Walking the Talk …

Given all the media hype about the upcoming Olympics – the security surrounding the torch, Bhaichung Bhutia, Aamir Khan and Tibet;  and the Indian hockey team –  one question that always begs to be answered is – How many gold medals can India win at the Beijing Olympics. This is as standard a topic one does hear before the commencement of a competitive multi-country sporting event like the Asiad or the Olympics, as the real estate prices in Mumbai, as how the only difference between a first class and a second class compartment in a Virar local is that the sweat is perfumed, as how the new generation is so irresponsible, as how inflation is affecting the monthly household budget, as how the Indian middle class is not so middle any more, as Shekhar Suman laughing and arching his already arched plastic surgery related eyebrows on a comedy show. One can go on listing more standard topics of discussion but respect for space and a distinct lack of creativity forces the conclusion of the same. Most sportswriters, it is alleged, have one standard piece, which is submitted to editors. The year and the location are variable. Everything else is unchanged. Death, taxes, people falling in borewells (how do people manage to do this is beyond one’s imagination) and these Olympic related pieces are the only certainties in an otherwise subprime hit uncertain world. The article generally starts with – “India’s chances of securing a medal are as good as L.K. Adwani embracing Bardhan. —— our only hope is the hockey team —– what we need is a complete overhaul of the system —- the administrators need to be made accountable —- everything will be forgotten till the next Olympics — we suck’. Period. One hopes that the editor edits the hockey bit this time around.

It is whispered (now one understands why that game is called Chinese whispers) by informed sources within the CPM (After consultation with the Chinese delegation which attended some annual meet some where in India) that 4 honorary gold medals are assured by the hosts as a prize for the CPM’s dogged support.  Yechury wins one for blabbering, Karath wins one for intransigence, Bardhan wins one for existence and Buddhadeb wins one for his singurar, oops, singular focus on Industry. Any other Olympic medal 2008 is as distant a dream as Leander lauding Mahesh, as the shooters getting ammo, as the archers getting arrows, as weight lifters going without drugs, as distant as the swimmers coming 7th in heats (there are 8 lanes,  remember?), as the boxers landing a punch.

Bollywood has a solution for all these problems. If you can’t beat them, make a movie. We have seen ‘Lagaan’, ‘Chak De India’ and ‘Dan Danandan Goal’ transform the normally dour, humourless common man into an aggressive, patriotic and adrenaline charged animal. These movies confirm our suspicion as a nation that we are slated for ‘greatness’ in sport.

(The first rider to the clubbing of these 3 movies is that in no way is one trying to equate the movie quality from a movie critic’s perspective).One common thread that runs across all these movies is the nature of sport involved. Cricket, hockey and football are all team sports. By the inherent nature of a team sport, there will be a lot of potential to show contrasts, underlying tensions and the spirit of camaraderie. There is always a ‘win at all costs’ loathsome opponent who is the hands down favourite. (To be fair though, Chak De didn’t delve into this caricature).  One has seen enough Hollywood back-from-the-brink, David-beats-Goliath, feel-good sports movies. But the audience reaction to their Indian movie counterparts is way more enthusiastic. Just as in any Hollywood action movie, the entire room (mostly full of army men) gets up and claps at the end to cheer the hero for services rendered, at all the multiplexes one visited the mood was as jubilant. Every goal was cheered, every wicket celebrated. How one wished this was a real life event. One has watched all these movies in a cinema hall and the rousing audience response to the underdog’s (read India) victory has set off some introspection.

We, as a nation have been witness to very few sporting achievements since independence –  but that was acceptable a decade back. We ourselves had very low expectations. A champion was celebrated by the nation but winning wasn’t every thing. We were an emerging economy with very little to show for our 50 odd years of freedom. The 21st century has brought a booming economy and a burgeoning middle class. Serious problems still exist but there is a new spring in the step of the nation. The biggest change that has come about is the one in attitude. The country exudes self confidence (some view it as arrogance). We are not the dregs of the world any more. We don’t perceive ourselves to be inferior to anyone. But there is still this small matter of almost non-existing sporting excellence.

The advent of satellite TV opened up a whole new world to the passionate Indian sports lovers. Gone were the days of the woefully inadequate 1 hour of ‘World of  Sport’ on a Sunday evening with Dr. Narottam Puri. The world’s best talent in almost every sport, be it soccer, Tennis, Formula 1, Badminton, Golf, Bowling (Sfx in Singapore, I believe is queuing up to file mental harassment claims) could be viewed with shock and awe. You name it and you get it. What the nation saw were champions at work. Mediocrity was passé. The nation wants more from its sportspeople. Just like the famous cola tagline of yesteryears (which incidentally is creatively borrowed from a Bengali song). India wants her sporting heroes and she wants them quick. The one glaring problem in this ambition is that the world has moved too far ahead and India is playing catch up. The Milkha Singh record was broken only a few years back. Our FIFA world ranking is in mid 100’s. We have one player in the Top 50 in Tennis. Sporting underachievement rules.

