Even a sport like chess didn’t escape this pissing contest as Spassky vs Fischer was dubbed USSR vs USA. There were also the two giant boycotts of 1980 & 1984 where many athletes who wasted 4 priceless years of their lives weren’t allowed to participate just because the politicians of the nations wanted to score brownie points.

India are no strangers to the political boycott. The Indian cricket team refused to play Pakistan for 17 years due to Kashmir. The Indira Gandhi led govt also refused to let the Indian tennis team to play the Davis Cup final vs Apartheid South Africa. This was an anomaly though. India has always failed to see beyond cricket to see sports as a political tool. The Chinese used Beijing 2008 to show how far they have come as a nation. Remember that China was probably poorer than India in 1949 and almost as poor, as late as 1980. Today they are dominant in almost every field. Every achievement in sport is seen as showing China as a superior powerful nation.

India hardly use their (few) successes to score PR victories. Even whilst using cricket as a political tool it is mostly to cut off money flow to Pakistan rather than show a position of strength by beating our neighbours which we don’t do enough. This is not limited to sports. India fail to use our successes to score PR in any field. The Silicon Valley would not be a cradle of innovation had it not been for Indian engineers. 2 Indians are the CEOs of two richest corporations: Microsoft & Google. Indian software engineers were vital in Y2K not being an issue at all and yet we fail to inspire our children/teens with these fantastic successes. I mean isn’t Sundar Pichai’s track record at Google (Chrome) and becoming CEO analogous to an Indian tennis player winning the Wimbledon singles’ title at SW19?

Had it been China or even Pakistan they would have brazenly said America cannot survive without our engineers but not only do we not praise but we actively disown these great success stories. With this sort of inferiority complex we can never aspire to achieve greatness not only in sport but any field.

These are the fundamental problems that plague sports in our country. We lack the facilities, we lack the know how, and we have bumbling idiots ru(i)nning the sport. Having said this, all is not lost. As the management pithy goes, every problem is an opportunity and there is nothing that cannot be solved. All it needs is a slight change in mentality and a clear plan that can put India in top 15 at the summer Olympics. We’ll see those in the next part of this burgeoning post.

1The mathematical calculations are not foolproof. There are some factors that I have ignored. It is just to give a very rough idea of how difficult things are at the very top

2ungaLukkunA raththam engaLukkunA thakkALi chutney: This is a dialogue from a Tamizh movie which roughly translates to “It is blood if it is for you but it is tomato chutney if it is for me”.

3I am just guessing here. Maybe the USA already did sports & politics before. Its purely conjecture on my part. If it is wrong I apologize and please let me know roughly when it first started.

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