Of sportsmen and spirits…

It’s the Olympics once again.

And it’s us once again, clamouring for more than just 1 or 2 medals, and cheering every match in the hope that we land that elusive gold or silver, or at least a bronze.

And once the Games end, the same comment on our lips – Why does a nation with nearly 18% of the world population end up with a few scraps? Yes, the occasional – ‘so-and-so’ nation with just 3 million people ended up with more medals than India.

So who is to blame? The Government (of course) – there are no facilities, no money in the sport, no incentives etc etc etc.

But are they really the only ones to blame?

A cursory look at the 120 athletes representing India this time around.

Punjab and Haryana lead the pack by far. Actually, if you look at this by sport, these two states make up most of the hockey teams and wrestlers as well. So why this disparity? What are the other states not doing right?

Frankly, the main reason behind Punjab and Haryana’s sporting prowess is tradition. Both states have had a rich tradition in sport, and it continues to this day. Badminton picked up in the South, and the North-East brought up heft in boxing and weightlifting. But this is still a very poor representation of a country of nearly 1.5 billion people. Statistically speaking, we should be far ahead of the pack by now.

I feel that a large part of the problem, is us. The society that places emphasis purely on academia, with sport being seen as an “extra-curricular”, one that will not help you “settle down”. The pressure to perform in academics leaves our kids with little room for anything else, leave alone exploring a career in sport.

Yes. there is little money in anything that is not cricket, but PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal cracked the code didn’t they? Whoever heard of shooting as a sport in India before Abhinav Bhindra made history? It took a pioneer, and a long while, but ceilings have been broken. Its up to us now to keep up that momentum.

And it starts with money. I read someplace that South Korea dominates in archery, because they made the corporate sector invest heavily in sport. One way of encouraging this in India would be for the Government to give a tax incentive for large corporates who invest in sporting facilities and training.

Let each state pick a sport that they have already excelled in, and then develop it to a point of dominance on the global stage.

Encourage athletes not just once in four years, but on an ongoing basis. Give them endorsements, interviews, life stories…there is a series on You Tube now that gives us a 10-12 minute look into the lives of these Olympians, and it is interesting. Build a sporting culture, with these as the starting icons of each sport.

Most importantly, change your own outlook. We cheer for India, and then sulk when we lose, and blame it on whoever, and move on. But how many of us have made our children sportsmen? We want to “secure”their future, and let someone else carry the burden.

I am a martial artist. Trained thousands of children and adults. I’ve seen children showing so much promise in classes, so much interest, and then one day, they stop coming. “He has his board exams, and so has to concentrate on studies” – was the oft-repeated excuse.

Well, I am a black belt with over 30 years of practice and I have not done too badly have I? Have faith in your kids, and they will not disappoint you.

Sport is essential for the overall development of a human being. It teaches so much – discipline, focus, resilience, positive attitude, teamwork, the sportsman spirit…a way of life that cannot be fathomed sitting behind a desk. Studies are essential yes, but then, so is sport. AND EQUALLY.

Until we know this, and implement this in our daily lives, the story will just keep repeating itself. Think about it.