There’s enough ‘respected’ opinion out there on how to tackle the problem. Heartfelt angst is poured out in articles and pieces about the pathetic condition of Indian sport. Well meaning advice is freely circulated to get rid of the ailments. Administrators are lambasted, the ‘system’ is blamed and a new beginning is advocated. Talking to a friend, who was one of the top TT players of the country, one realised the challenges faced by any budding talent. Matches were played on Badminton courts, there was little or no monetary aid, facilities were non existent and there was no future financial security. Many will say that this is a common story in our country and one would tend to agree with it. (Today she is happily married and settled.) But what hurts is to see talent go to waste. This was about 8 years ago – and what is perhaps typical and what one must realise, is that the biggest reason for her to stop playing was that parental suport existed to a certain stage, but not beyond. Sport as a ‘pastime’ was fine but not at the cost of one’s ‘career’.

All this finally brings one to the moot point. Should we as individuals keep on moaning and ranting about the obvious problems? The problems always lie externally. The ‘system’ is the soft target. The oft cited villain. Is one’s responsibility to the cause fulfilled by writing caustic articles on the state of affairs? Or can one make a small but significant contribution to the sports culture of the country. Can one build a sports culture?

The point about the burgeoning middle class and new found confidence, made earlier in the piece was not a random one (readers may assume that all others were). If one pledges to make one’s kids play at least 2-3 sports and whole-heartedly support the kids’ progress in case of any visible signs of talent, then that can be construed as a good start. There will be years of blood, tears and perseverance that will be needed to attain any decent level. There will be disappointments along the way. Education might have to be given a back seat. A lot of sacrifices will have to be made (both by the kid and the parents). One tends to agree that as an individual, one can hardly try to cleanse the mess in team sports like Hockey. Because the mechanics of a team sport work in a way such that no one player can control/change the system and thereby the destiny of the team. But individual sport is where one sees a ray of hope. As mentioned in an earlier post, the player controls his/her destiny.

If one looks at the rare success stories of Indian sport, excluding cricket, most games where we have excelled have been games which can be afforded by the middle/ upper middle class and some facilities were available. Golf, Tennis, Chess, Billiards, Snooker and Shooting, to name a few. Waiting for the government and/or various associations to come up with radical and fundamental changes is too much to expect .

A better way is to contribute to the story by deeds and actions rather than mere words.

A lot of things have been left unsaid in this piece. And of course, this is only the tip of the proverbial (albeit non melting) iceberg.  

Maybe one can start by taking a look at the following –

The Special Olympics oath is:

Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

These words were spoken by Roman gladiators as they entered the arena, facing the greatest battle of their lives.

We are too !

Posted by Rahul


8 thoughts on “Walking the Talk …

  1. We can’t set out to win medals in the Olympics. We can’t make that a national mission, for that would be to miss the point of sport. If we are to make that the national mission, then we might as well keep complaining as you suggest we have been doing so far, because thats less harmful than Maoesque quest for Steel – which lead to famine.

    Now, this may be an extremely excessive metaphor, but since analogies have not been in short supply here, i can hope that this will pass unnoticed.

    Recreational Sport is ultimately a quality of life issue – it is a measure of having a high quality of life. This recreational sport gives rise to a sports culture (notice that institutions like the armed services in India encourage sport and have a much more robust sports culture than the civilian population), which will them permeate into schools etc.

    Sport will never be imposed with any lasting effect – either by the government or by families.

  2. Kartikeya, thanks for the comments..

    The article starts with the Olympics as that is the current topic of discussion in the media. But I have not mentioned anywhere that winning of Olympic medals is the final goal. I have talked about building a sports culture in this country.

    I’ve mentioned that we should try to make kids play 2-3 games and IF they have any talent there, we as parents should support them to the fullest. Sports has been imposed with lasting effect by the very country you mentioned. But that is not my argument anyway.

    Recreational activities are pursued once human beings have attained higher levels of the Maslow hierarchy. Thus the point about economic well being.

    I completely agree on the point of analogies being dished out in large doses 🙂 so you are welcome to add your own.


  3. As usual a hardhitting write up .. love the choice of topics

    Wondered by many an acted on by non..everyones been there suffered tht.

    For a sports crazy patriot the most difficult question to answer remains –
    Wht sports do u follow other than cricket?..Why?
    Follow soccer for Man Utd..F1 for the scarlet red.. baseball for Yankees..Golf for Tiger..NBA for Mavericks.

    Wheres India in it??…Embarrassing question for us …even worse – Are u ppl just couch potatoes??

    Think the problems with the culture .. the very fact tht dignity of labour not just for sports is missing amongst all of us.

    Fact tht alternate professions,let alone sports, dont hve too much of remunerative rewards is majorly the reason why committed kids are pulled away from sports by practical – we have seen it all- parents.

    Its time we look into ourselves..chuck the system ..chuck the politics…lets do it from our end.

    ‘It had to happen somewhere, it had to happen somehow ..wht better place than here what better time than now’

    – RATM

  4. Thanks Nikhil for your comments,

    Guess if even 2 people try backing their kids (yours truly is included as 1), it would be worthwhile spending time to write this article..

  5. Pingback: A shot at History - what a shot! - Not Cricket

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