Monday, August 11, 2008

Abhinav Bindra win Gold at Olympics - A tipping point?

Ok, I had to write about this as it is all over the news. Abhinav Bindra won gold medal in rifle shooting event at Olympics. India's first individual gold medal in many years and India's first gold medal in many..... Whatever. Let’s face it. India is not a sports country. Our sportsmen and their achievements can be counted on fingers and about our show in Olympics, less said the better. The causes of our dismal performance are many but I think it is perhaps best summarised by a wisdom (if it can be called so) which was deeply ingrained in our psyche and was found scribbled on many government school building's till not many years ago. The wisdom of "Padoge likhoge banoge nawab , Kheloge koodoge, hogey Khrab " , roughly translated as "Study and you will become a king, Indulge in sports and you are ruined".

There was some truth in this indeed. After all, regardless of what Steven Levitt says in Freakonomics, conventional wisdom can sometime be true. The truth in this slogan was simply the reality that Sports in Indiacould never be adopted as a profession for reason that it was not professionally managed and there was hardly any money in it. So even if you were good at some sports while at school, there wasn’t any incentive for you to pursue it seriously and professionally and become world class. There was no social incentive either. Society didn’t respect sportsmen; it valued academic achievements more. For few of those who played any sports, it remained a hobby and some of us who were good at some sports, used it to land a safe government jobs using sports quota. Some more became sports teacher in schools and colleges and for many others it became a weekend hobby. Sports were and are not taken seriously by our society.

Has it changed? Or is it changing? I don’t know. India is changing in many aspects. Economy is far better than it has even been. There is enough money which can chase good sportsmen now and it is not limited to cricket alone . Though we havent become a sporty country but we don't hear slogan I mentioned above that frequently now. So when are we going to see a tipping point for sports in India? Well, Unless we undertake a massive overhauling of sports management in this country, we will continue to remain a laggard in international sports and have to be satisfied with occasional individual brilliances. I think we could do well by learning from China which systematically adopted an Olympic program, identified sports where they had more chances of winning medals and pumped money. They even skipped one Olympic to concentrate on long term preparations.

In India, we need to create both monetary and social incentives so that more kids participate in sports and also pursue it professionally. And yeah, all those politicians falling over each others now to announce cash rewards for Abhinav Bindra, will do well to know that he belongs to a millionaire family already. He wasnt playing for money but someting more......pride, ...just for heck of it...for love of it ...!!! And, well done Abhinav Bindra.....