Thursday, February 11, 2010

SPORTS AND INDIAN SOCIETY-Special article, Prof.K.Nageshwar

The land of Arjuna and Ekalavya, the greatest sports men of epic age is certainly now not a force to reckon with in the world of sport. However, the disparaging performance of Indian sports in international events and the concern and criticism surrounding it is nothing new. But what disturbs many sports lovers and planners is the fact that this performance has either declined or not improved over a period of time. The reasons for such a sad state of affairs lie in the nature of sports planning, administration, culture and policy premises.

The decline in performance is evident from the medals.Though the medals tally is not the only indicator, it is certainly a signal for declining standards of Indian Sports. The medals tally over a relatively longer time frame of nearly one and a half decade suggest a deepening crisis plaguing Indian Sport. Barring a few miracles here and there, the standards of Indian sports are far from satisfactory.

Bureaucratic rigmarole, administrative ambiguity, political intervention, corruption, gladiatorial approach, emphasis on extravagance, failure to universalize sports and absence of a healthy sports culture etc are some of the pertinent reasons for this state of affairs.

Lack of Concern

Issues related to politics and economics often concern the nation. Failure to effectively project national interests in an international forum or inadequate export performance form political issues for national agenda or parliamentary debate. Unfortunately, the sports performance hardly from part of such an agenda so that the policies can be altered. If at all there is any debate on sports, it is confined to discussion on grants to the sports ministry or event oriented discussion.

Serious concern was evoked over India’s disparaging performance at Seoul Asiad in 1986. the sad state of sport in India was discussed even in Parliament. The chairman of the committee that looked into state of India sport, Dr. Amrik Singh remarked that Indian sports needs nothing less than a complete over haul.

Craze for Extravagance

Indian sports administrators lay more emphasis on extravagant activities and the publicity that such things being to them rather than showing any interest in upgrading the sporting talent. Tournaments and contests with a great fan-fare often take a front seat. Even for corporate bodies entering into this have a craze for publicity-blitz contests for obvious reasons. The corporate participation is driven by advertising interests than sincere commitment to enhance the standards of Indian sports. Some major corporate organizations and celebrities conducted Cricket tournaments which attracted world-wide attention. It is not to denigrate their effort but it remains a fact that the contribution of this industrial groups to either Cricket or chess or for that matter any other sport was negligible.

The classic case in point was that of the criticism over Indian hosting Asiad in 1982 and bidding for Olympics venue subsequently. It was estimated that about Rs.1000 crore were spent on conducting Asiad 1982. The argument of the critics was that the same money if spent on improving sports facilities and standards, it would have brought much more glory for the country

Bureaucracy takes heavy toll

The developments subsequent to 1982 Asiad heralded a new phase in the history of Indian sports. Jawaharlal Nehru out door and Indira Gandhi indoor stadia were built to conduct Asian games. The government of India later set up Sports Authority of India (SAI) to look after these stadia in the future. Though it was meant for the maintenance of these two stadia, the SAI did not confine them. Due to wrong policies, all powers regarding sports administration and development have been bestowed on SAI. Thus, the SAI transformed into a powerful body where all powers concentrated. Bureaucracy crept into the system killing the much needed creativity to develop sports. This bureaucracy later took a heavy toll of Indian sports planning during the subsequent years.

The conflict arose between the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the already existing National Institute of Sports (NIS). There was no clarity on the responsibilities. Powers and the work of these two parallel national level bodies presiding over the destiny of India sport.

The committee appointed by Rajiv Gandhi government beaded by Arjun Singh recommended clear work division between SAI and NIS.

No accountability

The Arjun Singh committee recommended review of the functioning of NIS and SAI after the end of the Seventh Plan. But, no such attempt was made till now. As a result of the inordinate delay in reversing their functioning, accountability suffered. Besides, corrupt practices and swindling of financial resources have also taken their toll. For instance, there are reports that Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium has developed cracks and is leaking within ten years after its construction. If this is the fate of such a prestigious construction, one can expect the fate of the construction of several sports complexes in different parts of the country.

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in its report has strongly indicated the SAI for its functioning and also for its functioning and also for bungling of resources. The CAG in its report of June 1994 remarked that the SAI authorities have swindled resources by purchasing the lousy quality sports material unaccounting the expenditure on the pretext of gifts to sports persons for their achievements and also for equipment and sports material worth lakhs lying unused.

Political influence

Politicians are after appointed to head the sports bodies. This creates an unhealthy situation. Politics also play a role in the selection of players for all events at different levels. The conflict between two politicians for the post of the chairman of Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has even spilled into court rooms defaming the India sport.

With the political culture permeating sports, identification of talent is often played by parochial considerations rather than independent judgment. Consolidation and retaining of power assumes paramount importance rather than the development of sports in this situation. Favoritism, nepotism, regionalism and such partisan considerations disillusion genuine and talented sports persons.

Sports culture need for change

Apart from the drawbacks at the policy level, several aspects of prevailing sports culture in India are also hindering the progress of Indian sport to effect a qualitative change in the performance.

Physical education and sports are yet to become an integral part of modern child’s life, despite several pronouncements that physical education will be a mandatory part of syllabi in Indian educational instructions. Several practical considerations are also preventing such an enforcement. The NCERT sample survey revealed that about 60 to 70 per cent schools in the country do not have proper play grounds. This percentage will increase in the future due to mushrooming of private educational institutions.

Thus sports are being separated from modern child’s life. There is also a tendency to consider sports and studies as mutually exclusive. Such a feeling is strongly evident among middle class parents who aspire high achievement rates for their children. Instances of few sports persons neglecting their studies is reinforcing this tendency. The feeling that the participation in sports costs their education that to be dispelled.

