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Thursday, May 29, 2008


Gosh. I am overwhelmed to receive so many nice and thoughtful suggestions so soon: here and via email. I guess I have bitten off more than I can chew, so dear readers, don’t hold your breath to see me following up on the ideas you have offered! I promise to try and do justice to as many of them as I can in the weeks ahead, but I am slow and lazy, and the summer’s taking its toll, so it’s going to take some time.

Meanwhile, entertain yourselves with this priceless critique of Indian sports, sports officialdom and ‘sports lovers’ written by Mr. Suranjan Roy, learned and senior colleague of my friend Arani who works for Orient Longman Publishers. Many thanks to Mr. Roy for giving me permission to publicise his essay.

This is Olympic year, is it?

Hands up, everybody who knew the Olympics are just about two months away. Good for you! Indian sportsfans are not an oxymoron. A Brazilian, a Nigerian or a German, say, can, however, be excused for thinking that they are – what with India’s near-total absence from the podium of the world’s sports arenas. The lot of the Indian sports lover is hard, for we lose everything, or almost everything. It hurts to see the way sport is treated here.
The physical education teacher of a leading school in Park Circus did not know - till recently - about the Beijing Olympics (they start on 08.08.08, which makes it easy to remember), informs his students that the men’s 100 metres world record is a ridiculous 6:22:03 secs. (whatever that means! – blissfully unaware that no human has run faster than Jamaican Asafa Powell’s 9.74 secs.) and, despite claiming to be a rugby player, has not heard that actor Rahul Bose has played for the country. He is not unique. He epitomizes, in a fairly glaring way, the state of sports awareness in India, or the lack of it. This goes hand in hand with performance. Having followed sport for almost fifty years now, I take no pride in sticking my neck out and proclaiming that of all the major nations (excluding, that is, nations such as Liechtenstein and Tonga, - no slight intended), India is the poorest in sport.
I can visualise a horde making a dash in my direction, of the few who have taken me seriously so far, their eyes spewing venom: ‘What about cricket?’ they scream. Sorry, cricket does not count, for that game is played seriously by ten nations (the world athletics body has 212 members, more than the UN General Assembly!), four of them in South Asia, mostly no-hopers in other games, — and does not qualify as a major international sport. ‘But millions follow the game in India!’ they rant. Sorry, again. Numbers prove nothing. Ibsen had more than a point there when he said that the majority is always wrong. Now let me ask a question of the approaching pack: ‘Which was the last Ranji Trophy match you paid to watch – and how many of you have actually hit a cricket ball with the bat?’ I hear them shout, ‘ We watch international cricket!’ Fair enough. Sure, cricket is popular in India, a ‘religion’ (opium of the masses, more likely), and, hey!- we win sometimes - but by default, and for all the wrong reasons. I will revert to that later.
Sport can’t get bigger than the Olympics, particularly for individual sports such as athletics, gymnastics and swimming. All pretty basic physical activities – athletics, in fact, is the reason why the Olympics still go on, and how! What can be more natural than jumping, running and throwing? We do not lack talent – but Indian sports officialdom is a sick joke. For at least twenty years now the powers that be have been dishing out the same litany – ‘Our target is not the ABC (or XYZ) Games, where we are sending our players for the exposure and experience! Watch our boys and girls at the XYZ (or ABC) Games (eight to twelve years away) when they will shake the world!!’ It would be funny if it were not so sad. This may qualify for the longest lasting serial falsehood in the history of organised sport. The nation has been taken for a merry ride, fed largely on misinformation and no-information by our sports scribes. It has taken all this lying through the teeth lying down.(Meanwhile, get prepared for a blank Indian scorecard, again, this time in the Chinese capital – Dola Banerjee, prove me wrong by hitting the bull’s-eye in archery!) Has anyone ever been held answerable? Never. Because in the rotten clique of Indian sports officials and politicians, each is busy protecting the other’s back to perpetuate a conspiracy of silence- the aim being to get at the loaves and fishes of office. How else do you explain the endless reign of a politician, an ex-police chief and an official at the head of our football, hockey (till recently) and athletics bodies despite zero or no success? The euphoria of a win over an obscure Syrian outfit at home vanished with the thrashing from Lebanon- Lebanon, for god’s sake! –a tiny, war-ravaged nation which started playing football about fifty years after us. Both our men and women hockey players (the men used to reign when few nations played the game) failed to qualify for Beijing. Anju Bobby George’s success in the Paris worlds in 2003, plus a personal and national best at Athens in 2004, were achieved despite the system, on her own steam, and that of her coach-husband’s, so to speak; but her long leap of 6.83metres in 2004 has not been repeated, let alone bettered, in the almost four years since, and only a supreme optimist (like me!) can see her jumping seven metres in Beijing this year, the minimum distance necessary to be within sight of an Olympic medal. I will, however, keep my eyes peeled additionally for Renjith Maheshwari (17 metres-plus in the triple jump), Joseph Abraham (will he break 49.00 seconds in 400 m hurdles?), teenaged swim sensation Veerdhawal Khade (approaching 1: 50.00 s in the 200 free), our archers, shooters, badminton players, and the rest. But, frankly, there is not one sure-shot medal contender (let’s keep our fingers crossed about Dola, or even Rathore for a skeet repeat) – Paes and Bhupathi in the tennis doubles? No way, unless miracles become routine.


