Thursday 26 July 2012


On 27th July 20:00 Greenwich time – the biggest multi-sport spectacle shall begin not just across London, but possibly in every country in the world. I am sure most of the earth’s human population would be glued to televisions, or on the internet to watch the Opening Ceremony.

2012 is London’s time to host the quadrennial event and preparations were on since the time they won the bid way back in 2005. It seems a long time ago, I was still an engineering student then and now all those years of work put by the London Organising Committee will be witnessed by a lot of people. They get their praise, will have share of criticisms but that’s modern life – you can never be in the limelight without accompanied by share of praises and controversies.

Well, controversies shall be aimed at the Organising Committee – be it over budget, security mess and few humanitarian and labour issues. I was in London back in 2009; I drove on the way where most of the work for Olympics was being done. It is a great feeling to be an Olympic city, isn’t it? Not many outside the sporting fraternity agreed to this. “London isn’t a developing economy so they don’t need Olympic Games to showcase the city or the country in general to the world” – echoed few concerned voices. Let’s get world economics into perspective - there was absolutely no mention of ‘recession’ when the Games were awarded to London. In fact, this could have been any city across Europe and America who were bidding for the Games. With Beijing having already hosted the Games, we can eliminate Asia as one of the candidate cities.

Amidst many issues and triumphs, here we are hours before the start of the 30th edition of Modern Olympics. This is the time to look at the success stories of individuals and teams who have been preparing for the Games for that one moment of glory. During the Olympics – it isn’t about the Organising Committee; the talk of the town will be the athletes, so it should be. The mere mention of athletes will be termed ‘success’ – as Olympics is about them and rest of them just play a supporting role.

Being an Indian, I am pumped up for these games than ever before. Main reason being, this is the best chance we have to improve our record and evolve as a sporting nation.  

For a moment, let’s forget there are better countries in the world who have been consistently winning from years. No other country measure to the size and ambiguity as India do. Sports, let’s face it isn’t a top priority in our country. There are larger issues at stake, but doesn’t mean sports must be ignored. Every sector has a department and because of the failure of other sectors, it doesn’t mean we have to not give importance to Sports. I have heard people saying – Sports doesn’t fill a poor man. The issue isn’t with Sports; it is the other departments that are supposed to be looking into that. Honestly, it is sad that Sports have been overlooked for so many reasons in the name of reasons given aplenty.

Even while sanctions have been made from the Government, there weren’t and aren’t enough skilled and visionary people working for the federations to make the best use of facilities given. You don’t need to have the best facilities, but we have been poor in optimising the resources. Be it the way money spent sporadically in the name of Sports or lack of enthusiasm, and looking Sports as one of the ways to get to power. This isn’t abnormal by any standards – The whole world operates this way and sporting world isn’t different, but not at the cost of overlooking the basics. Developed countries (Sports or Politics) play power games at a higher level where as it starts from the low level here – Reality check.

So next time, before we compare India to any other sporting nation – let us take a moment to reflect if that actually makes sense. Mere comparing to other countries exposes our shortcomings in the lack of understanding as to how our country operates.

India, the sporting country passed the baton from hockey to cricket after the success of Indian cricket (World Cup 1983) which coincided with downfall of hockey. From 1984, it has been a downward slide for Indian hockey at the Olympics. History speaks about us being the 8-time Olympic champions – Well the last time was a good 32 years ago. Now history is anything but forgotten – as we live in those moments and try to pacify ourselves than trying to correct the present mess, hockey is in.

Post independence, there has been only handful of people to have won medals for India. Barring Hockey, we have had seven athletes who have won the medals for India. K.D. Jadhav won the bronze medal for Wrestling at Helsinki (1952 Games) and it took a 44 years and a gap of 10 Olympics before we had another individual winning the medal. Leander Paes did it and all the countrymen were over the moon. I was 12 years then and it was my second Olympics after having watched the 1992 Barcelona Games for the first time on TV telecast. It took me time to understand the meaning of it, but I was thrilled because he won. Putting some historic perspective - Sports was either winning or losing back then, and not much emphasis was given to the process of either. Personally it is different now – and I don’t have that innocence anymore. Leander Paes winning was also the first Indian medal since the Hockey Gold at the Moscow Olympics. In a way, the bronze tennis medal was a turning point and made Olympics as a focal point in Indian sports.

