India’s most decorated boxer, MC Mary Kom hails from a humble background. Her parents were tenant farmers and often found it hard to make ends meet. When Mary desired to train as a boxer and expressed the same to her parents, they raised objections. Sports doesn’t provide for the family, they argued. While they eventually did accept her decision to pursue a career in sports, their concerns are not uncommon and are even justified to a fair extent. In the present Indian society, a career in sports isn’t encouraged. Sports, largely, are restricted to the living room of households and are seen, more, as a form of entertainment.
The ancient Indian society was not averse to sports. Tales from ancient Indian epics such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana stress on the importance of sports as a means of physical as well as psychological well-being of a student. The awards for excellence in sports and distinction in coaching are named after Arjuna and Dronacharya, respectively, two of the most significant characters in the Mahabharata. This bespeaks the existence of sport in the ancient Indian society. Ancient India practised popular Olympic sports such as Archery, Equestrian, Swimming, and Wrestling and various other forms of sports like mace-fighting and chariot-racing. However, not all forms of ancient sports have survived and some of them are lost forever.
The existence of sports is seen in different periods of Indian history. Sports and other forms of physical activities were an integral part of the curriculum at ancient Indian universities like Nalanda and Takshila. The Mughals brought with them different indoor sports and the British introduced sports like Cricket and Badminton which India has adopted as its own.
One would assume that in a nation with a rich history in sport, many would be willing and be even encouraged to pursue their career in sports. However, the same isn’t true. A majority of the Indian society does not see sports as an expedient career. While many certainly desire to work towards a career in sports, they are dissuaded from doing so. The reasons for the same are neither with flawed logic nor are they not backed with sufficient evidence.
In the Indian society, the importance of education is emphasized upon as children grow up. Education will provide a good job which would ultimately lead to steady income and respectable life in the society, they are told. While children are encouraged to take up a sport in the primary and secondary schooling years for physical as well as psychological development, sport tends to take a back-seat with the 10th and subsequent 12th standard examinations. A few students do partake in a sporting activity of their choice because they are promised 25 extra marks by their respective educational board. In the college education level, sports largely remain restricted to participating in sporting fests in colleges or inter-collegiate sports meets.
The administration plays a significant role in shaping up a sportsperson’s career. Local sporting bodies in cities, towns and districts, constituted by the central and state governments to provide athletes with the necessary facilities function arbitrarily. They rarely function in accordance with the procedure laid down. The callous approach of the officials and authorities towards running the government body impedes the functioning of the system in place. Corruption within the system hinders the working of the system. Funds allocated and released by the Centre and the States to these local bodies never reach their intended destination owing to wide-spread corruption, thus resulting in lack of funds. Lack of funds leads to lack of amenities for athletes, which hampers their training and their performance. Internal politics, in-fighting and favouritism are often the cause of deserving athletes losing their chance of competing at a major tournament. Those selected by the authorities may not be deserving enough, but find themselves through. This indifferent disposition of the authorities and the local sporting bodies is known to all and hence, is one of the primary reasons why one is discouraged from pursuing sports as a career.
Sports, as a career in India, do not impart steady income. Sports other than Cricket do not attract many sponsors owing to limited viewership. Limited sponsorship means limited funding to the tournament which in turn means limited prize money. Hence, a track and field athlete, a swimmer or a lawn tennis player find it difficult to have a steady income unless they have competed at the Olympic, Commonwealth or the Asiad level. The government does offer jobs through sports quota. However, these jobs are given to those who have achieved a certain distinction in their sport.
A Sportsperson should be given the deserved respect and recognition. Once the people at large become aware, start acknowledging and celebrating sportspersons and their achievements, the Indian mind-set regarding sports will evolve. Sports will, thus, be looked at more seriously and not just as a form of entertainment.
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