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Millennium Post

How India lost its sporting culture

The International Olympic Committee decision to ban Indian Olympic Association for untoward practices is a step in the right direction, but this is not the only issue that ails Indian sports. There are a host of problems and most of them can be summarised in one short word as lack of sporting culture.

The current record is dismal however; traditionally contact games such as Kabaddi and wrestling or Akhara system in villages were a part of our culture.  Kabaddi was regarded as a combat form of recreational sport and was played extensively in our villages. It involved holding ones breath, team work and great physical activity.

The Akhara system of training or Pahelwani was not only a traditional sport but also had a place in the social life of a village.  Most Akharas also served as a training area for combat training and practice with swords, sticks, daggers and poles also called Malkhambh which are a part of our past when the art was practiced by warriors as a foundation for their lethal art of combat. All this employed great physical fitness.

On the other hand modern sport is a combination of physical fitness, skill levels, aptitude and mental resilience.

Indian sporting culture never matured because of schooling system, lack of facilities for skill development in sports, poor understanding and underestimating mental training, nonexistent economic support to sportsmen and a lack of will, as the common perception was all play and no study makes Jack a dull boy. Rustam-i-Hind was a traditional title but the entire culture of Pahelwani nearly died, because it was difficult to maintain, being expensive in addition to a host of other factors.

The same is the case with Kabaddi which has again been revived. Thus some where down the line India lost its sporting culture.

The Indian nation first took part in the modern Olympic Games in 1920. The nation has a poor record in the Olympics and baring eight gold medals in hockey, the nation had won only twenty medals till 2008. In the just concluded games, India stood 55th with two silver and four bronze medals, a total of six medals, the best haul by the country till date.

These medals were won in various games, from Shooting, Boxing to Wrestling, by men and woman. Although there was a lot of hype before the game, would Indian corporate houses which only see the end result have moved out had India not won a single medal?  Sports today needs a wide base for selection, high amount of training to master the necessary skill levels, physical fitness and full time dedication.

For a struggling middle class more involved in upward mobility, education seems the best option as it guarantees success, with no fall out rate.

What the educationists have not realised is the value of sports in character building thus it is correctly stated that ‘the battle of Waterloo was won in the play fields of Eton’. India favours rote learning which is repeated memorisation and sports has no value in the same. Although rote learning has made India into a knowledge hub, it has cut down critical thinking and value of sports.

The idea that sports builds character has been around for some time. Modern athletics epitomises physical fitness.

The word character has gone out of vogue in psychological literature. Today’s education is all about percentages, where emphasis is on the rote system and cramming. In a playing field, winning and losing are a part of the game. This gives a sense of character, an the ability to understand the other person’s point of view and accept a verdict for or against.

In modern history the British boarding school of the nineteenth century gave a new impetus to sports and character building. Sports builds character became popular culture.

In Japan, the Samurai culture of warriors took a cultic wave. It’s all about fitness. The current system of education has been modified and there is less strain in class ten. Most schools have hardly any play grounds  in metros. They have air conditioned class rooms but  hardly any emphasis on sports. The citizens that these schools churn out were best shown in the movie
Three Idiots.


The idea of sports in few schools which do pay some attention to games while others are cramming centers, is to have one person employed whose status is below that of teacher.

This person is usually called the PT master and is also responsible for games.

On the other hand physical fitness is staying fit and games are also about skill levels, mental and physical ability all of which is neglected.

This is at best a slip-shod method and will continue to provide the current crop of students. Such a system will also continue not to provide any more Olympic champion or a rare one. The current Indian performance with all the media hype did not produce any gold medal; the only saving grace was that the nation’s sports people did well in multiple games. India’s biggest let down has been athletics, where the nation had not won a single medal.

For the Indian nation considering its size, manpower density and emerging global power, the performance has been poor. A recent study has stated that half of Indian kids are too obese for sports, especially those living in the metros. 49.9 per cent children have low flexibility, and 65 per cent lack explosive power.

The nation should win more medals and should be in the first ten, from the current 55th position. India requires a sporting culture and a school system, which encourages sportsmen, and healthy dietary habits.

C S Thappa is a retired brigadier
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