Karnam Malleshwari became the first woman to win an Olympic medal for India (weightlifting 69 kg category) at Sydney and so there were some celebrations in few sections of our society. It also coincided with a transition phase in India where you had a lot of women taking up jobs. Malleshwari’s medal gave a boost to the future of Indian women sports. In the last decade we have seen some good improved performances by Indian women athletes, but none went on to win the Olympic medal. But we are getting there.

Though we had tasted Gold medals, it was only at the team sport level. Silver medals individually were previously won by Norman Pritchard (1900 Games - two silver medals, a Brit representing British India), none came post independence. It was the double-trap shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who went a step ahead and took the silver medal. Indian sports seemed to have evolved, slowly and steadily. Three Olympics, three individual medals – it was high time wasn’t it, especially when looked from an Indian context?

India is compared to China in terms of economy and population. But the ideologies remain different and more often the foundation plays an important role in sustaining and giving any projects some effectiveness. To demonstrate as the next super power, China took the opportunity as hosts to showcase that they are to be seen as world leaders in sports as well. The greatest example one can give is demonstration.

China did just that, as they ended up winning 51 Gold Medals at the 2008 Games whereas India celebrated similarly for winning the first individual gold. I can safely say, more money was spent in India for that one gold medal than what China would have spent celebrating 51 Gold medals. That’s difference in culture isn’t it? Irrespective of our situations, I was happy to note that, progress was happening and 2008 Games ended up being the most successful games for India – winning three medals (one Gold medal and two bronze medals).

Abhinav Bindra became the toast of the country whereas Sushil Kumar and Vijender Singh weren’t left too behind.  I was delighted to see more than one medal in the medals tally. That was a first for me and those eyes still retained that innocence in 2008. In a way 2008 was the year when I took a serious decision to study Sports and make that as a career option. And here I am four years later, working in the sports industry having different perspectives about Sports than what I had and for the first time hoping, expecting medals from India. Losing my innocence? Or is this a process of discovering Indian Sports?

Yes, earlier I watched the games with an open mind. Not anymore - as much as I am open to how things pan out; I am never shy to offer my opinion. It isn’t just being patriotic and being blindly supportive, but it is now looking from a broader perspective. While I am not expecting miracles (that’s better left when not expecting), I am looking at some serious performances in the coming two weeks at London. Shooting, Boxing, Wrestling, Badminton, Archery and Tennis are the sports I and the entire nation will be looking at. As an Indian, I am expecting 5 medals from this edition. After having seen a lot of work going through in the last four years, five medals is not an unfair expectation. Five or more medals would do for me keeping the reality of our sporting situation in the country.

On an end note I just wanted to highlight - Sporting triumphs doesn’t fill our stomachs, but ask any fan or a follower/watcher of Sports – It provides a moment of joy to celebrate success as if it was our own. That is the power of Sports and in Olympics the joy gets bigger as it will be done on a world stage. It isn’t just about the medals overall but it is the way you play and as an addition, for going the distance he/she will be remembered for that particular moment,  the moment where words fail to explain the feeling. Joy, tears, pain, agony and disappointment becomes the five symbolic human expressions through we understand the reason why Olympics exist.

Like I said, I am looking at the Olympics only from a sporting perspective as the other issues should remain backstage for the next two weeks and when Paralympics begin at the conclusion of Olympics. There is a time for every discussion and the time currently is just about the Olympics –  It is about  10,500 athletes coming from 204 countries (few playing under Olympic Flag), taking part in 26 Sports over 302 events. For a first in the history of Olympics - female athletes from all those 204 countries will be participating. Now isn’t this world coming to one place? 

Friday 20 July 2012


The noun form of the word ‘age’ varies with the same ‘age’ when used in the verbal form. One talks about a prolonged period of time (noun) whereas the other points to the process of getting old (verb). I looked at these two meanings and felt there is several a miles separating the two. How confused one can be if we mix one another; more so when we use the term inappropriately.

