Stunting the growth of other games?

IS competitive cricket muffling the growth of other sports? Rhetorical though this poser may be, a debate on this subject is now inevitable.

IS competitive cricket muffling the growth of other sports? Rhetorical though this poser may be, a debate on this subject is now inevitable. This issue of The Sportstar pays pointed attention to the divergent views, inviting opinions of achievers in sports other than cricket. Quite predictably, it is not easy to assert that the popularity of cricket has submerged the interest for other disciplines, notwithstanding the excellence displayed by a handful of sportsmen and women.

No two opinions exist today over the fact that cricket has emerged as the most popular sport in the country. The mass following for it is phenomenal, and the revenue generated, is mind-boggling. The right amalgam of commercialism and professionalism in marketing has ensured that the flow of money is the envy of many. Small wonder, there is a craze for cricket.

While the factors contributing to the enormous surge of popularity for cricket can easily be documented, the failure of the other disciplines for either stagnating or plummeting deserves to be analysed critically. Take for instance, soccer, a game in which the country was a super power in the continent till the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta. The game enjoyed a huge mass base everywhere, including the village centres, but those charged with regulating this passion and interest failed miserably in their endeavour as administrators. Infighting and pettyfogging over issues not totally relevant to stimulating growth led to degeneration. Several popular tournaments have either been stopped or have lost their glamour. So, the onus of losing a highly motivated section of spectators goes to the apathy among the administrators and not to the growing stature of cricket.

The same is the case of hockey in which India won the Olympic gold medals with monotonous regularity till 1956. Perhaps appropriately, it was called the national game. It was then a spectacle to see every inch of space occupied by enthusiastic crowds in major tournament venues. Again, the officials who gained control of the sport after Independence just basked in the glory brought by successive medals in the Olympics than putting in a place a constructive programme. Slowly but steadily, the interest waned, and today even in traditional centres like Punjab, hockey is not the first priority in schools.

Notwithstanding the unprofessional and haphazard system, there have been outstanding achievements in athletics, tennis, billiards, weight lifting and badminton. The inspirational deeds of Milkha Singh, P. T. Usha, Geet Sethi, Karnam Malleswari and Prakash Padukone should have been channelised to stimulate a whole new generation into areas other than cricket. Busy with their own bickerings and feathering their own nests, officials controlling sports were oblivious to welding the emerging interest.

It is crystal clear that the complaint of other sports being overwhelmed by a well-organised and professionally run administration like cricket should actually be laid at the door of incompetent managements of federations. The coffers of cricket in the early 50s were certainly not as full and flowing as now. The game was lucky to have a visionary administrator like M. A. Chidambaram. It was during Chidambaram's tenure that the Board of Control for Cricket in India became a model for financial management. MAC's business acumen coupled with the well-structured programmes for development at all levels contributed enormously to the fecundity of the sport which today is a top money-spinner. Where Chidambaram succeeded in marketing cricket as a wonderful package, the other administrators, placed in a better position perhaps, fumbled and left the sport they had to manage in the lurch. The federation bosses were lulled again by the support extended by the Government. Having failed to make the federations commercially viable, the officials leaned heavily on Government funding for everything, just enjoying the power and pelf.

In this era of liberalisation and privatisation, sport is an important instrument that needs to be professionally and proficiently marketed. Hearteningly today, the importance of this concept is well accepted, and some of the federations have come out of the cocoon. The support by Sahara to hockey, and Coca-Cola for soccer is a case in point. But at this moment, these sponsorships touch only the fringe. It is time the federations worked out programmes that the resources so obtained percolate to the players as in cricket. It is heartrending to see international stars living abroad on a diet allowance of 20 to 30 US dollars a day donning the national colours.

Disciplines other than cricket are slithering down in the popularity chart but this sad state of affairs is purely because these games do not have professional managerial and marketing excellence. Apportioning the blame on cricket is the best route of escapism for incompetence.