Let The Games Begin...

Courtesy - http://www.london2012.com
I am quite tired of reading and hearing the lines ‘1.2 Bn and we can’t produce medals’. Really. Every newspaper has comments of this nature. And I bet most of it is from people who are not fit enough to walk even 1 km without wheezing.

So let me start this blog by standing up and applauding each and every athlete of the Indian Olympic contingent. I don’t care if they’ve ‘crashed’ out of qualification rounds, or came last in the races. Compare them to their counterparts from around the world. It does not take a trained eye to see that our team is at a disadvantage when it comes to world-class training facilities, healthcare, access to sports science and technology, continuous training – and not to mention the non-existent social support, either from the media or from the general public. And despite such disadvantages, the fact that they are STILL able to stand in the middle of world stage by sheer dint of personal passion, determination and mental strength – well, surely, they deserve respect instead of derision.

Take for example Irfan Kolothum Thodi. In the Men’s 20 km Race Walk, he stood 10th. But look at the parameters closely. His timing was 1:20 :21. The winner – Ding Chen (China) set an Olympic record at 1:18:46. The world record stands at 1:17:16. By the way, Irfan set a new national record with his time – and I am not sure how many mainstream newspapers devoted at least a feature to him. In the world of athletics, yes, even seconds matter and a time difference of 2 minutes seems significant. But let also not forget that it means his training is going in the right direction and he is in touching distance of equalling the Olympic record in the near future.

Another example is Sudha Singh – our 3000m steeplechase athlete. Sudha stood 13th with a time of 9:48:86. The winning time was 9:24:91. The difference is a blink-of-an-eye 23:95 seconds. And yet, between Sudha and the winner Gesa, there were 12 others packed in this interval! Any true athlete will tell you that shaving off seconds from your best time takes tremendous changes in strategy, diet, fitness, regimen and relentless hours of training. Also consider the age factor. Sudha is 26 years. Gesa is 20 years. And at the end of the day – we are not just talking about running, we are talking about running AND clearing obstacles for a 3 km stretch. Look me in the eye and tell me you want to make fun of this national record holder because of her 13th place.

There are many who keep citing China’s medal factory as an example. Well, there is no polite way to say this...just shut up. The sacrifice that goes behind every Chinese medal is not just blood and tears – but entire childhoods. The sacrifice that the State demands is mindboggling. Depending on the potential, athletes are picked up young...as young as 7 - 10 years and put into almost military-style sports schools. The training schedule is relentless and punishing – not to mention the children are allowed extremely limited contact with family members lest they get distracted. There is something very unnerving when the State literally owns an individual and dictates the person’s life. So just stop taking China as an example.

But there are other things we have to learn from China. Their focus on sports, and the way they have turned sports into a soft-power Chinese brand is formidable. They know their strengths and weaknesses. They know they cannot scale up in athletics – competing with the Kenyans, Ethiopians and Jamaicans has become a near impossible task. But their strength lies in their innate sense of precision and grace. They are superb when it comes to aquatics and gymnastics and that’s where they’ve had their gold rush.

More than anything, it was interesting to see that ALL coaches in the Chinese team were ...well, Chinese. At least so far, I’ve not spotted any foreigner. This gives us a glimpse of the Chinese sporting machinery. Clearly, their investment into sports has been significant. From ensuring their coaches are world-class, to the cutting edge training facilities – and eventually their investment into research and development is paying rich dividends. Above all, the State seems to hold an iron-grip on every aspect. This means the accountability of a win or a loss is high – someone has to answer for the results.

But in India, on paper every possible provision has been made to ensure we develop best-in-class athletes. But red-tape, politics, lack of accountability and corruption effectively prevents our athletes from realizing their full potential. Moreover, at the governance level, matters of national pride, prestige and image are non-negotiable in China. In India – the less said, the better.

Unlike China, we have an autonomous system of developing athletes. While the Sports Authority of India is responsible for the governance aspects; it is really the independent National Sports Federation setups that take care of the operational aspects – the coaching of athletes, hiring good coaches, drawing up training and competition schedules and so on. In this setup, autonomy if applied well can produce stellar results; but it also means reduced accountability. Not to mention, it gives rise to power politics. The focus on the athlete is lost.

There are a total of 62 sports federations in India, and each of them run on their own budget – grants given by the government, and perhaps private sponsors. So to answer the question ‘Why we have limited medal winners’ – you must read the document ‘Scheme for Preparation of Indian Team for Commonwealth Games 2010’. This was drafted in 2009.

