As the 2010s come to a close, we should celebrate a great decade for Indian sport and look forward to the 2020s
The 2010s began with a bang for Indian sport with its success at the 2011 Cricket World Cup, whose finals were held at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. The 2012 Summer Olympics held in London also saw India’s best-ever haul with six medals, albeit we finished without a Gold. Things have been a bit disappointing since then. While the Indian men’s cricket team tops the world rankings in Test series, it has faltered at the semi-final stages of the subsequent One-Day International World Cups and has also failed to win a second T20 World Cup to follow up from the 2007 win. However, the seismic impact of the 2007 win was felt in the creation of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which in the past decade has cemented its position as the leading franchise-based T20 tournament in the world. The Indian women’s team has also enjoyed great success over the past decade with their appearance in the finals of the International Cricket Council’s women’s World Cup. But while this decade has cemented the adage that “India is cricket and cricket is India”, it has also seen the emergence of new professional leagues that have enjoyed success as well as the rise of new champions in other sports. The premier Kabaddi League is a genuine success story, particularly in a traditionally Indian sport. On the flip side though, India’s failure to win both kabaddi Gold medals, particularly in the men’s competition at the 2018 Asian Games, can be attributed in part to the arrogance of newly-rich professional players. On the other hand, the emergence of champions like PV Sindhu has been a singularly impressive achievement. Her standing as World Champion must go down as India’s greatest sporting success in the past decade. Alongside Sindhu stands boxer Mary Kom, who despite age and motherhood, is still a champion though she ended the decade on a sour note. Dipa Karmakar’s heroic feat at the Rio Olympics, too, is noteworthy as was Sushil Kumar’s World Championship in 2010, which gave a fillip to wrestling that has been taken forward by the Phogat sisters.
However, not everything was a success. The response to the Indian Super League in football and the Hockey India League was tepid at the very least and miserable at worst. India’s reputation in certain sports, particularly weightlifting, has been tarnished, thanks to constant reports of serious doping. That said, drugs are an active problem throughout the world of sports. There have been serious issues with the Government’s ambition to clean up Indian sports federations from its political patronage. Much still needs to be done on this front if India is to achieve its potential in the world of sports — football being a particular case in point. India enjoyed some success in the previous decade. After climbing inside the top 100 rankings in the sport, it has seemingly frittered away some of those gains in the last 24 months. Can India finally make a mark in football? The 2020s will show the way. It is likely that an Indian-born player may make it big for a major team in Europe, which could finally crack the market. At the same time, special mention should be given to the “Khelo India” programme and the games that have been ushered under the Narendra Modi administration. A focus on sports under capable Ministers has meant that India is looking forward to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with a glimmer of hope previously unheard of. So much so that a double-digit haul is on the cards with Indian shooters, pugilists, wrestlers, badminton players and possible track and field athletes such as javelin ace Neeraj Chopra, all being in the race for medals. Expectations are that others will join Abhinav Bindra in the list of individual Indian Gold medallists. As for cricket, India has a packed year coming up. Will India finish the year as reigning ICC Test match champions? Can it make it count in the T20 World Cup to be held in Australia early next year? And where will the IPL and franchise cricket go in the coming months? Can other sports replicate the success of kabaddi? There are many questions that will be asked of Indian sports in the coming decade but we hope that whatever happens, it will only climb to heights never previously achieved.