INDIAN SPORTS AND THE OLYMPICS
Dr. Ishanand Vempeny
I congratulate P. V. Sindhu for her silver medal and Sakshi Malik for the bronze. It is not because I am averse to gold but rather because we were far from getting one in Rio. True, the 10th rank Sindhu defeated Carolina Marin in the first game. But the Spanish girl won the following two games to win the match rather decisively both in the physical and psychic aspects of the games.
Certainly Sindhu and Sakshi deserve our congratulations. Indeed, Dipa Karmakar too has to be appreciated for her medal-less 4th place since she was the first Indian to dare to compete in the Olympic Gymnastics with reasonable success. One might wonder why the land of Yoga with many of the asanas (postures) resembling some of the wonder-postures of gymnastics, could not get even a bronze medal.
There is however a hitch. Many of the sports persons and sports loving nations began pointing out insulting fingers at India. One of the English TV channelists, twittered: “Stop India celebrating your bronze medal. Is it not a matter of shame for you, with your 1.3 billion people and the seventh largest economy, to celebrate this small victory? It is high time for you to find out what ails your sports-sector.” If the English look down on our poor performance in Rio one might find some justification for their insults. UK is smaller in geographical area and in population than a number of states in India; but it stood second in the number of medals surpassing even a sporting China. Neither the American social media were sparing in their contemptuous expressions against the corrupt and incompetent sports federations of India. In the Rio Olympics too the Americans kept up their number one status as the most sporting nation in the world. The Americans celebrated their Rio victory by bringing back their medal winners in a costly decorated plane with the giant caption, VICTO (r) – RIO – US (Victorious).
Many days of celebrations in India of a single bronze medal has this advantage: the youth of India begin to realize the great appreciation, admiration and adulation even for small victories in sports other than cricket. Such a realization can help the youth to take seriously sports and to struggle against all sorts of odds to get national and international recognition. It has however a disadvantage. As the past Olympics fiascos prove, we Indians are tempted to live on the laurels of a couple of medal-winners. Besides, the prolonged celebrations of a bronze and a silver medals can make the Indian youth minimalistic in their ambition in sports and can lead them to the ‘conclusion in the unconscious’ that Olympic gold medals are beyond their reach. The triple three gold of Usain Bolt would be reduced to the heroics of the mythical heroes. Similarly Michael Phelps with his total 23 gold medals in various Olympics would be lost to an Indian ‘Joseph Schooling’ to dream, like the Singaporean Joseph to beat the American at least in the 100m Butterfly.
Our Stakes in continuous Sporting Fiascos
i. National and Personal Prestige
Ayaz Memon wrote: “Nothing raises the prestige of a nation as excellence in sport. It reflects a country’s health, state of mind, sense of purpose. At the Olympics, particularly, this gets a tangible definition in number of medals won.” (TOI, “Scrap the Sports Ministry”, August 22, 2016, p.12).
The prestige and good name of a nation affects all its citizens. It is said that the victory of England in the world cup (football) in 1966 and of France in 1998 had worked as catalysts in their economic performance, not to speak of other fields. After the 1966 world cup victory when an English man changed his plan to migrate to Australia, somebody asked the reason for this change. He said in reply: “We damn English men can still do something great. So let me stay on in this country which has the stuff to make its citizens great.” The Chinese know this. They could not get a single medal in 1962. From then on they abstained from taking part in the Olympics while taking intense measures to improve the state of sports in their country. In the 1980s they came back with a bang. In 2008 in the Beijing Olympics, they stood first in the number of medals.
ii. The constructive use of youth-energy in India
The young people posses incalculably great energy which can be used constructively or destructively. Sports (not ISIS membership or Naxalite activities) can channelize the energy of youth for nation building. Struggling for achievements in sports with sportsmanship can bring out the very best in the youth. Such a struggling person in the field of sports usually posses the basic character structures for nation building like focusing on objectives and ideals, wholehearted commitment with do-or-die attitudes for achieving the ideals, nationalism without chauvinism and the like.
