Shame of sporting administration in India
The Caribbean islands of Grenada, Bahamas, and Jamaica are among the top three countries in terms of “Medals per Capita”, whereas India was 86th or the last amongst the medal winners, in such a statistical index – the combined population of these Top 3 countries is 3.2 million (accounting for 14 medals) whereas the population of India is 1,311 million (accounting for 2 medals). Beyond the unnecessary sarcasm and shenanigans of the British journalist and show host Piers Morgan, reality is that we are not known to be a powerhouse in any sport – our strength has been in the field of academics, literature, and arts where we punch above our weight in a like-to-like index vis-à-vis other nations.
Beyond the obvious lack of infrastructure, sub-optimal dietary habits and opportunities, the fact is that sport is not part of our inherent “culturality” as a means of occupation. The logic of dire economics has been overplayed with IMF 2015 Data for “GDP per capita” for India at $ 6,612 whereas it is nearly half of the same for Kenya at $3208 (accounted for 13 medals) and a nearly a fourth of India’s figures, for Ethiopia at $1801 (accounted for 8 medals). So the reality of these African runners from the Rift Valley cutting across Kenya and Ethiopia is more of a combination of somatotypic characteristics leading to extraordinary biomechanical and metabolic economy/efficiency, high-altitude living and unique body/muscle types that are suited for endurance running.
However, extremely credible performances like that of the gymnast Dipa Karmakar and power sports like Wrestling with Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat are redefining the stereotypical perceptions of genetic composition and suitability that is attributed to the Indians. The Indian narrative of the wrestling and boxing success at international level is not the outcome of any super-organised league system, high-tech training or dietary management – it is, besides a certain physical suitability, a saga of individual persistence and “cultural” acceptance in the region. Unsurprisingly, Haryana is the new granary for sportsmen with Sakshi Malik, Yogeshwar Dutt, Sushil Kumar, Vijender Singh, Vinesh Phogat, Geeta Phogat, Manoj Kumar and many more who have emerged from the dust-bowl districts like Bhiwani, which has deservedly earned the sobriquet of “Little Cuba”. This suggests that there is immense scope to substantially increase the medal tallies in Sporting event, should a similar Sporting “culture” emerge in other clusters so that individual brilliance like Dipa Karmakar’s can be institutionalised to generate many more Dipas, like in the case of boxers, wrestlers, and athletes from Haryana.
While the “way forward” seems fairly straight, the plot essentially loses track in India with the apathetic, condescending, and perennially politicised environment of the key driver in creating such “hubs” of sporting excellence i.e. the governmental imperatives and support structures. In the absence of a truly vibrant and ready sporting culture, even the private sector is wary of investing wholeheartedly in the sporting domain, where the reciprocal benefit would accrue painfully slowly, hence necessitating the initial seed money from the governmental coffers.
The optics of behavioral conduct at Rio Olympics concerning the government authorities and federations (private boroughs of politicians) was embarrassing, imperious, and typically bureaucratic that reflected a feudal mindset that needs immediate shedding. In a study conducted for 26 of the 38 listed Sporting federations, apparently, 12 Sporting Associations have declared no tenures about their Presidents or members, only one sports association had a former national athlete as a national President and only one Sporting Association had a conflict-of-interest policy! While a lot of public outcry and dismay was expressed in the apparent apathy of the authorities involving marathon runner OP Jaisha, the “combiflam” doctor (both contingent doctors on call were radiologists and not sports medicine doctors), and the boorish behaviour of politicos accompanying the team.
The tragic comedy of political colours clouding sporting domain continued with the loaded statements made by a member of the Lok Sabha on the emotive issue of “beef-ban” when he stated a unique insight, “Usain bolt of Jamaica was poor and trainer advised him to eat beef both the times and he scored 9 gold medals in Olympic”, only to retract subsequently and clarify his context.
Meanwhile another Sports Minister (ironically, from Haryana) scripted another innovative way of propagating sporting culture by donating 50 lakhs from the State coffer to the Dera Sacha Sauda sect headed by self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim – this sect has a wide following in the region, hence the political patronage by the politicos even if it means the sad support to a unique sport developed by the controversial godman called “Tiranga Rumaal Chu”!
Photo-ops, endorsements and regional one-upmanship (e.g. the infelicitous offer for a “better coach” by the Deputy CM of Telangana) do not augur well for the future – a “clean up” of the authorities and the governmental back-up is more critical than any other lever. This calls for an executive decision at the very helm of governmental affairs as the rot that has set in the federations is very well entrenched and immune to a temporary raising of hackles and insults by the public at large. Accountability and responsibility do not come naturally to any Indian system of bureaucracy and it is this “cultural” lacunae, more than financial investments, infrastructure, and sponsorships that inhibit natural traction towards a sporting culture. Once initiated and ingrained in our operational and existential ethos, this sporting “culture” could become infectious and become part of the national DNA, e.g. Jamaica for sprints, East African nations for long distance running, and Cuba for boxing. For now, the Sporting administration is in a crying need for a background clean-up, the sporting performances by athletes and investments by the private sector will follow automatically.
(Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. Views expressed are strictly personal.)