The collective hand-wringing, head-shaking and fists-banging-on-table by the well-meaning Indian public once every 4 years is well and truly upon us now. Yes, we have had another dismal Olympics performance by the Indian contingent, and yes, we have another set of administrators who make the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
All sorts of reasons are put forward. As with any problem in India, many fingers point towards the Government. The general lack of infrastructure, lack of funding, poor governance and hence corruption and nepotism — all of these are directly attributed to the Government.
Surprisingly, there is a reasonable degree of introspection, something that does not come that easy in most instances. The lack of a sporting culture is blamed. Many look inward either to their own past, or to their kids, and ask — are we all doing enough to encourage kids to take up sport? WhatsApp memes about homework taking priority over sport do the rounds.
There is an element of rationalization as well — what is the future of a non-cricketer in India? What will she do after her career is over? Who will give her a job? Hence, no wonder no one is actually taking up sport seriously, or so the thought goes.
Interestingly, I don’t sense hatred towards the cricketers this time round. Usually, some ire is directed towards the Indian cricket team and it’s superstars for, well, doing well in their own sport and hence hogging the limelight and somehow taking away what belonged to other sportspersons. The cricketers have been left largely untouched this year. Shobhaa De took up the position of Enemy No. 1 for this period.
All valid thoughts and arguments, all correct in their own way, and I agree with each of these and then some.
So what is the point of this article, you ask? Just to offer my opinion that (a) we were crap in sport, (b) we are improving, but in very incremental steps, and (c) we will eventually get there, but not as rapidly as the armchair critics with a sense of entitlement think we should.
(a) We sucked at sport — duh, fairly obvious. The medals table does not lie. We did not have any stars worth looking up to, no focus on sport, no money, no infra etc for the longest time (read 60+ years). (there we go again, same old reasons!).
(b) Things are better — no, really. The medals table does lie. In general Indian sport is way better today than it was in 2012. We have a much larger base of participation, the infra has improved, private funding has come in, and in general, I don’t think any athlete competing in this Olympics can offer lack of funding as the reason for the performance. There is money available today for the talented athlete, period! Many structural problems still remain, but there are green shoots wherever you look. It’s just that while we have improved, the rest of the world has not been sitting idle — and have rapidly gained over us (there you go, a new reason!). So while our train has left the station, the others are way ahead and we have some catching up to do. Give it time. 60 years of apathy can’t be wished away in 3–4 years. Sport is a global level playing field and we have to compete with the best from Day 1 — unlike say other sectors where there is protection from MNCs, a secure domestic market, and other advantages.
(c) We will eventually be a reasonably large force in sport globally. The demographics are way too compelling. Private enterprise will figure out a way to focus on select athletes/sports and produce world-class champions from India and benefit from it. The Indian public will crave for world-beaters, and will start putting their money and effort behind this cause. Hence the ‘culture’ will change. Just like there is probably more world-class cricket talent coming through in India than in any other country, it will happen in a few other sports to start with and slowly expand. The Government will hopefully stay away from this because this is not their job or priority in a country like India. It will all take more time than we think because other countries are moving ahead and hence we are targeting a moving goalpost. But we will get there. Eventually.
Keep the faith, everyone.