Is India a sporting nation?

Is India a sporting nation?

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IPL Cricket

IPL Cricket

‘Sports’ as it is perceived in India, is synonymous to ‘cricket’. After the successful, money-spinning IPL, other sports have woken up to designing similar models. India has the potential to become a great ‘sports nation’ in the future, and the need of the hour is to create a ‘sports culture’, says Sandip Janee

This burning question has popped up on and off. Debates on this hot topic have graced enough prime print space and television time. It is a question, which many feel is best answered by the way ‘sports’ is perceived in India – which is, synonymous to ‘cricket’.

You would agree that watching a live sports match is always a thrilling experience. Imagine walking into the impressive Dhyan Chand National Stadium, all excited and ready to cheer Team India as they lock horns with Canada, in the Junior Hockey World Cup in New Delhi – to find that only 250 seats out of the total capacity of 16,200 seats are occupied! Ironically, the spectator-friendly cricket too, which Indians are crazy about, has recently been unable to draw full-capacity audience – during Test matches and ODIs.

It’s a ‘mindset’ problem in India

The problem with India is the ‘mindset’. We turn our sports heroes into villains overnight. Sportspersons, who are treated like semi-gods for bringing glory to the country are literally thrashed, if they do not perform well.  A true sporting nation learns to take defeat in its stride. But in India – effigies are burnt, processions line the roads, and their homes are stone-pelted. Why only a few spectators were present on the final day of a test match in Mohali in 2010, when India needed 92 runs to win against Australia with the last 2 wickets in hand? That V V S Laxman and Ishant Sharma managed to pull off a magnificent victory, is a separate story altogether, which went down in the annals of history. This is really difficult to understand.

The hallmark of a true sporting nation is to stand by their team/athletes, when the chips are down. I believe once this mindset changes, sports in India will take a giant leap.

Indian sports – swept by a sea change

However, on the flip side, sports in India had undergone a sea change with the advent of the Indian Premier League in 2008. Its continued success over the past 5 years has catapulted India as a ‘preferred destination; for viewing and organizing global sports. The Indian audience guarantees viewership on television, apart from their avid interest to watch matches live. The shorter format of the game was well received by Indians, specially as it added an entertainment quotient to the sport. Plus, other factors have also spiked the sporting culture like – the success of Commonwealth Games 2010; India’s victory in World Cup cricket in 2011, 6 medals (2 silver and 4 bronze) in the London Olympics in 2012 and success of Indian sportsperson at World events in Badminton, Chess, Tennis, Snooker and Squash.

Riding the successful IPL wave

IPL was the first sporting success story. This money-spinning model attracted many corporates. And, hoping to ride this wave, other sports got involved in adopting a model (which is similar to the IPL), and develop a marketable product. The I-league (Football), Indian Badminton League (IBL), Mahindra NBA Challenge, International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) and Hockey India League – are some examples of premier tournaments which were started on the lines of the IPL, all of which were backed corporates, and were endorsed by celebrities or top sportspersons.

Another feather in India’s cap is the sprawling Buddh International Circuit, which played host to India’s Formula One grand prix held in October, since 2011. Being awarded the ‘2011 Motorsport Facility of the Year’, it is a testimony to the fact that India is capable of producing a world-class sports infrastructure.

Tapping the Indian market

That India has the potential to become a great ‘sports nation’ in the future, is a view strongly held by 2 of the most powerful men of the World’s most popular leagues – David Stern, CEO of National Basketball Association (NBA) and Bernie Ecclestone, CEO of Formula One grand prix racing (F1). As a part of NBA’s policy to tap the Indian market, David has expressed his desire to get more young Indians to play more basketball. Football clubs like ‘Liverpool’ & ‘FC Barcelona’ have invested in setting up academies in many cities in India, to attract young kids and also to establish a connect with fans. With Asia being a huge market for them, they are not only looking at offering training at nominal costs at the camps, but also providing international exposure through scholarships.

Now, India is taking long strides in sports, even though it was considered to be a ‘sleeping giant’ and less ‘sports-hungry’ than China. Corporates have finally got clued on to the exposure sports can offer – in terms of consumer engagement and interaction. Also realizing the great value addition to the brand, they are keen to use sports as marketing tool to promote their brands and services.

