Indian Sports: What’s the SCORE?
The nation cried with Babita when she failed to win the gold in wrestling and cheered for Kavita Raut as she ran to win a medal in athletics, the first for India in 52 years of CWG
In a crowded Delhi metro compartment, a 10-year-old boy is glued to his mother's mobile phone. A few minutes later, the boy confides to his mother that Indian shooters have won two silver medals on the first day of Asian Games. Watching his excitement, the mother asked, "So who are these shooters?" The boy replies confidently: "I don't know the names, but I am sure Gagan Narang must be one of them. He is my favourite."
The boy then starts to imitate how shooters position themselves before aiming at the target. People in the Metro too get curious. A middle-aged man asks the boy if he is aware of the test match between India and New Zealand? What's the score? Still positioned in the shooting stance, the boy retorted, firmly, "I don't watch cricket. It's boring."
The message is clear. The stranglehold of cash-rich cricket over other sports is weakening. With young ones preferring Gagan Narang over MS Dhoni, a clear sign of a break from market stereotypes can be seen. After all, apart from being a national passion, cricket has become a milch cow, market gimmick. The Commonwealth Games, despite the mega-scams and abject inefficiency, could have triggered this change of loyalties. With media too playing a part in popularising other sports, those herd-like days of people mindlessly following IPL and scantily clad cheer girls seem numbered.
Massive coverage of Asian Games and limited space given to the ongoing test series are a testimony of how times are changing. Wrestlers Alka Tomar and Anita, gold medallists in CWG'10, running with Indian flags held high in the air, is etched in public memory. The nation cried with Babita when she failed to win the gold in wrestling and cheered for Kavita Raut as she ran to win a medal in athletics, the first for India in 52 years of CWG.
They have struggled too hard. They have lived in poor shanties, dingy dormitories, sharing dirty toilets, low nourishment diets, pathetic perks and allowances, makeshift sports infrastructure, no future certainty of sports, career or personal life, with underpaid coaches, almost no recognition or dignity, against all odds. Even many of those who won in the CWG or at the Asian Games (as the 'invisible' rowing champion - ever heard of him anywhere before?) did not have an iota of support from the corrupt white elephants which rule Indian sports, led by the likes of Suresh Kalmadi, or from our super rich big business houses which celebrate India's growth rate and sensex relentlessly. And yet, they have broken the jinx, with sheer love for their sport, and amazing resilience, almost outside the system.
Predictably, the market has jumped in to reap their hard-earned success to sell their brands, even while long-term professional sports infrastructure, or a universal sports culture across the rural and urban landscape, is not even remotely on their radar. Saina Nehwal walking the ramp, Vijender Singh signing movie deals, Jwala Gutta on the cover of a magazine, Sushil Kumar getting ad contacts (like some multi-millionaire cricketers, surely, not all), perhaps is good for individual sportspersons, but in no way does it signify a radical paradigm shift for universal betterment of Indian sports. One cash-rich ad does not help the entire talent pool rotting in the eternal quagmire which stalks our arid and dusty landscape.
The media is now documenting little details of these outstanding sportspersons -how that girl was an auto-rickshaw driver's daughter, how that athlete grew up in a poor, male dominated Haryana 'khap' backyard, how that boy was not even recognised in his own mohalla in Allahabad. They all turned out to be medallists, like their determined colleagues from humble backgrounds of Indian small towns and villages. "Cricket takes a backseat as the young and humble in India are pursuing other sports to make the country proud," read one of the posts on Facebook after gymnast Ashish Kumar won a bronze at the Asian Games. Similar glory flooded the social networking sites after Indian athletes won gold medals in track and field events. Die-hard sports enthusiasts are now hoping to see this euphoria continue when the curtains are brought down in Guangzhou, China.
With this new found love for sports, will the government ensure that this movement spreads and flies on the wings of discipline, ambition and desire, from the school corridor itself? Will this flight become a collective expression of national pride? Or will the apathy become more entrenched, while the millions siphoned off by various committees in CWG this year floats as bad memory and bad faith, with no one ever finding out who made all that money? Who? Surely, not the sportspersons?
But the tide can be turned. It must turn. Apart from test matches, too much of cricket today looks stale and obscenely wealthy.
Especially IPL. The Indian sports scene is ready to break new records with young boys and girls trying to excel. Pushing the horizons of invisible margins, their bodies full of dust, their eyes brimming with hope and happiness. In this year of reckoning and recognition, optimism floats.