Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Do Indian sports deserve better treatment?

We had a big argument at work on whether India recognizes other sport equally compared to cricket. Agreed, Cricket is major sport in India, but are we not recognizing other sports even if they do good? Do you think Ranji and Duleep Tropies get crowds, even in Cricket mad cities? If you look closely, Cricket is not popular in India - it is patriotism that is popular. Did you see what national recognition a single Bronze medalist Malleshwari got after Sydney Olympics? Even the 11 Gold Medalist Phelps didn’t get that much even in his native Baltimore. Or how about Sania Mirza and Leander Paes? How many nations keep track and celebrate the 50th and 100th ranked Tennis players? Or how about legendary PT Usha and Milka Singh? How many nations make a national heroine out of an athlete who has not won an Olympic gold? And a lot of great players in other fields like Vishwanathan Anand and Narain Karthikeyan are very well recognized.

So, its untrue that we are not recognizing other sports, and we have some special affection towards cricket. Honestly we given other sports enough chance and most nations don’t recognize the bronze winners and 100th ranked players like we do. We are plain pathetic in most sports and people don’t want to keep seeing a losing home nation. Would Cricket be so much of fun if we have 75 to 100 nations play competitively? Would an Indian still watch the sport after being routinely drabbed by 50 other sides consistently? This hockey victory is good, but the performance over the last 50 years is not enough for something that is recognized as a National sport.

Look at India – most Indians don’t care about the game or its funky rules, they just want India to win. Whether you score a cover drive with a straight bat or an edge beaten clear by an outswing it doesn’t matter. For Indians, Cricket is kind of a pain releaser where they want to see their fragile nation win in something. If India were winning so much in Ice-hockey, maybe they would watch that . It doesn’t require great marketing (Indian athletics didn’t do much marketing before PT Usha’s Athletic prowess in the Asiad) - it just require quality stuff. Without quality stuff, in the long run, product wont sell and that’s what most sports are finding now.

Seriously, India is pretty pathetic in most sports and probably recognition is a bit to blame. But, looking at whole of South Asia, it is peculiar region in the world where all countries are poor in most sports (that’s why we have SAARC games as Morale events). Africa, North America, Europe, South America, East Asia, Middle east are all good in atleast a couple of sports and are fiery in it – Olympic medals and Soccer World Cups are a good indicator. May be some researcher should start exploring the genetic makeup to see, why a poor South American or an African with probably as bad facilities are able to play well, while South Asians are not .

And to add further proof (or flame) immigrant Indians who have settled in Europe and North America have excelled in almost all fields – from winning Oscars to becoming a deans at institutions like CMU and Kellogg to becoming powerful board-members of most Corporations. But, even among immigrant Indians and overseas born Indians (who are grown in the same environment as other ethnics) we don’t have top soccer players or F1 champions or Olympic winners.

So are we sure recognition is the most to blame? I’m not saying that something is written in our gene that is setting the Boolean value for Sports to FALSE. But, we must sincerely start looking in and find out what our real problems and how we can solve them. Probably there are unique issues in our social culture that are not valuing sports and economical conditions are forcing people out of sports. Still looking at our big North neighbor winning so much medals (the only field India is not competing with China) with similar social values and economical constraints, I’m pretty frustrated.