Can Shobha De’s remarks on Indian athletes be taken as a yawn stifled under the garb of rationality? It goes on to posit that rationality is morally neutral. Undeniably, it is immoral once it is void of constructive motives. And, the backlash is in line with the expectations, not just because of Shobha De’s persisting ridicules in social media; it has been a brawl of hegemonies fuelled by a gossip-mongering psychosis in social media. However, it cannot be transformed in to a debate on the degree of indianness of any individual.
Such avowed rationality bites the generosity of our Indianness; espoused by the shouts of joy that accompany every move, goal or medal India scores in an international tournament. India’s participation in the Olympics started much before our independence in the beginning of 20th Century. Before Rio 2016, India won only 26 medals since it first competed in the Olympics in 1900. Of its nine gold medals, eight were won by men hockey team between 1928 and 1980 and air-rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra won India’s only individual gold medal in 2008. The international dominance in Hockey has now become a thing of the past. Counting the previous three (2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing, 2012 London) Olympics, in terms of medal-intensity to the whole population, India ranks last. Even, in the words of Indian Olympic Association president Narayana Ramachandran, sport struggles to find a role in the country. Who does not aspire to see the Chakde India in reality, but, what ails this process of building sportsmanship to the individual capability?
The heaping up of India’s Olympics mystery has many elucidations. As a matter of means and ends, any tournament, whether Olympics, has always been about winning at the end. Historically, the “must win prestige” of Olympic tyrants dates back to as early as 4th century AD was revolutionised at the end of the nineteenth century on revival of Olympic Games. Then, the father of the modern Olympics, Baron de Coubertin, introduced the towering principle that taking part was more important than winning. Actually, such events bring people together, catalyse cultural and societal change, encourage free spirit, instil discipline and significantly enough, teach people to win and lose. However, the gloomy ends question the persisting means, but never can negate the substance of means.
It’s not because Indians have a historic aversion to sports, rather India has sporting traditions going back centuries. Now, with more than hundred democratic nations and quadrupling world population living under democracy in the world, systematic means to follow discipline and meritocracy has been a main focus area for achieving desired ends. In addition to the infrastructure as physical faculties, the organisation is also required to create the spirit and enthusiasm for sportsmanship. In India, we are trapped in a vicious cycle of lacking in both these spheres in such a way that one complements the other. There is lack of aspiration crossing traditional barriers and also lacking of infrastructures both in terms of quantity and quality sufficient to even meet the aspiring ones. Again, we often see the discussion on genetic factors, family values and liabilities behind lacking in professionalism and capability in certain kind of sports. In races, we have no participants either in men or women who can make a mark at international level. Even in any swimming or gymnastics events, we have not won any medal at the world meet. However, the presence of exceptions quashes such pigeonhole arguments.
The institutions of family values and ties affect various socio-economic decisions. In every society, there are strong relationships in varying degree between family values, individual and social needs, and consequent demands for state infrastructure. India is known for its diversity and collectivist culture rather than individualistic in western democracies. In this perspective, looking in to the immediate social security needs, education tends be the highest priority for the average Indian household instead of extra-curricular activities such as sports. However, assisting individuals advance to the limits of their potential in diverse arenas including sports must be the development strategy of a democratic state.
Beyond the obvious narratives of sports; a past-time, a means of leisure and a key to fitness, can we construe it as a career? The welfare policies of the state should facilitate the aspirants in confidently selecting any particular sport as career. It is certain that the medal-intensive countries have such excellent facilities for most of the sports. We need to identify sports talent during childhood itself. Do we expect a child to aspire for fineness in any sport without even exposed to them? As per the Education Policy 1986, sports and physical education were compulsorily included in the evaluation procedure. Looking into our implementation woes, it’s not too late to have a reality check on the envisaged nationwide infrastructure for physical education and sports, which comprises of facilities necessary for sports organization, students and coaches. It is worth mentioning that in spite of many sports bodies in India, the annual public expenditure on sports and youth affairs is US$181 million contrary to reports on China’s recent spent of an estimated US$3 billion in each Olympic team.
Going by Simon Jenkins definition, the sports is the institutionalization of games with formalized sets of rules, national regulations and a governing administrative superstructure. Apart from accomplishing physical, mental and intellectual strength for an individual, sports can provide a means for international understandings with its unique language. With a sporting culture, the spirit of the game bestows the national pride, a sense of social inclusiveness and of course employment opportunities. While the worth of global sports sector touching around USD 1000 billion, there is no comprehensive study on the sectorial size in India. In fact, sport as an industry contributes to about one to five per cent to the GDPs of various countries. However, the traditional sports culture could not be translated into a similar industry in India despite growing awareness, interest and some successes, although minuscule. All the stakeholders have to work towards developing the overall sports ecosystem to increase medal-intensity with concentrated and joint efforts to turn India’s sporting vision into reality.
- The Assam Post