Milkha Singh did not win an Olympic medal, yet created history. P. T. Usha did not win a medal but created hope. Abhinav Bindra and Neeraj Chopra won Olympic golds and made it a reality. This lone reality of one individual, which makes a country of more than a billion preen with pride and dance in delight, needs to become a frequent possibility for the nation’s youth.
For every Indian, the national anthem at the world sporting stage seemed to represent the culmination of the tremendous effort, and a clarion call to create a country of doers — to repeat, reinforce, amplify and sustain.
We all understand that winning accolades or making a mark in such events have years of effort and unbelievable stories behind them and also the realisation that none of it would be possible without giving it all — blood, sweat and tears. But the requisite question is whether we as Indians will be able to sustain this euphoria and translate it into something more permanent and imperative — a national culture of sport.
A country’s success in sport reflects the way its people think. The recent India-England cricket series had thousands watching the match in the stadium even during weekdays and Covid. Jump to the ever-growing English Premier League, you will see hardly a seat empty, even when say Watford plays Burnley. In the same country, people stay in tents overnight so they can queue in time for a ticket to watch Wimbledon. Not to mention most of the elite football in continental Europe being played in sub-zero temperatures with maximum capacity crowds.
True sporting nations queue up to watch almost every sport. They consider sport as a part of their culture and not another form of entertainment. It is a quoted truism that in some parts of Europe and South America people don’t care if they have food on their plate, but are concerned about the next football match!
India needs a massive change in its perception of sport. Our love for sport should not start and end with the Olympics. Neither should it be limited to chest-thumping on social media when someone brings home the accolades. Instead, we should strive to further the momentum provided by such success. It is possible to achieve this only if each person develops an association with sport.
The goal of producing great sportspersons is one that the countrymen need to set individually as well as collectively. We must move beyond being casual spectators and cheerleaders if we would like to move beyond individual flashes of brilliance in the sports arena. People who have the means need to invest in helping develop the mindset that can pull the rest of the society with them. Be it small or big, we all need to do our bit. From making a small start at home by encouraging our family to cultivate the sport they love and supporting them to bigger things or maybe even sponsoring an exceptional local talent at your home course; the initiative has to be now! Sport cannot just be a spare-time hobby any more.
Before we slip into the IPL euphoria and the glow of our exploits at the Olympics dims, let us parents start appearing for our kids’ games day and competitions at schools or outside. Let us in the corporates start identifying, supporting and sponsoring potential talent. Those in government have a five-year achievable goal with failure parameters. The plan must have in mind the vastness of our country and its varied cultures and social sporting values.
There must be more public spending at the grassroots level and infrastructure than top-down approaches. The popular Khelo India initiative should broaden towards talent identification and talent sponsorship.
The true development of sports culture in our country is a collective leap. We must have faith and back it up with the required imagination and finance.
Neha Rathor is Director of ADI Media, a B2B print and digital news, research and business media house.
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