The existing problems of Indian athletes illustrated in this document are tragically fundamental in nature. For example –

• No continuous training available; so athletes cannot benchmark and improve on their personal bests.

• Lack of dietary supplements – this is so essential!

• Lack of skilled coaches

• ...and many other extremely basic necessities required to enable an athlete are not in place.

So you can imagine...even as recently as 2010, we are talking about fundamental requirements to be put into place. Is it lack of funds? Not at all. For example, in order to encourage potential athletes at grass-root level, the Government has a scheme called Panchayat Yuva Kreeda aur Khel Abhiyan (PYKKA). Under this scheme, as the name suggests, every recognised village panchayat and block panchayat is given sports infrastructure grants. This is disbursed through the state governments. Take a look at the funds -

2011-2012 – Rs.165 crores.

2010-2011 – Rs.260 crores

2009-2010 – Rs.105 crores

2008-2009 – Rs.84 crores

So between 2008 and 2012, i.e in 4 years the funds released towards infrastructure grants at the village level is Rs.614 crores. Considering the fact that government schools in many villages don’t even have basic facilities such as furniture, toilets, libraries – it is anybody’s guess how much of this money is actually going towards building playgrounds or sports complexes for young athletes. In fact, what percentage of this money is reaching the intended hands will remain a mystery.

In 2008-2009, the budget allotted to Sports was Rs.3315.67 crores, and in 2009-2010, thanks to CWG, the budget allocation was Rs.3670.13 crores. In 2010-2011, the budget allocation was Rs.1121 crores. So in a matter of 4 years, a sum of Rs 8106 crores has been set aside only for Sports and related departments. So funds are not an issue.

But where is all this money going? Even if we assume some percentage is being diverted to personal wallets, I believe a significant amount is just stuck - because of bureaucracy, because of projects never taking off and above all because of an inefficient, lazy babudom that couldn’t care less.

But to give the Government credit – possibly encouraged by a surprise shower of medals in Beijing, a sum of around Rs. 10-11 crores was set aside for the training of potential medal winners, in preparation for London Olympics. In the past one year, most of them have indeed travelled abroad and received training under international experts. But in my opinion, while this is great, it is a case of too little too late. The training these athletes have received in this past one year should continue more as a routine, than as a ‘top-up’ afterthought. Also, this haphazard releasing of funds is not a good strategy. If we need to look at a good medal haul for 2016 and 2020 Olympics, we have to start training potential performers as young as 10-11 starting now.

Above all, the government can only do so much. In order to become a world class athlete, one has to sacrifice normal life and start young. Many international athletes who are groomed young do not undergo traditional schooling. Their schedules are gruelling to say the least. Moreover athletic career is short-lived; although the glory is great. We need to ask ourselves if we are willing to make that choice for our children. How many parents will give up the BE, MBBS, IAS, MBA dream and allow their child to focus only on a sport that is not even remotely connected to cricket? The answer is very, very, very few.

So let’s just put our hands together for those who chose differently, boldly. And stop whining.

© Sumana Khan - 2012

Comments

  1. I standup and put my hands together for you, my dear lady. What a wonderful wonderful post. Made me tear up a little bit. Excuse my emotional self if you will. And you do so much homework for all your posts, it is amazing. Absolutely agree with each and everything you said. All athletes deserve to be respected, win or loss notwithstanding. And about the worm called bureaucracy which is eating up this nation from within, the less said the better. Because I'm kind of sick a tired of it. However, mindsets and interests of people are chainging. I've heard conversations about games other than cricket and tennis. I've seen people checking Olympics schedules curiously to see if they can fit in some games into their day. It is a good sign. Things are surely changing as far as support from crowd goes. Slowly, yes, but surely. Media has gone to dogs, I've stopped caring about what they say. I'm waiting for the day when blogs become mainstream medium for news. And again, you, lady, have such a terrific knack of writing kickass posts. I hope it is contagious. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Coffee :)

      // I'm waiting for the day when blogs become mainstream medium for news.// I absolutely agree! news by/of/for/from the people directly!

      Delete
  2. I agree. We cannot compare us with the top ten nations at Olympics. The question seems so stupid. You really cannot use a country's population to prove your point. More people more medals? If that was the case then we would have been the most intelligent country in the world because more people means more brains, and then we would not have been asking such questions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. //If that was the case then we would have been the most intelligent country in the world because more people means more brains// still laughing at this!

      Delete
  3. Our team members certainly deserve accolades.... it is the govt which deserves brickbats for not providing enough facilities for sportsmen to train, because of which we don't compare to athletes from so many other countries.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. Actually for atheletics we are so well suited for training. We have tropical climate and our geo is multi-terrain. Just need right facilities...

