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  • Anant Srivastava
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  • Indira Nagar
  • April 25, 2017, 1:13 p.m.
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Sports Culture in India, Olympics and Beyond - A Research

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  • Sports Culture in India, Olympics and Beyond - A Research
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Read in Englishहिंदी में पढ़ें

Indian sports system needs an addressal for not just the Poor show at Olympics, but also the general sports culture, citing the mental and physical health hazards facing our communities.

Sports in India

India is home to a diverse population playing a diverse range of sports across the country. As we know the National game of India is Hockey in which India has won 8 Olympic gold medals mostly before the 1980s. Kabaddi, an indigenous sport is popular in rural India along with a plenty of not very mainstream sports but needs space and a lot of running.

Commercialization has been a key behind the popularity of any games in India. So though originated in India including Chess, Snooker, and other regional games are played at a plenty. Cricket takes the lion share of what India plays and swears by. It stands closest to the hearts of million fans. Cricket is also the most played sport followed by Badminton and Football and India has been world champion recently too in the sport.

Events hosted by India

India has hosted and co-hosted several international sporting events, including the 1951 and 1982 Asian Games, 1987, 1996 and 2011 Cricket World Cup, the 2003 Afro-Asian Games, the 2010 Hockey World Cup and the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The Indian Premier League (IPL) is a premier twenty20 cricket league held every year from 2008. The Indian Super League is a football league tournament held since 2014. Major international sporting events annually held in India include the Chennai Open in tennis, the Indian Masters in golf. From 2011 to 2013, India hosted the Indian Grand Prix Formula 1 race at the Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida. The National Games of India is a national domestic sports event, which has been held in the country since 1924. India will host the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

History of Sports in India

The history of sports in India dates back to the Vedic era when mentions of Lord Krishna playing with a ball and a bat on the banks of Yamuna is mentioned in the "Kaliya Naag" chapter. Physical culture in ancient India was fueled by religious rights. Badminton probably originated in India as a grownup's version of a very old children's game known in England as Battledore and Shuttlecock, the battledore being a paddle and the shuttlecock a small feathered cork, now usually called a "bird." Games like chess (chaturanga), snakes and ladders, playing cards, originated in India, and it was from here that these games were moved to foreign shores, where they were further modernized.

India in Olympics

India has been participating in Olympics since 1900. In the span 116 years, India has been able to manage 28 medals in total comprising of gold, silver, and bronze in different sports and categories.  Indian Hockey Team has the maximum of 11 medals in Olympics comprising of 8 golds, 1 silver, and 2 bronze. Over the years, fighting the odds, India developed in the better economy. Post-partition India had the lot to suffer and amend but its sport never stopped. With six successive golds in Olympics, Indian hockey outshone every other nation on the globe. But as the years progressed and country strengthened, the state of sports suffered. Negligence and improper sporting facilities provided by the Indian govt. lead to the debacle of sports at the elite level in subsequent years. Resulting, 2 medals in Rio Olympics 2016. 

 It is believed that economic and political state of any country is reflected in its sports.

 This is the reason countries like USA, China, Russia, Great Britain, Germany, and etc. fair well at the world’s biggest sporting event. They have the best infrastructure to incubate and grow sports. Their athletes are facilitated with best facilities which became a reason for their success. For the same reason, unlike developed and harmonious countries, countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., who are facing biggest turmoil even fail to qualify.

But looking at India’s growth it would be unfair to say that India lacks funds to support the best sporting facilities. A country that has reached moon and mars and has achieved unthinkable, is an underachiever at Olympics and the general sports culture in India, as evident from the parade of pot bellies around us among children and adults alike. Something difficult to inhibit.

In Rio Olympics 2016, India sent the biggest ever contingent of 118 athletes out of which only 2 could bag medals. Their success was showered with umpteen awards, recognition, and money. They deserve what they are bestowed upon but up till when we would keep rewarding athletes after they do well. Why not provide them facilities which can be used by all to help them represent their country best at the elite level.

Lack of motivation

The Large gap between poor and rich, lack of infrastructure, the disparity between boys and girls, lack of basic facilities and information about Olympics in the suburban and rural areas are few of many reasons for the lack of sports motivation in India.

Every kid is in haste to be an engineer or a doctor or a government job.  Sports talents are persuaded by their family and their society to leave sports and look for something meaningful. They are stopped from participating at higher competitive levels.

Girls are rarely promoted in sports. This lowers the talent pool and participation at sporting events. Due to caste and religion differences, still in few parts of the country, few don’t opt for sports.