Is money a problem for sports?

The Sports Ministry in India has a budget of around Rs 800 crores a year for sports (including running national level training centers, camps and payment of coaches, staff and equipment). Apart from this, there are big spenders – private players like Mittal Steel which runs the biggest Mittal Champions trust, Sahara group, which spends around Rs 25 crores annually, on sports apart from cricket.Then, there is the Olympics Gold Quest initiative, spearheaded by former world billiards and snooker champion Geet Sethi, and supported, among others, by Leander Paes – which has roped in considerable corporate support. Big corporates like Reliance Industries, Hero Motor Corp, Coca Cola, Mahindra & Mahindra, Videocon, Airtel are seriously investing in many sports. But the issue is, how these investments are channelized in India and whether these brands would like to keep coming back.

Now, since money is not a big problem with sports, then where is the stumbling block?

What are the problems?

Problems are many.

One of the problem areas is the policy of the government and their spends on improving the sports infrastructure around the country. There is a lack of proper training facility and world-class infrastructure, so it is impossible to compete with athletes around the world, who are trained to perform par excellence.  

Another problem area is the misconception of parents regarding sports. They still do not consider it to be a full-fledged profession. Alternatively, with the success of IPL, many parents are pushing their child into sports, hoping to strike gold.

Here’s a reality check. It is a fact that a sportsperson needs at least 10,000 hours of training before he/she is ready to compete at the highest level. The kids need to be identified when they are young, and proper guidance and nourishment need to be provided to talented kids, to ensure that they are ready to compete with athletes from top sporting nations like China, UK, Australia, US and so on. Countries like Australia have the concept of Excellence academies; where the government identifies 20 talented kids every year from across the country and train them into world-class record-breaking athletes. They spend a whopping $1,25,000 per year on each athlete. India needs to follow a similar pattern, if it needs to hit the medal tally in the next Olympics or Commonwealth Games.  

Create a sporting culture – the answer

The need of the hour seems to be to create a ‘sports culture’. Until and unless sports is engrained into our school system, it is difficult to infuse a sporting culture. Indulging in a sport is key to personal development and it helps people become better human beings. A sportsperson can be singled out for the discipline, dedication and commitment he displays.

The amount of time, money and energy, which is invested, will reap results over a period of time. NDTV in association with Nirmal Lifestyle had launched a campaign called ‘Marks for Sports’ across various Indian schools. To focus on sports was the sole objective of this initiative. It encouraged schools and, more importantly, different boards of education to include sports as a part of their main curriculum. Then only will parents and children give sports the attention it deserves.

The government needs to ensure that sportspersons are provided with good training facilities, proper infrastructure, right guidance, international exposure; they also need to ensure back-up jobs or careers after they retire or even in the case of accidents, when they may have to leave the sport due to serious injury. Considering something like a National Sports College, along the lines of an IIT or an IIM – would definitely serve the purpose and indeed, become a benchmark for young aspirants.

There’s some good news tough. The scenario has improved somewhat. Things have been looking up as sportspersons have struck success recently. Mary Kom (Boxing – Bronze at London Olympics 2012), Geeta Phoghat (Wrestling- Gold in CWC 2010), Saina Nehwal (Badminton- Bronze in London Olympics 2012), Sania Mirza (Tennis), Dipika Pallikal (Squash) – have inspired a new generation of aspiring sportspersons. True, they overcame many hurdles – like hailing from very average to poor backgrounds, lack of government support and availability of good facilities. But for sure, they managed to keep the tricolour flying high and also bagged laurels at international sports events.

A long way to go 

India is a young country, but has a long way to go – to be labelled a ‘sporting nation’. Poor infrastructure and multi-level bureaucracy remain snags, which have been restraining the sports industry. I believe, a one-sports nation cannot be labeled as a true sporting nation. 

There are miles to go before we sleep, miles to go before we sleep.

About the author

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Somanjana Chatterjee

Somanjan Chatterjee is San Francisco based consulting editor