Northeast can be promoted as a hub for sports, especially for women with athletes like Mary Kom, Mirabai Chanu leading the way.
Did you ever leave your favourite sport because your parents felt that the 10th or 12th standard board examination was more essential and “Ye khel-kood to chaltarahega” (These sports and all can go on)?
You are not the only child to face this; lakhs of children in India face the same thing persistently.
Although India achieved its best-ever medal tally in Olympics this year, it’s highly disappointing that a nation 1.3 billion strong settled with a dismal seven medals at arguably the most prominent and fiercest international sports competition held every four years.
And even though India’s medal tally seems a dismal one compared to other nations, our sportspersons have worked incredibly hard in testing times to achieve this feat, and the entire nation unequivocally rejoices in their achievements.
And to felicitate the triumphant Indian athletes, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has given cash awards to the Indian medallists for the first time.
And appreciating the efforts of those athletes who couldn’t win any medal, the IOA has also given cash awards for all the athletes that represented India at the Tokyo Olympics.
During this felicitation ceremony, India’s Sports Minister optimistically hoped that during such a ceremony being held in 2024, the medallists are so many that there is no space in the hall left to occupy all of them.
A nation can indeed dream of achieving such a feat, but India’s sports culture gives us a displeasing reality check.
Issues in India’s Sporting Culture
Although there is a general tendency to blame the poor state of affairs in sports in India for the lack of government apathy and infrastructural facilities, there’s much more to it.
There is no doubt that we do lack the world-class infrastructure that is required to excel in sports.
But how do we explain this fact that many developing nations which do not have as many resources as India and are probably not more populated than a significant district in India win more golds in one year than India has ever won?
The reason lies in the overall mindset of the people in India. It starts from the family, where parents want their children to focus on studies instead of sports. It then moves to the education system.
The ‘Maths’ teacher taking the Physical Education Period for her subject explains, in a nutshell, the state of sports culture in India’s education system.
The media is also a part of this, as a national-level winner in any sports doesn’t receive the same media coverage as a student scoring the first rank in a top competitive exam.
At the societal level, the privileged and the middle class give negligible importance to achievements in sports and lack the attitude required to excel in sports.
The underprivileged communities don’t even consider a career in sports because of their below-par economic background and monetary requirements.
Such an abysmal situation is further exacerbated by the Covid-19 induced lockdown, which has led to the closure of gyms, training centres, dietary supplies, etc., required for daily practice.
Moreover, the expenditure on sports has been reduced even more given the fiscal constraints of the government. And therefore, there’s a need for a strategic overhaul with regards to sports in India.
TOPS Scheme needs an overhaul
Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) is an initiative by the government of India with the clear objective of achieving incredible feats in sports.
However, experts have called this a top-down approach as it selects a few jokes where India has a greater chance of winning and sets clear-cut rules, regulations and a definite format. Thus, it reduces a world of infinite games to a few sports.
Therefore, we need a bottom-up approach wherein we recognise the diversity of games being played in various parts of India and prioritise our talent pool.
At the same time, there is a need for greater private sector participation in sports in areas such as building top-class sports institutes, infrastructure and providing the best quality training to the athletes there.
The government must also imbibe a sports culture in the schools at a young age and derive proper institutional mechanisms from selecting the best talents present in various sports throughout India.
But most importantly, there should be a mindset change among the people, especially the parents, who are happy to encourage their child to move forward in sports if they have the requisite talent.
And the film industry can help in this, as we have seen with movies like Dangal, Chak De India, MS Dhoni, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, etc., which provide the necessary motivation and help clear the doubts.
Therefore, focusing on the different sports being played in other regions of our country, irrespective of their medal prospects or Olympic status, can help mould the best players in their respective sports.
Athletes from Northeast India won 2 out of the seven medals in Tokyo Olympics. So, it can be promoted as a hub for sports, especially for women, with athletes like Mary Kom, Mirabai Chanu leading the way.
Recently, the Odisha Cabinet approved the State Sports Infrastructure Development Project worth ₹693 crores, under which 89 multi-purpose indoor stadiums will be built in the next one and a half years.
The stadiums will be used for various sports, including table tennis, badminton, weightlifting and activities such as yoga and exercise sessions.
Local sports which are popular in their respective areas would also be promoted.
The stadiums will be designed to withstand a wind speed of up to 200kmph so that in the event of natural calamities like floods, cyclones, the stadiums can be used as cyclone shelters.
India’s competitors are way ahead in terms of their entire institutional structure and achievements in the realm of sports.
Thus, given the size of our population, we need a comprehensive approach towards becoming a sports power just as we are moving towards becoming a military and economic power.
Therefore, when the kids in your societies create nuisance while playing sports, don’t stop them or scold them. Because you never know, they may be the next Neeraj Chopra’s, P V Sindhu’s, Virat Kohli’s, etc.!