Driving India’s sporting culture

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore described the Khelo India Youth Games as a ‘platform to perform’ of international standard and also visualised it becoming more competitive in future to the extent of introducing foreign athletes.

The champion Maharashtra team at the Khelo India Youth Games.   -  Kamesh Srinivasan

Champions are mere catalysts, driving a sports culture in the country, which may eventually help India derive many more champions. And the Khelo India Youth Games, efficiently organised at the sprawling Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Balewadi, Pune, could well be a game-changer for sports in the country.

Unlike the inaugural edition of Khelo India in Delhi hosted by the Union government, the second edition, hosted by the Maharashtra state government, had free access for everyone and the unobtrusive security ensured that people really enjoyed watching the games.

The atmosphere is key to sporting arenas, and there was ample inspiration from the stands for the athletes to perform at their best, as fans could watch athletics, swimming, shooting, gymnastics, basketball, tennis, volleyball, table tennis, kho kho, kabaddi, weightlifting, wrestling and judo in one arena.

Some of the events like football, hockey and archery had to be held at other venues for various reasons, but overall the host did a terrific job, calling it “Khelotsav,” a festival of sports.

Wide coverage

Television can really do wonders, in driving sports into the minds of people. Powered by high-definition cameras that beamed about 100 hours of live television coverage spread over 12 days, the event was a big boost for sports in the country. There were about 20 cameras, including ones operating on cables and drones, to provide nice images for the viewers. About 100 technicians worked hard to produce world-class content over nearly a fortnight.

For the world-class champions who made it a lively affair, especially on television, there may not be much to gain as they may already be getting government support in pursuit of their Olympic dreams.

Yet, they helped in polishing the new diamonds. For you need diamond dust to polish diamond. And for the fabulous platform that was presented to the school and college students, in the under-17 and -21 age groups, you need the stars to bring out their best and make it interesting for everyone to watch.

However, the scheduling of athletics and swimming together, in the initial stage, along with gymnastics, meant that the momentum was hard to sustain in the second half of the games. In fact, there were many days when there were very few medals at stake, out of the 400-odd gold that were on offer. You need the medals on a regular basis to sustain interest in multi-discipline events.

Some disciplines like shooting that have consistently touched world standards in all age groups hardly got television coverage, much to the disappointment of parents. On the other hand, parents and coaches who nurture sporting talent got the recognition they so richly deserved.

It was encouraging to find the media stepping up coverage despite the tendency to lean on cricket, with fabulous photos, heart-warming stories of the athletes’ journey, and focus across many disciplines, leading Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, the Union minister for youth affairs and sports with independent charge, to thank the media for being a healthy partner to the sporting campaign.

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (centre), the Union minister for sports with independent charge, and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis at the opening ceremony of Khelo India.   -  PTI

 

Key incentives

The major attraction for all athletes, the stage and television apart, was the incentives that accompany the Khelo India scheme. The words Rs5 lakh a year for the next eight years keep ringing in the athletes’ and their parents’ ears. Only a part of the money goes to selected athletes registered in one of the many academies, both government and private. The rest is spent on their grooming in those academies.

For the hundreds of athletes who already have a healthy system that has taken them to high standards, it may be hard to derive any financial support from the scheme. That needs to change. If athletes have a system, then there has to be no hesitation or red tape to release funds to those coaches and training centres. It may not be a bad idea to award a good amount right there along with the medals, to the tune of about 50 per cent of the overall support planned for a year.

Of course, state governments that suitably reward international medallists may jump in and support their athletes financially to take their sporting careers forward.

That will keep even elite athletes enthused to perform. If someone like swimmer Srihari Nataraj, who topped the list with seven gold medals at the Games, is presented about Rs15 lakh, it may drive more talent to the pool. In the overall budget, there is definitely scope to reward the champions.

Swimmer Srihari Nataraj topped the winners’ list with seven gold medals at the Games.   -  Kamesh Srinivasan

 

‘Platform to perform’

For the nearly 6,000 athletes, spread over 18 disciplines from athletics to wrestling, there was good accommodation in hotels, healthy food and safe transport, apart from a “platform to perform” of international standard, as described by Rathore.

“We are only one year old. Sports is not only for excellence, but for participation as well,” he said, driving home the point that unless there were more people taking part in, it would be difficult to aspire for many champions.

One has to be fit, healthy and alert to achieve excellence in any sphere of life, and participating in sports can act as adding fuel to the fire.

Rathore also visualised the games becoming more competitive in future to the extent of foreign athletes being introduced to step up the challenge, at some stage. There is tremendous potential for the idea to further grow and take root.

“The movement of Khelo India is to promote a sports culture in schools and colleges, with an international-standard field of play and technical conduct, to inspire the athletes to greater achievements and make India a sporting nation,” summed up Rahul Bhatnagar, the Union sports secretary.

Once we ensure education for everyone, the future of Indian sports can be nicely tuned by focusing on schools and colleges. From that perspective, the Khelo India Youth Games has really touched and tuned a vital chord in the system.