Vol. XL No. 35 August 28, 2016

Accord Sports Priority

The poor performance by Indian athletes and sportspersons at the Rio Olympics has evoked widespread comments including in the international media. Many are intrigued by the fact that a country of 1.2 billion people, which boasts of a growing economy, could at the end get only one silver and one bronze medal.

The failure to excel in sports is not the fault of individual athletes but is a product of the poor sports infrastructure in the country, the lack of public funding for sports and the pernicious grip of a political-bureaucratic nepotism over the sports federations.

If sportswomen like P V Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Deepa Karmakar have excelled in the Olympics, it is due to their personal endeavour and hardwork overcoming various odds. The stories of sportswomen who went to the Olympics like the archer Dipika Kumari, the daughter of a rickshaw puller and the runner Lalitha Babar belonging to a poor peasant family are those of overcoming poverty and lack of support through sheer grit and determination.

The dismal state of sports in India is summed up in the lack of sport facilities – poor stadiums, lack of gymnasiums and swimming pools. This is compounded by poor State funding – of meager scholarships and incentives for young students to take sports activities seriously.

The suicide of twenty year old Pooja, a national level handball player, brings out this dismal state of affairs. Pooja was driven to commit suicide as she was refused a free hostel facility in her college in Patiala. This tragic event occurred when the Olympic games was on in Rio de Janerio.

The state governments are now showering the two medal winners with crores of rupees and other gifts. Such individual rewards, however deserved, do not address the basic problem. It would be better if the state governments and the central government embark on a plan to build sports infrastructure on a large scale and provide adequate funds for the training and upkeep of the young sports talent. The lopsided emphasis on cricket and the corporate sponsorship for this game over all other sports has to be given up.

The sports federations must be overhauled and delinked from political patronage. They should become democratic bodies in which sports people have the major say. A comprehensive sports policy which views sports as part of the all round development of youth and the welfare of society has to be put in place.