A singular lack of purpose

Alberto Colaco...“It is important to organise big events because it enables you to develop your infrastructure. It has helped South Africa (in the recent World Cup). It helped Japan and Korea. They have become giants in Asian football.”-R. RAGU Alberto Colaco...“It is important to organise big events because it enables you to develop your infrastructure. It has helped South Africa (in the recent World Cup). It helped Japan and Korea. They have become giants in Asian football.”

Infrastructure development, now on for the Commonwealth Games, should go hand in hand with sports development. But it's not happening in India. “Why?” asks Vijay Lokapally.

We are great hosts! We can create world-class infrastructure, but let foreigners win. We cannot develop champions. If a V. Anand, Abhinav Bindra, Saina Nehwal, P. Gopi Chand or a Vijender Singh comes along, it is despite the system. This is the harsh reality facing Indian sport on the eve of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

The successful conduct of the 1982 Asian Games confirmed India's organisational capabilities. It was a flawless show that also demonstrated India's talent in the field of sports. It could not only organise an event but also compete in it with dignity. Over the years, sadly, the expertise in organising a sports event has not translated into glory on the field with the exception of the SAF Games, the regional festival held every two years.

“Hosting a big event helps create awareness,” says former Olympian Jagbir Singh. As a hockey player, commentator and now an administrator, he is of the opinion that “there is nothing wrong in conducting big events. After all, it helps our sportsmen to compete and also enables sports lovers to watch some world-class action.”

However, another sportsman, not wanting to come on record, differed vehemently. “These events are organised by officials who have little sports background. They don't have the interest of sports in their mind. The idea is to stay in focus. If it means pushing the sportsman into the background it makes no difference to these sports administrators. A sportsman is a disillusioned soul in our system. For him sports-participation means essentially to go up by hook or by crook and grab a job to earn a living.”

India hosted the first Asian Games in 1951 and then the ninth edition in 1982. It was a turning point in India's sports culture and set a benchmark for the administrators too. It was held on a gigantic scale with the complete support of the government. The nation welcomed it as new world-class infrastructure came up to help sportsmen pursue their dreams. But the euphoria died gradually and sports awareness took a beating.

“The so-called administrators lost their way,” maintains Jagbir. The drive that enabled India to host the Asian Games fizzled out in the next 10 years. The decay set in at the roots and, as once pointed out by hockey great Ashok Kumar, sports slipped out of the hands of those who brought glory to the country and came to be dictated by self-promoting officials.

The case of the Afro-Asian Games is cited by some disenchanted sportsmen. The inaugural edition was held with much fanfare in 2003 in Hyderabad and fabulous infrastructure was created to boost sports in the country. The Games have not found another host and the infrastructure remains woefully underutilised.

This is true of the National Games too. They have only contributed to creating infrastructure. On the question of the development of sport the event's record is abysmal.

Jagbir Singh...“I am appalled that most of our sports lovers are not even aware of the status of the Asian Games when compared with the Olympic Games. They are not even aware of who would be our best bets at the Commonwealth Games and what will be our medal prospects."-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

China is a glorious example of organising an event with a purpose. Having won the bid to host the Olympics, it excelled on the sporting front as well as in creating the required infrastructure. Its athletes topped the medals tally. The preparation, on and off the field, was balanced. It showcased its officials and sportsmen as flawless achievers in their respective areas. “China organised an event but not at the cost of its sportsmen,” observes Jagbir.

Often it is observed that Indian sports-lovers only end up applauding the feats of others. Should India continue hosting sports events even when the medals tally causes an embarrassment to the home supporters?

“It is the way forward,” notes the All India Football federation secretary Alberto Colaco.

“It is important to organise big events because it enables you to develop your infrastructure. It has helped South Africa (in the recent World Cup). It helped Japan and Korea. They have become giants in Asian football. But all this can't happen without government support. In countries like France and Europe, infrastructure was developed only with government funding. But we should also be able to utilise the infrastructure. Only then would you be justified in organising big sporting events at home,” asserts the AIFF secretary.

Talking of infrastructure, a majority of it remains under-utilised. “Most stadiums in the country are rotting. They are poorly maintained and in a period of time will lose their utility. I would love to see how the Yamuna Velodrome is put to use after the Commonwealth Games,” says cricketer Kirti Azad, now a Member of Parliament, who raised the issue of Commonwealth Games corruption in the Lok Sabha. “The problem is that the administrators forget the sportsmen when organising the big events. Their main interest is to promote themselves. There is no point in spending lavishly if the sportsmen don't benefit.”

Most sportsmen confess privately that “sports awareness” in India is poor. “There is no point spending lavishly if we can't use the infrastructure (like air-conditioned halls) and can't educate our masses on the importance of sports in our day to day life. A sporting nation will always be a healthy nation. It helps the youth to stay positive. But I am appalled to see that most of our sports lovers are not even aware of the status of the Asian Games when compared with the Olympic Games. They are not even aware of who would be our best bets at the Commonwealth Games and what will be our medal prospects,” observes Jagbir.

As the Commonwealth Games draw near, the sporting fraternity hopes that India would improve upon its performance at Melbourne in 2006. Would India do a China and top the medals tally or just remain a nation that applauds others?