Corporates must pump money into sport at grassroots level (Comment)

September 17th, 2008 - 11:27 am ICT by IANS  

Abhinav BindraSee what an Olympic medal can do for you. If it happens to be a gold medal it can even fetch you a doctorate from a university as it happened in the case of Abhinav Bindra in Chennai. Till only the other day the media didn’t think it worth its while talking to boxers or wrestlers. The Beijing bronze medals have changed all that. Now Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar are much sought after by camerapersons and reporters. Even those who didn’t win a medal, Akhil Kumar for one, are receiving flattering attention.Don’t be surprised if one fine evening, you find Vijender, endowed as he is with good looks, endorsing some product or the other provided it doesn’t breach any service rules of the Haryana police in which he is now a deputy superintendent. If he does, let’s hope he has the wisdom to choose the right kind of thing to endorse, something compatible with the image of his macho sport.

It would be churlish to grudge medal-winners individual accolades, promotions and awards in cash and kind. But, when Bindra urged on his return from Beijing that everybody get involved in a national endeavour to encourage Olympic sports disciplines he had something else in mind. He was looking far beyond individual awards.

A television channel has revealed the sorry state of facilities provided to the 300 plus boxers at the senior national championships at Bathinda. This barely three weeks after India won its first ever Olympic medal at Beijing. The living conditions at Bathinda were little better than in slums. All because there were no sponsors, as India’s national coach G.S. Sandhu said before the cameras, a view also endorsed by the boxing federation secretary Col. Murlidharan Raja.

If the Indian team at the last month’s Olympics could get the required international competitive exposure before Beijing it was only because of funds provided by the sports ministry. At the same time, promoting boxing and other Olympic sports at the grassroots level is as important as funding the specialised training of a few chosen ones. Where will the chosen ones come from if sport is not encouraged at the grassroots level, in the states and districts?

Suddenly, Bhiwani is in the news because of the boxers it has produced, including, Vijender and Beijing quarter-finalsits Akhil Kumar and Jitender Kumar. But even Bhiwani cannot boast of a decent enough modern boxing ring. What is true of Bhiwani is also the case with some other places. In fact, boxers, hardy people that they are, are known to come from unlikely places with no rings worth the name at all. There is little protection from rain even in the Bhiwani ring.

If Bhiwani has become a boxing hub it is because the tough Haryanvi can take it on the chin and give it back in good measure. But there are equally tough races elsewhere in the country, the men, also women, of the north-east for example. It is from there that boxers like Zoram Thanga and Dingko Singh have emerged, not to mention the world 48 kg women’s champion Mary Kom. It is in the ring that these people from humble homes find a means of self-expression with their fists. Importantly, the road to jobs also starts in the ring.

This is the time for corporates to do their duty by the talented sons of poor drivers and bus conductors and peasants and slum dwellers not only through sponsorships but also by creating infrastructure. It is a shame that events like national championships are so shabbily held for lack of sponsors at a time when the country is expecting its sportspersons to fetch a more respectable number of Olympic medals after the breakthrough three at Beijing.

(The writer is a veteran sports journalist and he can be reached at dattak2007@rediffmail.com)

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