As shown by the ongoing Asian Games, Indian sports are finally ready for a rejig by removing its cricket-only tag.
Anyone who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, in the pre-television era, would vividly remember the modulated voice of Sushil Doshi, unarguably India’s first and finest Hindi cricket commentator. Cricket, which was a like a religion for the nation, was infused with rare elegance of style and speed of Doshi. By the end of the century, when television replaced radio in India’s drawing rooms, new voices of the likes of Harsha Bhogle, Ravi Shastri and Sanjay Manjrekar came to the fore and cricket reigned supreme. In the 21st century, even though the style and substance of the game changed dramatically, cricket remained the lord of Indian sports. The 2018 Asian Games seems to have changed this DNA of a cricket-obsessed nation, finally.
It goes to the credit of Prime Minister Modi who acknowledged and celebrated each and every victory of an Indian in the ongoing Asian Games. This has had a spiraling effect. Hitherto unknown athletes were catapulted into national limelight with the mainstream media exalting the virtues of the winners. People like this writer, who knew nothing of sports other than a square cut and googly, were educated on the merits of sprinting and heptathlon. Social media enthusiasts rejoiced with each medal India won. Sports like wushu, sepak takraw and kurash entered into the lexicon of Indian households. A country, where forgotten, non-cricket sporting legends made headlines only when found selling tea or ploughing a field for livelihood, woke up to a new culture of recognition and celebrations.
Call it a paradigm cultural shift or what you may, this augurs well for India, which despite making progress on many counts, has been left wanting in the field of sports. It would be naive not to acknowledge the role of the state in giving this much-needed spurt to sports. Those who mocked at the idea of ‘Khelo India’, sat down and took note at this new burst of excellence by Indian sportspersons. A large number of young athletes, including teenagers, have won many medals, and that’s a heartening trend, which Union Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore termed a “generational shift.”
What has also been pleasing is the emergence of many players from smaller towns, Tier II and III cities, who have made it to the podium. Rathore says, on the personal intervention of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the system has been made more robust and transparent, and one which provides opportunity to everyone. The Khelo India School Games (KISG) has earned good results. The Government also runs a programme called the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme to support the athletes. The programme is designed for seamless and holistic support to athletes in the form of infrastructure, coaches, trainers and competitive environment.
Incidentally, ‘Khelo India’ or the National Programme for Development of Sports, draws inspiration in respect of organisation of competitions from Khel Mahakumbh, organised annually by the Government of Gujarat. Khel India is designed to develop sports infrastructure in both rural and urban areas, and provides for not only identification of talent but has been guiding and nurturing them through assistance to Sports Authority of India Training Centres and Academies besides State Government training centres.
The system is working and delivery is amplified by results and an all-pervading enthusiasm. On August 29, the Prime Minister posted a tweet summarising the sporting achievements: “I salute all those who have represented India in various sporting events. Their hard work and resolve has led to several milestones. This year has been great for our sporting fraternity, with the Indian athletes excelling in various tournaments including #AsianGames2018 and CWG.” Till August 30, it was liked by a staggering 25,000 people, and retweeted 5,000 times.
Looks like achhe din for Indian sports has arrived, and we are finally set to alter the cricket-only-nation tag. While pro-active policies of the Government, and a sportsperson as the Sports Minister certainly helped, I am tempted to highlight the role of popular culture in igniting this enthusiasm and appreciation of other sports. In last few years, we have seen many inspiring films, including Goal, Kai Po Che, Budhia Singh: Born to Run, Chak De India, Brothers, Mary Kom, Sultan, Dangal, and Gold. These films, featuring Bollywood’s super stars, including, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar, have brought to fore the unheard sides of non-cricketing sports. They have struck a rare rapport with the audience and educated us on the triumphs or tribulations of India’s numerous unsung heroes.
It’s heartening that the Prime Minister has started to celebrate these heroes. This has a message for millions of our youngsters across the country who are working very hard and are aspiring to make a cut in sports. The stories of the likes of Hima Das and Swapna Barman, who came from a modest background, yet dared to dream and overcame all odds to rise to the top, should inspire everyone. Prime Minister Modi has excited the nation to the idea of a brave new India that dares to dream, and achieve.
Writer: Navneet Anand
Courtesy: The Pioneer