The archaic social values have turned out to be a major impediment in develop in sports especially among girl childs. Parents would feel proud to send their daughters to a bharata natyam class. But they would hesitate and even prevent their daughters from practicing gymnastics or Volley ball coaching. Most of the outdoor games are considered as an exclusive privilege of males only. Girls, sitting in their her drawing rooms and watching on the small screen Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza or William sisters playing may dream of becoming one such celebrity. But the social value system forbids them to emulate these sports personalities. This masculine outlook towards sports is proving to be catastrophic for the development of sportswomen.

Sports in present day India seem to be urban based. It should not be forgotten that people who brought glory to India, right from hockey wizard Dhyanchand to flying Sikh Milkha Singh to sprint queen P T Usha and some other like Limba Ram, Lalchand Meena, Malleswari etc are from rural or tribal areas. Programmes must be designed so as to fan out and scout for talent in every nook and corner of India and nurture it.

Due to gladiatorial approach, sports sector is plagued by lack of adequate financial resources. Even these meager resources are eaten away by extravaganza and for training people for international contests where India mostly comes a cropper. None can deny the importance of such a training. But, it remains a fact that no nation can create islands of quality. It is the mass accessibility and participating that would produce highly talented players.

The sports policy should, therefore, emphasis on encouraging such a mass participation. When small countries like Bulgaria and Rumania can do well, why can’t a gigantic nation like India do the same is a question which policy planners must address themselves to. The stories of Arjuna or Ekalavya or the tradition of Yoga constitute examples of sports ethos of India.

Poverty is the foremost reason for lack of sport talent in India. Even children born into middle classes suffer from malnutrition. By the time they reach state or national level despite so many odds, they are incapable of competing at international level since most of the sports are physically exerting and the physical constitution of our sport persons is not able to withstand that for longer durations. This is because at the growing stage lack of proper diet had made them physically underdeveloped. Thus in spite of inherent talent and natural skills we are losing out at international level. For example, India consecutively won gold medals in hockey in Olympics of 50s and 60s. But with the changed format emphasis had to be more on physical play rather than artistic stick work. The result is all too evident now.

Earlier, newspaper hawkers and milk vendors were used to be seen on the roads in the early hours of the day. Now, boys and girls are seen hurrying up to their tuition classes whichgoes on for hours together. In such a situation, even if one is interested, he or she can not spend considerable time in playing games and sports. Parents and college managements do not spare even their vacations in the name of special classes or revision classes. These developments are stifling individual initiative and costing dearer to Indian sports.

There is an argument that universalisation or mass accessibility to sports can not be achieved in a developing country like India due to resource constant. It is certainly true. But it is also true that such a goal can not be wished only. Therefore the need is to make parallel efforts for universalisation of sports on oneside and identification and nurturing of special talent should continue simultaneously.

The exorbitant prices of sports material is making it a class privilege. In a country like erstwhile Czechoslovakia tennis balls used to be highly subsidized. The cost of tennis balls in India is more than ten times the cost in Czechosloavakia. Such subsidies played a significant role in Czechoslovakia producing top stars Martina Navratlova, Ivan Lendl or Hana Mandlikova.

Many lucrative incentives are being offered to top sports persons. But, such incentives are not there at middle and lower level, baring few preferences here and there in jobs or educational institutions.

Yet another factor drawing youth from sports is that of education becoming a merely job seeking exercise leaving virtually no time for any other extra-curricular activities. Sports culture in India is not so well developed as in West where people watch hours on end their favourite sports glued to their television sets. When the viewer ship is so high naturally the corporate sector will not be found wanting to sponsor the events or even employing sport persons to endorse their products, in which case sports as a career will be highly rewarding. Unfortunately such a situation does not exist in India.

India sport also suffered a lot due to lack of killer instinct in players. Many a times it has been observed that Indian players have last from seemingly winning positions. More over Indian sports persons feel satisfied once they reach the national level. That all consuming urge or passion to be at the top of the world is rarely seen among them.

Another facet of contemporary sports culture is the increasing spectator attitude rather than a desire to play. The television boom is also partly contributing to this trend. The interest in sports is also being killed due to absence of proper play grounds. With the growth in urbanization, there is a real estate boom. As a result open spaces and play grounds have became scarce commodities. There is a legislation protecting the open spaces in the West. Though India too has legislative protection as usual it founders in implementation.


There is a potential which is not being exploited. Unless, there is an impressive performance, sports will not became a priority sector. Indian sport is stewing in its own juice. Only a healthy sports culture can bail out the country from this situation.

Such a task can not be fulfilled by only government. The corporate participation in sports is marginal. In an era of economic liberalization the corporate sector should actively involve in the development of sports.

Apart from this, several policy initiatives are also vital for bringing glory to Indian sports. They include elimination of bureaucracy, corruption, bringing professionalism in sports administration, encouraging mass accessibility to sports, physical education should be made compulsory. Legal protection should be given to open spaces and playgrounds against possible encroachment Identification and development of talent should be continuous and unending process. A comprehensive sports policy should replace the present fire-fighting exercise approach.

It is therefore, became a matter of great concern that a premier organization like SAI which was supposed to identify and nurture the talent has stooped down to the level of a refugee and rehabilitation centre for ex-servicemen.

The secretary of department of sports in government of India also holds an additional responsibility as the director general of the SAI. As a result of the enormous work burden he carries as secretary, be can hardly concentration the SAI. The secretary thus became the most powerful mean.

Democratic decision making has becomes a rare feature. Even this all powerful secretary is usually not a sport person. People drawn form central services hold this responsibility


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