Lack of Influential exposure

Cricket is the most favorite sport in the country and almost every Indian has played it at some point in his life. But here other sports are a rarity. Once, national sports hockey was in hearts of people, but due to fading away lost its place. This took away the inspirational or influential figures from sports. There aren’t many to be influenced from in different sports.

India doesn’t have a rich culture of sports and parents and society are of the conservative mindset. For them still (after considerate success at international level) sports are not something to be pursued. As they say:

Kheloge koodoge toh hoge kharaab, Padhoge likhoge to banoge Nawab’

Other main reason can be the disparity between the winners and the ones working for it. Governments don’t apply sufficient infrastructure or facilities to sports but spend crores in awarding the athletes that bring laurels to the country.  Felicitation is good as it motivates athletes to do better but it should be taken care that not a bunch of good athletes overshadow the others in the race.

Wicked politics and array of mismanagement

It is not that governments can’t afford better infrastructure, it is the lack of will to make it better. Over the years sports has suffered in the hands of corrupt politics and hasn’t thrived as it should have. Recent Olympics saw similar ill-treatment to players. Officials on government's money traveled in business class to see the arrangements and learn to apply the same in India but instead skipped the games and enjoyed the sun on beaches in Rio. On the hand players that were supposed to participate were sent in economy class to Rio.

Mistreatment of funds by officials has been a concern and is one of the prime reasons of debacle or frail show of performance at the elite level. And the irony is that they are at the front to felicitate players with heavy cash amount to establish their political lead.

Unfortunately, everything eventually dies in the hands of politics in India.     

Diminishing public playgrounds

I have a small cut mark behind my ear. That happened while playing in a public park. But that never stopped me from enjoying those unparalleled days of childhood. Playing daily in society parks with my friends was a must do part of the routine. But I believe today’s kids are deprived of such leisure. In urban areas, there is hardly any public place for kids to play. Public playing areas have either turned into real estate property or have been converted into a garden. Where would the kids go to play? It is hardly anyplace left.  

Another major change is the change of age. Living in the Information age, we see our world within the 4-inch screen of our mobile phones. The kids of this era are more attracted towards the gadgets for recreation. They spent their little time from heavy school schedule over PlayStation or electronic indoor games instead prancing out and playing outdoor sports.

Rise of commercial playing grounds in society

Real estate owners have latched on the opportunity and have utilized society parks to lend it to chain owners of sports academies. Real estate owners in new construction pattern give away green belt spaces to sports academy chain owners to run their businesses. The places those were previously open for all have now turned to the paid recreation areas. To play in them one has to pay heavy fees. How would the one play who can’t afford its fees? Playing grounds have limited in numbers have almost nowhere for kids to play. Few playgrounds with spaces have been limited citing the senior citizen and their recreation space. With all this, there is no space for kids to sprawl in sports.Good Talents would be a waste. 

Indian Sports need a transformed model too

Ultra liberal shower of cash on the Silver medal winner in Rio Olympics 2016 has touched almost 13 Crores mark. While the marathon runner OP Jaisha collapsed because of dehydration during the event, and there was no support staff over there even to offer her water.

The stark contrast in the treatment of our Athletes is the highlight of numerous reasons why with a contingent of 117 athletes we could only win two medals, while a country cursed by all like North Korea won 7 medals including two Gold out of a contingent of 31 Athletes only. Sporting excellence is a rare feat, and much more so in our country.

When a large majority of the young population is still deprived of education it is meaningless to expect them to have any sort of formal sports culture. In spite of this, we are left with a sizable mass to work with.

Olympic model often gets reduced to a mere Selfie moment for Politicians

During the felicitation of wrestler Sakshi Malik, there was a race among politicians to talk big and stand in front for photo ops. The rush for appearing in photo ops was mad enough to leave even Sakshi’s school friends ashamed. In our country, starving of heroes, the achievers are generally used as props for politico’s dance shows. When it comes to bringing structural reforms and developing lasting infrastructure for Sports, they fall miserably short.

Indian Cricket is a good example

While the current sporting scenario in the country is plagued with numerous administrative and cultural issues, we see the lack of Private investment into it as the single largest reason for our dismal performance. Cricket is a shining example of what a professionally run Private body, like BCCI can do to a sport. Today BCCI is possibly the most powerful body in International cricket and Indian Cricketers are the top performers in the game. Contrary to the popular belief that we Indians are not born athletes and we considerably lack the physical built to perform at the highest level, Indian cricketers have shown their all-round prowess in the game.

