Isn’t it time to invest in Indian sportspersons? (Comment)

December 7th, 2010 - 11:54 am ICT by IANS  

Pratibha Patil By Sanjiv Kataria
Amid all the negative news of corruption, scams and tape leaks over the last few weeks there was some cheer in the performance of the Indian squad in Guangzhou, where young athletes competed, won medals and received a rousing welcome on their return home. The homecoming - from Gurusarsahai and Bhiwani in the north to Calicut and Chalakudy in the south; from Savpada in the west to Ratu Chati in the east - was euphoric.

The state governments showered the winning athletes with cash rewards and some even dug up family backgrounds to establish a remote connection with their state. The Haryana government not only awarded the coaches but went a step ahead to announce cash grants of Rs.51 lakh, Rs.31 lakh and Rs.21 lakh for developing the villages where the Guangzhou winners hailed from.

It’s no secret that a large number of these sportspersons are employed with Indian Railways, the Indian Armed and Police Forces, PSU giants like SAIL and corporate houses like the Tatas.

But chances are that their talent was discovered and nurtured by an odd sports enthusiast or a coach in the deep interiors of the country. If these organisations had chosen not to support these sportspersons our sports track record may have been even more dismal.

Two sporting events held in the last 60 days got India 165 medals or one sixth of the nearly 1,000 medals won by India, till date, in Olympics, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games put together.

Is there is a method or process to uncover and nurture sporting talent in the country? While the work done by sporting academies set up by legends like Prakash Padukone, Pulella Gopichand and Viswanathan Anand and others is praiseworthy it does not even touch the tip of the iceberg.

For a country that represents 16 percent of the world population, there is no reason why every sixth medal should not come from here. While we have hundreds of stories of Indian athletes training in adverse conditions and winning acclaim in the global sports arena, the issue really is whether we as a nation have an aspiration to fire up sportspersons to breast the finish line first.

Aspiration alone is not enough. We also need to provide respiration for the sportspersons, both existing and budding. The respiration needs to come in the form of the meritorious getting an opportunity in an environment that is not polluted by sports administrators, politicians and self-appointed sports lovers.

The last is perspiration that comes in the form of rigorous training - physical, emotional and psychological - and opportunities to test, compare and benchmark oneself against the best in the world. And then comes the time to look at rewards.

While all of us want our loved ones to be doctors, engineers and space scientists, how many of us can put our hands on our hearts and say, “I shall train my eldest child to be an ace swimmer and the younger one to be the Flying Sikh of the 21st century”.

We need to go the distance, beyond giving a ticket collector’s job in the railways or a sub inspector’s job in the police to a medal winner. While India bids to host the Asiad and the Olympics, I would propose that Pratibha Patil as the president of India launch a scheme to build India as the next sporting nation.

We need to identify those who have won medals in global competitions in the last 10 years and give them a grant of a million dollars a year for the next 10 years. Their mandate will be to develop a culture of sports in their community, identifying and nurturing talent and bringing them up to global standards.

For the critics, here are some numbers - a grant of a million dollars a year for the next 10 years to 1,000 sportspersons, who are world beaters like Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom or Krishna Poonia, will be half the money the country spent on CWG 2010.

Let them use this money to set up 1,000 centres of excellence in sports. Don’t ask the sportspersons questions on how the money is being spent, cut the administrative procedures to the minimum, entrust the CAG to draft a policy that is humane and set the ball rolling. Don’t discriminate between a wrestling player or a golfer, or an archery expert and a kho kho player. For today, we have an Indian sporting community that is upbeat, charged and raring to pole vault new heights.

(07-12-2010 - Sanjiv Kataria can be contacted at sanjiv.kataria@gmail.com)

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