      Delete
  4. I am so glad somebody wrote/said this.
    *stands up and applauds*

    Before we point one finger at others, why don't we realize that the remaining fingers are pointing towards ourselves? For a nation crazy about cricket, where media, society, funding etc. are all inclined towards that, do we even think about the kind of (non)support that we are extending towards other sports? I mean seriously! Then why are we expecting miracles?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Ashwathy! Yes...I get so irritated when someone criticises just for the sake of saying something mean...when they make sure their kid's schedule is well-packed with tuitions, tuitions and more tuitions.

      Delete
    2. Even in cricket, there is no good facility which grooms the children. There are some cricket academy. They have coach and conduct matches between academy and take fees for each match. They ask children of 8-9 year old to be a captain and like real match captain get to decide. So he and his friend/friends get to do bowling,batting and fielding!! Others just stand. My son was 6th down or something. He was praying his team members get out so that he gets to play!! Basically, cricket is very popular sport. Children love to play cricket. Even parents don't mind their children playing and spending money. But what is happening is exploitation.

      Latha

      Delete
    3. Latha...it looks like if not anything, they teach children favouritism and politics at a young age!

      Delete
    4. That's terrible :-( What's the point of teaching kids to play like that? What kind of adults would they turn out to be???

      Delete
  5. Very good post. If these men/women are in this olympics stage, it is inspite of government. It is only becasueof their passion for the game and talent they developed because of passion.

    Latha

    ReplyDelete
  6. Welcome to Kaapizone Latha :) I agree with what you say...so true.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Very well researched,kudos!

    Another very interesting article I read recently

    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/08/neither-the-will-nor-the-cash-why-india-wins-so-few-olympic-medals/260693/

    The western media seems more perceptive that our media at times:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Arumugam :) The link was interesting. 'Effectively participating population' - yes..this is bang on target.

      Delete
  8. A wonderful post. Applause! Applause! Some people think they are the authority on anything and everything and love point out the negative side of things. And then, there are people like you who love to give them a tight slap on their face. :-)
    May I share this on my FB page?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Dreamgirl. Please do share :)

      Delete
  9. Impressively written.The amount of research that has gone into the article shows.
    I have another problem to highlight though. What about the effect of media on young minds? As far as I know apart from Cricket or football, there's hardly any sport that enjoys so much media attention. I order for the children to take interests in athletics and other such sports, they need to be routinely fed a dose of these through media. Just the way Chocos advts create a craving for chocos, a hunger for fitness and sports must be created in kids. Parents obviously play a major role in these things. They should encourage children to watch sports and participate rather than watching worthless 20-20 Gully-level cricket played by international cricketers. Sorry to spew so much venom for cricket, but I would have loved to watch if it still had the spirit left in it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I completely agree. I've never been a fan of cricket; and somehow now it has become sleazy to say the least. In fact our media is so pathetic, the less said the better. We don't have any local channels dedicated to sports, science & technology and even history. All channels have disgusting soaps, and a despicable focus on all things bollywood.

      Delete
  10. There is another angle to the parents desires. India is a country of millions of middle class people. Education is the key to financial stability.

    The countries who produce great athletes also have systems that respect achievement in sports and provide an environment where former medallists can go back and get an education or leverage that achievement to get into a great college or seek a lucrative livelihood- In India such opportunities are lacking and therefore parents seek the safe, tried and tested method - which has been successful in the past decade in helping to catapult many a family of modest means to comfortable or luxurious lives.

    It is easy to blame parents for being tuition oriented . But who can blame them for wanting an assured source of revenue and a comfortable life for their children? After all Beggars cannot be choosers... with no social security, scholarship backup, it is a hard decision to commit to such a huge step where the odds of success are so slim and the support infrastructure is so shaky.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am not blaming parents. I am merely pointing out the reasons why we cannot have world-class atheletes. All I am saying is let us not pull down those who have made sacrifices, and risked all the security you've mentioned to do something different.

      But let me point out that we have sports quota is all universities. All nationilised banks and government sectors have sports quotas. State governments also recognise winning athelets with sites in prime locations. The problem has always been corruption.

      Delete
  11. Loved this post Moonbeam! In addition, Ok, we (majority) suck at sports... what's the big deal?!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL! Yes...'we are like this only' syndrome :)

      Delete
  12. Just want to add, society in India doesn't really support going into sports as a career... everyone's parents wants their son/daughter to become an engineer/doctor/architect e.t.c. Sports aren't seen as a stable career option.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes...I agree (of course with the exclusion of cricket)!

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts