Make sport a serious career option: Gavaskar

Former sportstars and writers came together for a panel discussion on what it would take for India to become a multi-sport nation.

Mr. Suresh Menon, Sports Writer; Ms. Aparna Popat , Olympian – Badminton; Mr. Sunil Gavaskar, Cricketing legend; Mr. Jitu Virwani, Chairman and Managing Director, Embassy Group; Mr. Kamal Bali, President and Managing Director, Volvo Group India; Ms. Ashwini Nachappa, Founder and Managing Trustee, Ashwini’s Sports Foundation.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

For India to become a multi-sport nation, it was crucial to make each sport a serious career option, felt cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar. He was speaking at a panel discussion organised by the Embassy Group and Ashwini Sports Foundation, and moderated by former athlete Ashwini Nachappa.

“Our biggest plus is our population,” he said. “It is not difficult to find champions. But there are three important things -- to make sports affordable, to make it part of the school curriculum and the most important thing to make it a very serious career option. Cricket flourishes because it is one. If you just play Ranji Trophy, you can make more money than say having an airline career or being in the Railways.”

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“Initially, I think royal patronage worked for cricket,” Gavaskar added. “It was not about winning or losing. After Independence we were repeatedly getting thrashed. But when a royal played the game, irrespective of whether people understood the sport or not, they used to watch. That kept the sport going.”

“Then in the 1960s.... I am not being frivolous here.... we had some of the most good looking Indian cricketers. Pataudi, Salim Durrani, Abbas Ali Baig, ML Jaisimha, Farokh Engineer, just to name a few. So you had a following. We were then captained by a royal and after that we started looking our opponents in the eye, especially the generation that came after Independence. And then BCCI created the best junior cricket set-up in the world."

According to former National badminton champion and two-time Olympian Aparna Popat, sports governance and funding were key. “More athletes are looking at sport as a career now. To win a gold has become an aim. It is good to know that it is in their minds. The question we need to ask is if the system is catching up fast enough?”

Noted cricket writer Suresh Menon stated that more than anything, India should develop a sporting culture. “Forget competitive sport, you need to enjoy sport first,” he said. “Run because you enjoy it. Swim because you enjoy it. So create an atmosphere for the causal swimmer, the casual table tennis player etc.. I know it is a cliche, but out of that quantity, quality will emerge.”