This article was prompted after having watched Michael Schumacher showing certain glimpses of his past racing career in the recent races. He retired in 2006 and he did go on a high; who can forget his breathtaking overtaking manoeuvre on Kimi Raikkonen at the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix at his last race (at that time) with just few laps to go. I am a fan of his driving ever since I started watching Formula One in late 90’s. He made a surprise move in 2009 when he decided to come out of his retirement to have a go at the races beginning 2010. Brink of touching 41 (in 2009), who would have given him a chance? This isn’t a just a sport, F1 is a huge business where P&L are calculated like any other ruthless corporations. Mercedes after having decided to go on their own (earlier they supplied just the engines) roped in Nico Rosberg and the well known German in the form of Michael Schumacher, a German family well established. Yes, it was Ross Brawn’s idea (who is the team principal at Mercedes), but he doesn’t own the team. Unless agreed at the top level, Michael could not have returned to the team where he first started his racing career (He was with Mercedes before F1). So where did age play a role? In a sport where reflexes are paramount, what expectations did the Mercedes management have when they signed him?

91 GP victories were a thing of the past so were his record breaking pole positions and breathtaking fastest laps – all he had was experience and joie de vivre when it came to racing. He had everything to lose after what he had achieved in that sport. Now he was willing to give up all just for the sake of racing. Certainly there were more people whose decisions mattered most also were on the same track. So a new life for a legend (we have seen Michael Jordan doing it) and in the third year (after having started racing in 2010) – for the first time he is showing the signs that he is competitive and his car is getting better (He had his share of bad lucks with the engine failures and car problems in 2010, 2011 and at the start of 2012 season). It seems he does not care much about reputation, if he would have like any other normal investor would do in the market – he would have chosen to play it safe. Which person would risk such a reputation?

On a similar note while I am talking about one of my favourite sporting personality, in a striking distance I find a similarity to my other favourite – Sachin Tendulkar. Ever since the 2011 England tour debacle, I have been hearing a lot of them telling him to quit playing cricket.  Each time he refuses to – So what, our people will have different strategies to pin him down. The voodoo of 100 hundreds was created and it reached such huge proportions that, every failure became a platform for mockery and more criticism. I have a simple funda – let him decide as he is sensible enough to decide what’s good for Indian cricket. Being patriotic doesn't mean being awake at all the times, it is about being awake when it matters the most. Indian cricket is still going through a transition phase. They reached #1 while in transition, make no mistake. A lot of players came in, had their moments and result – India won. Now the formula doesn't work anymore, you know why? There was nothing so called a formula. It just happened as we were treated to one triumph after the other which culminated with the World Cup. Coming back to Sachin, he is good nine months shy of turning 40. Now this brings back to my first point – What does 40 signify? Is it a mere number? I would say – yes, in its true definition, as there are other parameters for ageing. 

While Sachin can never inspire a generation of teenagers in the current situation, he has given hope for a lot of others, especially people of his age. Agreed, no selector or a BCCI administrator would dare axing him from the team – a privilege no other sportsman has ever had in my lifetime. I know someday he would retire – that day I only hope the Indian team doesn’t feel the void left by him. Looking at our present set up, I have not seen a cricketer to have maintained a certain degree of authority. They have just been replacements, not because they are worthy, but they happen to be our next generation of players. In a team sport, it isn’t about individual brilliance; it’s about individual contributions for the greater cause. If one fails, the others must step up. Sadly in the past one year, it is the stepping up which has been a problem. The recent India ‘A’ tour to West Indies was a learning curve and frankly only more of such learning curves can bring out a player(s) who can knock the doors of Indian team selection consistently. It is not about just giving a chance at the top level, it has to be a matter of choice.

Michael was three when he first raced using the kart built by his father and Sachin had already picked up the cricket bat by the time he was five. It has been a long journey for both of them and bulk of it was spent to excel in their respective sporting arenas, a case of choosing the sport over their personal lives and reputation.