iii. The contribution of sports for physical and mental health
There is no point in elaborating this fact well-known in the underdeveloped and developed nations.
iv. Discipline and Sports
It is through uncompromising discipline that the youth energy is channelized for constructive purposes. Achievements in sports pre-suppose discipline in various fields. If we ask Sindhu about her training with Gopichand in his Hyderabad Centre she would say that it was a life of unsparing discipline. Food, drink, rest, physical exercises, etc. are regularized with great discipline.
v. Infra-structure for constructive and creative citizens for the future
Let us take the example of football. A good Centre Back like Iniesta of Barcelona, with his ability to concentrate his attention on all the players and pass the ball to the players at the right time for the team, with enormous intensity, can be trained as a great statesman. A footballer or a hockey player with team spirit can be trained to be a citizen with extraordinary social consciousness.
Indian Sports towards Tokyo and Beyond
Soon after the Indian fiasco in the Rio Olympics numerous suggestions have been made by experts for improving the pathetic situation of sports in India. One can write a booklet or even a book comprising the ideas for improving sports in India, proposed by the written and visual media. The ideas were meant for short term and long term implementation. Here we shall present very briefly just a few of them.
i. Sporting Culture
Mani Shankar Aiyar wrote about the need of a sporting culture as the main objective for sports policies: “It is the inevitable consequence of our never having had a comprehensive sports policy aimed at developing a sporting culture to make ours a sporting nation.” (Indian Express, “Olympic letdown”, August 19, 2016, p.8). This sporting culture can be achieved when sports become part of the regular curriculum in schools and colleges making performance in sports as one of the conditions for promotion. Besides, there should be preference for sportsmen in getting appointed for jobs. To this we may add the need for a nationwide search for budding sports talents by promoting sports centres in the rural and the urban areas. The khelmahakumbh initiated by the then Chief Minister N. D. Modi can contribute much to the establishment of sports culture. His recent plan to constitute a “Task Force” for improving sports could go very well with khelmahakumbh for the spread of “Sports Culture” all over India.
ii. If the Sports Federations fail to deliver goods, the leaders and at least some of the non-performing members should be sacked. One of the most obvious examples for carelessness in sports officials, is the case of the Indian Marathoner in Rio who got dehydrated and fell unconscious.
iii. The sports federations must be constituted primarily of sports persons and the know-hows in sports. In the Indian delegation to Rio, quite a few officials were ignorant of most of the sports events. If anything worse than this, is the fact of our sending a dentist for the Para-Olympics to take care of the overall health of the sports persons.
iv. Parental patronage: Sindhu, Saina, Krishanans, Amrutraj, Leander Paes, Sania and many other Indian sports persons climbed the heights in sports chiefly because of their parental patronage. Therefore the sports federations and the coaches should be in touch with the parents of their wards.
v. Let the government officials and the coaches say an uncompromising ‘NO’ to forbidden drugs. Taking drugs is diametrically opposed to sportsman’s spirit. This type of cheating takes away all the benefits and values of sports enumerated above.
The question of sports in India is not merely a matter of ‘CHILD’S PLAY’ (ramat ni vat – Gujarati). It is a question of the healthy growth of the Indian youth, indeed, a question of the very future of India. ‘Sportsmanship’ is a central value for nation-building. As we have pointed out earlier, sports, especially team games like football can lay the foundation for civil values. Politicians, public figures, educationists, social activists and the like lament for the lack of basic values in the modern generation. But very few of them seem to think that sports and games can lay the infrastructure for these values.
After doing many years of research in the Western and in the Eastern philosophies I venture to say that only in the Indian philosophy there is the assertion that the Ultimate Reality created the world by an act of Leela (Play – Sports). But the strange truth is that many-sports-experts in India affirm that India has no SPORTS – CULTURE.