Anonymous said...

Well said Suvro da. I think that that sports is strongly correlated with three key elements - aggression, perseverance, and passion. Among Indian players we end up seeing either of the three but not all. As an example, passion is what carries Football in the eastern states of India. However they fall short on the other 2. Similarly the North Indians are good at showing aggression and that also happens to be their only signature. Punjab's Ranji Trophy coach, Intikab Alam, from Pakistan went on books - "Indian bowlers are not successful because they simply don't bowl enough". He stated that Pakistani bowlers who are on national circuits are made to bowl at least 1000 overs a year. In other words, you will not see a top class Indian bowler who will bowl with passion, aggression and perseverance. WHY? Because you need to toil 5 times more than if you were a batsman. As a result you will see top class batsmen from India but not bowlers. That leads me to believe that lack of perseverance translates to nothing but “Laziness” in classic definition.

Rajdeep said...

In Japan, more people go to see the high school baseball championship called Koushien every year than international matches. The stadiums are packed for the Koushien matches. And it is from these matches that the future stars of baseball are picked.
Swimming and sports are compulsory in Elementary and junior high schools. Different sports enjoy the same attention.
Now to the coaching methods. At the professional level it is a stricter schedule than out cricketers could ever manage. But at the elementary levels encouragement is a part of coaching. And when a person starts learning a new sport, the job of a coach is to encourage him or her as much as possible. That is why even ladies in their sixties can think of trying as dangerous sports as ice skating and successfully learn to skate as well! In India it is all about big talk. Everybody analyses Sachin Tendulkar's play as if they could do better! Such people will actually wet their pants if they had to face a club level fast bowler. When I was in my teens, I wanted to learn skating very badly. My brothers were learning to play table tennis and roller skating was taught in the same indoor stadium. I was sixteen at that time and the coach discouraged my parents that it was too old an age to start skating. It would give me stomach pains and I would fall many times and would definitely stop going in a couple of days. So he asked them not to waste their money on buying me the roller skating shoes. My parents took the advice seriously and did not buy me the pair of shoes I longed for. Now I stay in Japan. One of my friends coaxed me into trying ice skating as he was in the university ice hockey team. The first fifteen minutes were scary to say the least and I clung to the wall. He kept on encouraging me and said I would not fall if I did as he said. At 27 I was learning ice skating and now after a few years I can skate quite well. Now about swimming. I was scared of water like anything. I went to a swimming pool with a friend and the coach asked me why don't you join in too? I told her that I was too scared of the water to even think of trying. She said she would promise me that I would not swallow even a drop of water if I listened to her carefully and followed her instructions. I joined the swimming class. All that I had to do on the first day was walk in the water. Pools in Japan are usually as deep as your chest unless it is a diving pool. The next time I was taught to hold my breath under water and release air through my nose. And the next three days were actual swimming lessons. I learnt swimming in just five days and true to the promise of my instructor I had not swallowed water even once! Well, the current world champion in figure skating is a Japanese, and Japan is eyeing a gold in swimming at the Olympics. Japan has won the gold in swimming many times, the most memorable one was the Berlin Olympics when Japan won both the men's and women's gold. I think India is poor in sports not due to lack of talent or physique. It is the attitude that matters. When I learnt to play soccer in India I was bullied and tripped over and made to do goal keeping that I was scared off due to players aiming shots at me instead of the goal post. I hate playing soccer though I love watching it. In Japan if you do a rough tackle the coach will make you sit out the entire session. The aim is to win the ball on merit and not by bodily strength. We are fanatics about cricket. But not about hockey where we won several gold medals! Not our national sport but an imported one! Yes, unless the polotics changes and the attitude changes and the coaching changes, India will continue to be a non-entity when it comes to world sporting events. I remember watching the India Japan soccer match being played at Yokohama. Japan fielded a second string team. And when some of the shots hit the Indian players, they just sat down in pain! India lost six to one. Paes and Bhupati could win us a gold at the Olympics, but they seem to be too engrossed in their personal problems than playing for their country! So much about fanaticism and patriotism!