So what is different with Cricket. Hockey & Soccer used to be equally popular games in 60’s & early 70’s in India. Sometime during mid 70’s Cricket viewership picked up with some brilliant individual performance coming up in the sport and then after 1983 world cup victory its popularity shot up like tea on the boil. BCCI has been existence since 1928 as a Society registered under Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act but stands for the National Cricket team of India. It is not dependent on the taxpayer’s money of India and today has an annual budget of about 3139 Crores in 2015-16. IOA (Indian Olympic Association)’s history also dates back to 1924, but contrary to BCCI it has not been able to produce similar results. The government of India has spent just about 750 Crores in last four years on all sports combined. And the bigger concern is, this spend has had a declining trend for last 3 years. For the Rio Olympics preparation IOA spent about 30 Crores on all the Athletes combined in the last couple of years, BCCI only for one of its several domestic tournaments i.e. Ranji Trophy allocates Rs 30 Crores per year.

The stark contrast in the expenditure on sports shows up in the performance. Both sports bodies i.e. BCCI and IOA have their own corruption and administration related problems, though IOA failed to deliver where it counts.

So we need more cash for other sports

Signs of desperation are evident in welcoming our medallion heroes when we spent more in rewarding them rather than preparing. Total cash rewards on PV Sindhu, Sakshi, and Deepa Karmakar far exceed the total amount spent in preparation, i.e. 30 Crores.

More cash enables to create the robust infrastructure and attractive incentives for sports aspirants. The underpinned fact is having a sports culture for children and preparing athletes to compete at Olympics level are two different things. And without that culture producing such athletes for highest level is near impossibility.

We have a nonserious approach towards sports at school level. Sporting events are rare and generally accessible to the rich. At the rural level, it's all about Cricket. In tier 2 & 3 cities there is the complete lack of quality open spaces. Sporting grounds have been taken over by Political rallies leaving no space for youngsters. Indoor sports as it is are expensive and find too few participants.

All this requires a massive overhaul. Sports need to be made mandatory at all school levels, asking pupils to score a certain minimum grade. I believe if Hindutva can be slowly pushed in the curriculum, so can be sports at all levels.

Private Investment

Through proper urban design, we need to have quality open spaces and sports grounds for youngsters to have a real field day. Indoor sports facilities, particularly in Tier-2 & 3 cities, would require enormous investment, and their private money can play a big role. In US municipal bonds, since early 80’s have been used to fund construction of Sports stadiums. Some of them have got monopolized by private clubs that must be avoided at all costs. As after all, it’s the tax payer’s money that has gone into construction through bonds. Our country has this problem of riches fixing up for preferential treatment even at public spaces. Through a culture of openness and easy access to sports facilities for all, we may change this.

Property developers have so far been envisaging their Sports facilities clubbed with their residential development. Time has come to start building up standalone facilities as well. Experience says that willingness to pay for quality infrastructure is already there in the urban middle class. Even from Operations & maintenance point of view, these facilities can be made profitable.

Promoting club culture and bringing in upright PPP model into Sports infra are need of the hour. Policy makers need to quickly chart out the modalities. The popularity of many other sports like Soccer, Kabaddi, Hockey, Badminton are on the rise. Private players can come forward and capitalize the big gaps in these sports.

Next, comes, preparing the athletes for the highest level. That requires an extremely pointed, professional and coordinated effort. The kind of work shown by P Gopichand and PV Sindhu towards the preparation for Rio making it all a part of Indian Olympics folklore. But the feed for this preparation will only become possible if we are able to bring about a paradigm shift in our schooling system by making sports a compulsory part of the curriculum. Sports can no longer remain to be the extracurricular activity.

Either Hero or Zero syndrome

We also need to get rid of Either a Hero or a Zero syndrome. All sports persons go through a very rigorous process to reach the Olympics or other International events. Their effort must be thoroughly appreciated even if they fail to win the medals. They are not zeroes, considerably in the Rio Olympics this time, the performance of the entire contingent has been remarkably better than previous years even though model count might not be better. The Indian contingent participated in more number of the events than previous years and overall their standing in various events was better.

Sports have the power to transform the individual. It teaches to how to accept defeat, how to come back and compete and Imparts enormous amount of mental upheaval. It has the power to channelize the gigantic youth energy into something highly positive. The Indian PM has recently announced a package of 300 Cr for the State of Jammu & Kashmir to build better infrastructure for the sports realizing this only. 

What are we looking for:

We don't believe in medal tally and want our children to chase that, or join Olympics centers like China where kids have snatched off their parent's hands, mostly ending up as factory labors. Our goal is to develop a sports culture, free spaces, and facilities available for kids and adults alike to pursue sports of their liking in Indian communities. With a large number of diabetes cases and a rise in processed food culture, pointing at general health hazards, sports will not only make a healthier society physically but mentally too. Do you want to chip in or add to this live research, Please click "Connect"  button on this page, or write to coordinators@ballotboxindia.com 

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