Friday 20 September 2013

Evolution with bursts of Revolution - An Indian Sports Story

Revolution and Evolution is a rhyming pair and a complementing couple too. For anything to materialise in life, I believe they must co-exist. A human life follows the pattern of evolution, however without the frequent spurts of revolution now and then, the process of humanisation would have been predictable, certain, very slow and a touch boring.

These ‘bursts of revolution’ change the course of evolution and to a large extent accelerate the process. Failure to adapt to the new conditions can be a master stroke and thereby retaining one’s individuality or be a lack of vision in not staying with the times. I am all ok with the fact of retaining one’s tradition, values, culture which makes globalisation interesting; in fact very intriguing. At the same time, closing the door(s) of improvement in the name of tradition is baffling.

Take India for example and I am amassed at the growth it has had in the past two decades. It is not a stranger anymore on the world map and there are many reasons to it which have been well covered by a lot of writers, opinion makers, creative artists and a lot others around the globe. Not all endorse and understand (a bit) my country in a way I see it, that’s fair enough. I too do not have the same words to feed into their ears. What exists, in spite of these sociological differences is that, there is a mutual admiration society.

And to go further, I take the example of sports - While growing up; I did not know what it meant to be ‘Behind the Scene’ of a sporting event. The events were shown live on television or transmitted via radio commentary or presented graphically and written poetically on the print media. Olympic Sports and its values was zilch to me as there was no uniformity of sports education growing up. I knew about sports because my parents played right until their youth before they were married and continued supplementing with information. What I knew was that, only a fanatic or a close relative/friend of a sports person was involved in the sports industry. Like many of my age that time, I too and previous generations to us played sports with basic rules applying the human ethics and general physical awareness. Sports were just another activity which did not involve studies. So, we all liked it, didn’t we? That was a long time ago or is it?

Now, we are fighting for the Sports Bill, a huge document which is making rounds from a long time in India. It is the Government of India’s initiative with a purpose to streamline the Indian Olympic Association. Its implementation so far has been limited or to say less penetrative. While the Government is spending a lot of money on Olympic Sports, the National Olympic Committee of India is many miles away from Nirvana. I believe unless Sports is of national priority and a long term government policy, it is very difficult to implement a set of rules and regulations. Indian Olympic Association (IOA) in my view was established so that it can lobby on behalf of Indian Olympic movement and create a platform where more athletes could concentrate on their activities than dwell on petty politics; instead; let them spread the value of Sports and act as the voice of the ideals that were drawn up by few good men of the yore who drafted the Olympic Charter.

I believe IOA has failed on this aspect and looked for excuses for their repeated failures and still continue to do so. It took Commonwealth Games to bring the ghosts of IOA from the closet. What if India never hosted CWG in 2010? Few businesses would have made less money or more money depending on which side of the spectrum they are; Indian government would have spent the same money elsewhere and the IOA would have continued to be a member of IOC. A lot of the working stuff who did their bit in the Organising Committee and volunteers would have worked in different industries and there would have been less support to the few activists who appeared to have rebelled for a long time with a cause but achieved little to no results.

India is a land of people living under innumerable cultures and of different beliefs. There is a struggle for basic amenities, presence of turbulent neighbours’ since Independence and these are some of the factors that put sports in the lesser priority category. Is housing more important or a play ground? Basic infrastructure or Sporting Infrastructure? Food or dietary supplements? Clothing for Protection or for performance? Education to create a better self or to excel in Sports?

In an ideal world, these problems must never be an alibi for sports organisations that are entrusted to look after this and create a systematic sports culture. Sports for a lot were and are a means to escape studies. It was outlawed as it interfered with many of the growing kid’s education and the practice is still on. Parents, Schools and families seldom give importance to sports. It remains an extra-curricular exercise and not co-curricular subject. It is a candy and not nutrition. Back then, very few Robin Hoods existed in our society and now we have a slow raise in fan following. Again, when we talk of numbers it is easy to justify but when we consider the percentage, the graphics would do the talking.

With all these and many other factors, sports continue to shine with its gloss increasing with time. Field Hockey and then Cricket, probably the only two team sports that were consistently part of and competed at the International level. Individuals came and left, but the effect did not trickle down to others in case of individual sports baring Tennis and to an extent Badminton. Shooting, Boxing, Football and Wrestling has potential. Hockey, after having won eight gold medals by the time LA Games (1984) were about to begin, faded and devolved with time. Failure to adapt and an organisation led by the thoughts that, hockey was in success auto-pilot mode failed to have contingencies in place. To put it bluntly, it crashed. Thirty – three years hence, we are still in the process of restoration and even the small intervals of revolutions failed to take off once it was on the run way. The answer to this delay will be a thesis subject, and of my interest the day I shall take up my doctoral studies. Hockey is not in a transition state at the core, it is merely lacking direction, guidance and management to take it forward. Where is our Messiah hiding?

I would not like to talk much about cricket as it has outgrown everyone’s expectations in the world. I believe India has one of the best infrastructures in the world to play cricket at the moment and the people who are running the game will just have to sort their power struggles. For now, the sport is safe and unless a meteor strikes heavily, the influence and popularity will not fade that easily.

I had to wait 12 years of my life to see an Indian athlete wearing an Olympic medal; Leander Paes at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Individual sports are a luxury and till today, it requires a special effort to go through the hurdles of representing the country. How many athletes would be happy to just participate and not bother under what flag? That is a debatable point, as it is not a ban on competing. It however has repercussions, as the funding from the International Olympic Committee and the International Federations get curtailed and Indian Government can only spare a few hundred millions of rupees for sports. Very few private enterprises with deep pockets are into individual sports. For the size of India, it is not enough. We can be content with whatever we are given, but cannot expect to be world challengers or beaters if this continues.

If Sports Ministry gets involved in running the affairs of Indian Olympic Association, the ban will continue unless the interference is aligned with the Olympic Charter. IOC requires non-governmental intervention while running the National Olympic Committee. Bulk of the money is provided by the Sports Ministry to the athletes and their welfare which comes as minimum requirements and for some in the form of Government jobs. So naturally, the political honchos expect IOA to behave while IOA use the governmental interference clause to live on the edge of being banned. That tight rope was cut last December and the struggle is on to be reinstated back to the Olympic family. The ban on IOA remains and was not changed at the recently concluded IOC General Body meeting.

The only solution for IOA is to mend their ways and for certain egotist individuals to come out of their incumbency. An instance like this is when the democracy of India fails to remove the cynicism of a sports enthusiast. There is hatred, there is anger, a lot of malice, dirty politics, power struggles, incapable of letting it go and other adjectives that matches the aforementioned frequency. The efforts of certain athletes and sports rights activists are of limited use. Are they fighting in what appears a lost battle already? Or are they doing their little bit and need more of the same from others?

Yes and No - the very fact that Indian Sports is under constant discussion makes it interesting for the future; how long are we prepared to fight to make IOA a proper governed body? Do we have the courage, patience and optimism to see it happening? I believe so and this I rely on evolution and the current on-going battle (from the year 2010) to force IOA to mend its way is the revolution that is complementing the evolutionary process of Indian Sports.

For now I let go of my little frustration. I see and hear a lot of kids in India playing different sports, have more playing facilities and resources than I did. They are well informed too on international sports. Things can be much, much better than what it is. Let me be a pragmatist and step back a little and see what’s happening. I see there has been an improvement at the grassroots level, which keeps me in a good mental health and optimistic about Indian Sports and for its future. 

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