With the IPL7 kicking off, sport is in the air! There is a bonanza of sport events coming up including the soccer World Cup in Brazil, so sports fans can start gearing up for extended engagement with the television.
But India still has a long way to go if it has to start producing world class players across sport disciplines. If you look back and see the defining moments in sport for India, probably the 1983 World Cup win in cricket was a game changer. For the first time, Indians believed that they could be world beaters and there has been no looking back. Today, cricket has led the way in professionalization of sport in India and has shown that sport can emerge as an excellent model for both entertainment and business, and the people world over are loving it!
For any sport to grow in India, each will have to develop its own platform and a workable model, keeping a balance between competition and entertainment. There seems to be a herd mentality wherein several sports are trying to follow the IPL model and assuming that they will all work. Just as each sport has its own tempo, excitement and fan following, what works for one sport may not apply to the other.
Don’t forget that IPL wouldn’t have been a success if we did not have a talent bank of cricketers in the first place. And talent has grown in leaps and bounds because more and more people are taking up the sport as there is serious money involved. In fact, IPL has spawned a dedicated ecosystem of sport managers, event management companies, logistics, communications, advertising and sport merchandising! That’s not the case in any other sport. However, it is heartening to see that spectator interest in the Hockey Premier League and the Badminton league is growing, with new fan following emerging from Tier 2 & Tier 3 towns.
Plenty has been said on cricket but what is interesting is that slowly but surely India is beginning to assert itself by showing serious potential to produce sports persons who could be world class. The best examples can be seen in Badminton which has produced Saina Nehwal and suddenly there is a spurt of emerging players showing real potential. PV Sindhu leads the pack with players like Saurabh Verma, Srikanth K, Prannoy H.S, Anup Sridhar, Arvind Bhat, Sai Praneeth, Ajay Jayaram, Sayali Gokhale, P.C Thulasi etc. Couple of years back India did not have a list this long.
Take a look at Archery! The last ten years has seen India emerge into world class champion nursery, with both women and men archers showing tremendous improvement in standard. The pack is led by Deepika Kumari, Dola Banerjee, Bombayla Devi, Rahul Banerjee, Jayanta Talukdar, Tarundeep Rai etc.
Shooting is another sport that is seriously producing world class shooters. Champion shooters like Abhinav Bindra, Heena Siddhu, Vijay Kumar, Gagan Narang, Ronjan Sodhi etc are all part of world class shooters that India is beginning to produce in larger numbers.
So what’s changed in the last two decades? Several things. Firstly, the government is more supportive by way of increase in fund allocation for sports. The SAI centers are doing a good job but require the aggressive focus of the private sector. The private sponsorship of sport has increased tremendously with the Tatas, the Mittals, RIL etc taking active interest in promoting sport by funding world class sports infrastructure and training.
But the most significant development has been the personal involvement of ex-sportspersons in developing sports through sports academies, either set up by their own initiative or with support from corporate houses. The best examples are those of Pullela Gopichand and Prakash Padukone Academies. Gopichand is fast emerging as India’s Bela Karolyi, the legendary coach who nurtured world class champion gymnasts in Nadia Comaneci, Svetlana Boginskaya and Mary Lou Retton.
Any sports requires complete devotion and passion to the game and when backed by talent only champions can emerge. This is true for both sportsmen and coaches alike. Gopichand singularly personifies this zeal, passion, commitment and hunger to produce champions and the results are showing. On the other hand, excellent training facilities backed by structured training programs at an early age helps grow champions. This is adequately demonstrated in various Tata Academies like the Tata Football Academy, Tata Archery Academy and Tata Athletics Academy.
India needs more of these and we must reach the interiors, where the hunger to get out of poverty and backwardness, is leading to more youngsters taking up the sports. They have the passion and the talent to succeed and what they need are facilities and quality coaching. This is adequately seen in the success achieved in underdeveloped areas of Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, from where several potential champions in various sports are emerging.
SAI has terrific infrastructure but it would be an excellent idea to invite participation from the private sector. This will help in optimization of resources of the government, backed by the passion and technical skill that India Inc. can bring.
Lastly, we need to relook at how sports administration is run. All sports associations are being run by over aged politicians and businessmen, who have little direct involvement with sport and who continue to run them for their own agendas. All at the cost of sport. Unless the laws are revamped urgently and sport becomes a people movement, Indian sport will not spread or develop and India will continue to depend on private initiatives from people like Gopichand.
With the new government coming in, let’s hope Indian sports can go in for an overhaul, as well. Long overdue!