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