TANUMOY said...

India wins an individual gold medal and a bronze at the 29th Olympic Games. Big deal! Yeah…let’s celebrate. But it is really tragic and heartbreaking to know that this is our first individual gold medal in 112 years of Olympic history (though we have won the bronze on some occasions). It is also very ironical to see that China took away two gold medals just on the opening day of the competition. It is really very shameful, but do we feel the pinch of shame?

It does not look as if we feel; we are insensitive to the pinch of shame. Not all of us but especially the sports officials of India who have or rather feign to have the best sporting interests in their mind; but it would be apt to use the word “monetary” in place of “sporting”. Yes, this now truly describes what is in their hearts. In the second most populous country in the world, do we have a dearth of talents? No…I shout no…we have a lot of talents who has the potential to make it big in the world arena but the things lacking in India is…well that will be too much…
But let me address the main problem (of course, though it is according to me)—the attitude of the parents…Yes! Of the parents. Last day I had gone to a park near my house, and there I saw a father sitting beside his son who was around 7 to 8 years old. I saw whenever the child got up to run or play in the park, the father always stopped him, saying that while playing he may get hurt. Is this the attitude to be shown by the parent’s, for God’s sake! As if this will be the first child who will fall down while playing. These parents have a lot of comments up their sleeves when it comes to criticizing India’s poor performance at the international arena and if one asks them the reason most will say poor infrastructure, no coaches, politics etc. But if again someone asks them what they have made their children do in sports then…well…they will get the shock of their life…I am sure. These parents produce such lame excuses only to cover up for the fact that they do not let their children play. I do not take pride in sticking out my head and be so cynical about the parents.
But it is sad that some well-to-do parents of Kolkata do not know that this is the Olympic Year and sadly enough have not even heard of the greatest swimmer ever—Michael Phelps…let alone the children know something about the Olympics. How will India ever produce good track and field champions if the schools do not promote it?
Sports and studies should go hand in hand. It is so unnerving that young children are going through such a harrowing exercise of mugging things up, that they do not have the time to play heartily. Can any boy of the middle class in India become terrific athletes…mark my words, “athletes”…the answer is NO. Why? Just because we are trend-followers and not trendsetters. Athletes come up from those families who do not have enough to eat…they have to fight it out for survival. They have the killer instinct in them, which is so much required in international sports. The babus of the middle class are there only to be cynical. They are the LIC children of their parents who only know how to mug things up (they are good at something at least). Being LIC children cushioned from every side will not help to become athletes after all. Come on parents wake up. Leaving it on the children saying,” You are the future of India and India looks up to you will not help. You too occupy some volume in India, justify it.” I agree India is really catching up with the world (seeing Sajewal and Khade perform in this Olympics has filled me with hope. They both have given their personal bests) but there is still a lot to do and if the parents too join in this process hand in hand it will only catalyze India to reach out to the next horizon.

But if this does not take place India will remain where she is. I do not want to spoil the mood of 2008 being the best Olympic year for India. Down the line I can see some more medals for India but wait there…I cannot recognize any medal for track and field events!