Being home to the largest youth populace on the earth, India has a huge potential to become a superpower in Olympics. While this concern is voiced from several corners, it is important to understand what is going wrong with us now and then go about implementing organised efforts to undo it.
Investment in infrastructure at grassroots level
The budding sportspersons in our country do not have access to the best infrastructure. To be able to compete at the top level, we need to have more stadiums and basic infrastructure. For instance, the introduction of astroturf, a more advanced, expensive outfield, inflicted a death blow on Indian hockey players who dominated every Olympics in hockey till then. This is because due to the lack of basic infrastructure, Indian hockey fields could not replicate it.
Why Indian cricketers are not able to do well in fielding is due to the fact that Indian children have to play in fields that have stones and therefore they do not acquire the habit of diving, a tendency that stays with them throughout their career.
Budding sportswomen and men should have access to equipment. For example, professional robots can help master the skills in table tennis. At the same time, the available infrastructure is mismanaged and not marketed properly. Look at the Commonwealth games stadium near Akshardham which is lying vacant for most part of the year.
There is a serious setback in the country when it comes to commercialising sports. We can take inspiration from how Reliance is commercialising football, by launching Indian Sports League and bringing top companies and great players together to create interest in the sport, like , Roberto Carlos, Nicolas Anelka, Elano Blumer and Marco Materazzi. Mahesh Bhupati’s ITPL immensely boosted tennis with players like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Maria Sharapova playing for Indian Tennis League, and in 2017, U-17 FIFA Football World Cup is expected to boost the market significantly with its extensive international media coverage.
Remembering the scene of Sultan where Kukreja Cooker invested in an underdog team in a sport that was not doing very well, we need to understand the importance of having the best marketing minds behind every sport. If people are able to perceive a lucrative career in sports, they can be expected to take the plunge.
Inducting players in governing bodies
We need to ensure that only former players enter sports governing bodies, as they have a clear idea of the problems faced by players and know the best ways to solve them. Additionally, we need good administrators to market and manage sports. Let us take cognisance of how Anil Kumble changed the scene of Karnataka cricket by introducing young faces into the team and providing budding fast bowlers Like Vinay Kumar, S. Arvind to the Indian cricket team.
Taking care of players after retirement
Sportsmen have a very short shelf life. Once they retire, many of them struggle even for basic survival. We must think of a pension system to support the players who have played at a certain level. We also need to create enough avenues where they can share their skills and earn a livelihood. In their retired life, players can become great coaches for future legends and help bring out their talent. An academy must be created to train former players into coaches. We already see the former players like badminton maverick Prakash Padukone doing an excellent job of training potential sportstars.
Additionally, sports must be included in mainstream curriculum and given its due importance. Though colleges have quotas for extra-curricular activities, the minimum eligibility criterion is to have played in the national or State levels. Since a player who came fourth (who has also put in a lot of hard work) would be deprived of a chance, we do not see many students choosing sport. Reflect how many people know the icons Pankaj advani, Geet Sethi, Dipika Pallikal, Jeev Milkha Singh, Vishwanathan Anand, Dhyan Chand and Dhanraj Pillay, Dipa Karmakar, PV Sindhu, and Sakshi Malik. In fact, most of us did not know of shooter Abhinav Bindra before 2008 Olympics and, boxer Mary Kom before 2012 Olympics, or before a Bollywood film was made about her. We need to look beyond cricket and make players from other sports poster boys and girls as well.
Develop a sports culture
India seriously lacks a sports culture. We, as a country, have never valued sports in the same light as academics. In the face of exams, we stop practice sessions. While parents are not to be blamed for this, there is a vicious circle around us, which we must shatter for good. We need to develop a sports culture in our ecosystem that will produce more internationally respected stars like Usain Bolt, Micheal Phelps, and Rafael Nadal.
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