Sports and the Indian Society

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 saying sports doesn’t provide for the family. While they eventually did accept her decision to pursue a career in sports, their concerns are not uncommon or unjustified. In the present Indian society, a career in sports isn’t encouraged. Sports, largely, is restricted to the living room of households and is 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 and 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 sports in the ancient Indian society. Ancient India practised popular Olympic sports such as Archery, Equestrian, Swimming, and Wrestling along with 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.

The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece in 1896. In the succeeding Games at Paris in 1900, Norman Pritchard, a track athlete born to British parents in Calcutta, represented ‘British India’ and finished second on the podium in the 200 metres and 200 metres hurdles. Pritchard is widely regarded as India’s first Olympic medallist owing to his connection to Calcutta and him representing ‘British India.’ India’s romance with Field Hockey followed Pritchard’s success. From 1928 until 1956, the India Field Hockey team remained unbeaten at the Olympic Games. The National Team secured top podium finishes in the 1964 and 1980 games as well. India’s laurels in Field Hockey were celebrated all over the country and made the game popular.
However, in 1971, a game invented and brought to India by the British, changed the face of sports in India for good.

Cricket wasn’t as celebrated as Field Hockey. However, two first time overseas victories against the then dominant West Indies and England made the Indian populace, at large, notice Cricket. India’s successive victories at home and overseas made the game increasingly well-liked by the masses. Around the same time, India’s dominance in Field Hockey started waning. India’s dramatic 1983 World Cup win in England, against the mighty West Indies made India rhapsodic. Cricketers became public figures and their professional, as well as personal lives, were followed closely. International Cricket tournaments were frequently played and India achieved success on numerous occasions. By late-1980s Cricket had assumed pole-position among the Indian masses. The glorious days of Field Hockey became a thing of the past. India’s Olympic acclaim was limited to participation. Accolades in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games were spoken of once every four years.

Cricket further asserted its supremacy in the Indian society over the succeeding decades. Increasing number of multination tournaments started happening. Certain tournaments like the World Championship, Sharjah Cup, a series against Pakistan among others were eagerly awaited. Victories were celebrated and defeats were often not taken in the best of spirits. People fasted and prayed with superlative devotion for India’s success on the cricket ground. Almost every individual became a self-appointed Cricket expert and voiced opinions on every move made by players on the field.

The present-day scenario of Cricket in the Indian society is no different. Cricket has become a religion that binds the entire nation together. The streets of India are devoid of life when India plays against Pakistan, a semi-final or a final. People, irrespective of their faiths, caste or creed, collectively cheer an Indian win or sigh in despair at an Indian defeat.

One would assume, that in a nation where people religiously follow a game, many would be willing and encouraged to pursue their career in sports. However, it 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 aren’t with flawed logic as they have sufficient evidence.

In the Indian society, the importance of education is emphasized upon as children grow. 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 sportspersons and their careers. 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 a deserving athlete losing the chance of competing at a major tournament. Those selected by the authorities may not be deserving enough yet 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, does 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 only to those who have achieved a certain distinction in their sport.

An athlete wholly invested in sports tends to leave academics aside. A career in sports has a short shelf life. One might actively be involved in sports till the 30th or even the 35th year of life. However, post-retirement there must be a steady income. For the select few who have achieved a high-standing in their sport, a steady income flows through the means of coaching assignments, government jobs and endorsements. However, for the majority, who have had an average career in their sport, find it difficult to work outside sport. Thus, an unsteady income becomes an encumbrance for those nurturing a career in sports.

India is a country of 1.2 billion people hailing from different social and economic strata. A common remark one often hears is that it is a shame that we have to content ourselves with a few medals in the Olympic Games. However, it is imperative that the masses in India realise that a career in sports isn’t the easiest of careers. A career in sports comes with its share of difficulties and challenges. One may find themselves at the zenith of their sport but fade into oblivion once they retire.

Sportspersons should be given the respect and recognition they deserve. Once the people become aware, start acknowledging and celebrating sports and its achievements, the Indian mindset regarding sports will evolve. Sports will, thus, be looked at more seriously and not just as a form of entertainment.

Picture Credits : nehruhockey

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