Michael has had his moments off the track for a brief time (though he was still consulting with Ferrari post retirement) and Sachin has started speaking about things about life beyond cricket.
BCCI has made few changes from this season onwards and it certainly looks like a positive move. Cricket wise, it is going to be a crucial six to eight months with three teams (New Zealand, England and Australia) touring India for Tests. Add Pakistan for ODI’s and T20’s, you will see a lot of things happening and who knows, we might come across an announcement, a good-bye at the conclusion of this Indian cricket season. 

Irrespective of whether there are worthy replacements, he will be gone. But for now – his market value has not diminished (a true indicator of one’s form these days) and he continues to play, while Michael continues to race as they both are giving finishing touches to their unique legacy forts. 

Monday 2 July 2012


Three Sundays ago on the night of 10th June, these two teams (Spain and Italy) played out what I called then a boring draw. I was in that mood that day, and I was not taking the defence to show up. But it did and it didn’t surprise me as two of the best goal keepers were on the field. My favourites Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon – it is a treat to watch them defend their territory and fight it out like gladiators; yet at the same time a pain to see one out do the other. Football do needs a winner eventually. Thankfully football isn’t close to any boxing match, but should it go to the penalties, the knockout punch will be felt. And so, after three weeks of entertaining football, I saw these two teams again on a Sunday night, this time it was for the championships. 
It was 1920 at the Belgium city of Antwerp when Spain last won against Italy straight in a high-profile encounter. That was the year of Olympics and if we do not include penalties, you can safely say it has indeed been a long time. I didn’t want this to change and like the previous edition of Euro, I wanted these two teams to settle it out on penalty shootouts. It wasn’t to be as Spain proved to be very strong and too good for the Italians. 
I have not seen a more dominant side in football for a period that involves three major competitions. France had it in them during their run when they won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro and Brazil prior to that. In 21st century, towards the end of the decade, the side more famously known as the “La Roja” showed their initial signs as world beaters. 
So what makes this side so special? You only have to look at the players in the squad and any ardent football fan will tell you, the names do ring a bell in their heads, all the time. The Barcelona players are at the moment in the league of their own. Though Real Madrid showed little signs of a fight back, they are still few miles behind. Collectively, the core of the team that makes Barcelona, the world’s most feared team happens to be the core of this Spanish team. Add Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, Juan Mata, Fernando Torres and Sergio Ramos, you have a combination that looks deadly. 
In European football among nations, only Germany had come close with respect to the consistency and on their day, they certainly looked like cup favourites. Something was missing, you can call it the X-factor or ‘mojo’, and they couldn’t quite finish the way they start the tournament. 
In my opinion, after France (1998-2000) I see this team to be the most feared and dominant team in the recent years. France had shown what a bunch of individual genius’s could do when they combined talents and gelled together. I saw a similar pattern here with the current Spanish team and if the last three tournaments were anything to go by, they look pretty solid to retain the World Cup as well. 
Credit goes to Del Bosque, the coach of this team to have come with a different tactic in the absence of David Villa, the country’s leading goal scorer. The formation of 4-3-3 did work wonders as the highly skilled mid-fielders and their tiki-taka style of play ensured genuine strikers like Fernando Torres and Pedro Rodriguez coming only as substitutes. 
Strikes from David Silva, Jordi Alba and late strikes from Torres and Juan Mata made sure Iker Casillas lifting his side’s second successive Euro trophy and country’s third overall (they had won in 1964) and thereby joined Germany as the only two countries to be triple European champions. 
It was at Vienna; nearly four years ago this team took a step towards the peak of world football. They still are at the top, with World Cup 2010 in their kitty and the 2012 Euro Championships. The beauty of this game is that it has never allowed a team to be at the pinnacle for long. It has always given other sides to stake a claim for the top prize. With the Euro 2012 win, Spain is looking good to change this trend. We have to go back to Chile 1962 when Brazil successfully defended their World Cup title. It has been 50 years and we are yet to see a back-to-back champion. It has happened in Euro for the first time and time will only tell; as in two years, the attention shifts to Brazil and all the eyes will be on this team to see history being made.