Be a Sport

You don’t even have to strain your ears to catch the criticism every time a national team does not deliver the goods in the competitive world of sport. We lament the football team’s inability to make an impression on Saudi Arabia; we thump our chests when the hockey squad finishes a lowly 11th in the World Cup. And when the cricketers do not match performance with potential, India goes wild with anger. When we come back from the Olympic Games without gold to show, the criticism rises to a crescendo. All of India wakes up to what it perceives as a national disaster. A billion and more Indians and not even one gold medal is the chorus. Sadly, few pause to reflect on how many Indians actually take part in sport.

The advent of sport on satellite TV, about a decade and a half ago, has made us a more sports-aware nation – but, conversely, it has drawn us away from supporting local sport. There was a time when the Moin-ud-Dowla Gold Cup cricket tournament in Hyderabad would draw thousands of fans. Basketball, football and volleyball tournaments were played to packed terraces in tiny towns like Sivakasi, Kovilpatti, Cannanore and Tellicherry. These events were a town’s annual date with India’s big guns. But now, with the Ashes cricket series, the Grand Slam tennis tournaments, F1 racing, the golf majors, English Premier League and NBA action being beamed LIVE, sports buffs have stayed away from local tournaments, causing them to go off the radar.

I remember a time in the late 90s when, as head of the sports department of the Hindustan Times, I was invited to a meeting by the Ministry of Sports. The meeting was to help revise the National Sports Policy. For two hours, I heard myriad opinions being expressed by a variety of people from a cross-section of society. And when my turn came to speak, the people in the room were so weary that I decided I would just ask one question. “How many of us in the room have allowed our children to go and play sport, even as recreation if not as competition?” I was not surprised that most people in that room did not raise their hands. I then asked another question, “So what are we doing here? If we can’t get our home sports policy right, how can we be sitting in judgment on what the National Sports Policy should be?” I went back to my seat and sure enough I was never called again to Shastri Bhavan, the home of the Ministry of Sports. Many years later, we haven’t stopped paying mere lip service to sport instead of actively taking part in it. Isn’t it time to change that?

The 2010 Commonwealth Games offers India its next big opportunity to embrace sports consciousness. Instead of waiting for the government or the municipal administration to create infrastructure, people need to take to sporting activity in some form or the other and sow the seeds for India to become a great sporting nation. We have the potential but we are waiting for it to be tapped. It is time we do something about it ourselves rather than keep cribbing about the lack of infrastructure or facilities.

We need to make sports attractive to school children and perhaps reward them for playing some sport for the school. India must also revive college and university sport. These must become the breeding grounds for India’s future champions. Without doubt, India must also reach out to the hinterland and encourage its citizens to take part in basic sporting activity like athletics, swimming and cycling, if it is to become a sports conscious and learn to appreciate sporting endeavour.

Note: This piece was written as the Guest Editorial for WorldSpace Radio’s magazine Voice http://www.worldspace.in/voice/guested.htm

3 comments for “Be a Sport

  1. Rajesh
    November 2, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    Very relevant piece. Leave alone medals, we are going to be the most unhealthy nation if things continue the way they are.

    You have some thoughts on how to get children excited about sport?

  2. ~j~
    November 7, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    Very thought-provoking! You should see the promising footballers in my locality Kalina’s local league. Sadly, they end up wasting their talent because sport doesn’t pay their bills.

  3. Anonymous
    November 16, 2006 at 9:21 am

    Yes, its true that today’s generation is keeping away from sports for various reasons ranging from neighbourhood or apartment policies, lack of parks or open spaces within a safe distance from our homes etc.
    Cricket is one of the most preferred games, why don’t these cricketers, come forward to promote other sports in India, perhaps ads encouraging children to “eat eggs”, “drink milk” and “play sports everyday” would be a wonderful idea. Am sure kids will definitely heed these ads from their stars! For that matter actors too could promote games. Imagine Shah Rukh Khan publicising vollyball and Amitabh chess.

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