Sharath Kamal: Beijing Olympics the ‘game changer’ for Indian sports

The Indian paddler points out that the last few years have ushered in the blossoming of non-cricket sporting disciplines in India.

Sharath Kamal (first from left) speaks at a panel discussion. Others listen in.   -  B. Velankanni Raj

The Beijing Olympics in 2008 was a “game changer” in ushering in the blossoming of non-cricket sporting disciplines in India, Sharath Kamal, the distinguished Indian paddler, has said.

“Much before [the 2008 Olympics], when I used to tell people I play table tennis, they would ask ‘what do you do for a living?’ That attitude has changed,” Sharath contended at a panel discussion on sports, part of the Think Box speaker series by the Glassbox, organised by Audi Chennai here on Saturday.

The change has come in recent years, agreed Sunayna Kuruvilla, the squash player. She said, “It is after good performances in the Commonwealth Games (2014) and the Asian Games (2018) that we (squash players) have become more recognisable. Also, there’s a general disregard for non-Olympic sports.”

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To illustrate the lack of prominence for squash, she shared an interesting anecdote: “I was in Singapore once with my cousin (squash player Dipika Pallikal) and her husband (cricketer Dinesh Karthik). I had reached the semifinals of a tournament and got [USD] 300 as prize money. And Dinesh was like ‘So, you’ll get the rest of the prize money later?’”

Tournaments galore

However, a changed scenario has brought with it different challenges. Sharath pointed out: “We didn’t play so many tournaments (when he was young). So, we didn’t have that many wins and losses. Now, players keep hopping tournaments and barely have time to train in between. So, it’s difficult for them to keep a level head.”

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That the landscape had truly changed could be gauged from India’s celebrations of a fourth-place finish by Dipa Karmakar at the Olympics in 2016, pointed out Deepthi Bopaiah, GoSports Foundation director.

Importance of role models

Deepthi also shared her views on what made sportspersons excel. An important role towards that objective is played by the presence of a role model. She cited the example of K. Srikanth, who was inspired by seeing P. Gopichand being paraded on an open-top bus in Guntur after he had won a badminton tournament. “That made him want to play the sport,” she said.

For a sportsperson to excel, it is essential to focus on the journey and not the destination, contended Deepthi. She cited the example of shooter Abhinav Bindra, who rated his performance at the Rio Olympics “the best” and not his medal-winning one in Beijing, in 2008.

Hiren Mody, Chennaiyin FC vice-president, also participated in the discussion on difference facets of sports in India.