A Leap Yearly Affair

It happens every leap year without fail. There is a sinking feeling, a feeling of great shame. As the second most populous nation in the world marches into the Olympic arena along with every other countries (some hitherto unheard of), the Indian in me cowers. I know of the feeble attempt we will manage, and feel terribly sorry to see the tiny contingent who has made it to the Games.

What do we lack?

Political will for sure. The making of Sports as an industry for another. Sports have to be made enticing enough to want to make people pursue them as a career. The prime-time in the life of an athlete is a short span, and if the industry surrounding this spurt does not sustain such talented individuals, few people would make the choice. There have to be careers for those who excel – as trainers, as team co-ordinators, as people who can be given the responsility to contributing to decisions in ways that touch not just their lives, but those of others who have the honor of representing the country. Cricket has achieved that, and I think it should be the same for other arenas too.

My husband and I were chatting about this, and one viable option would be to have a roadmap to win 5 medals in the next Olympics, and then make a career path for aspiring athletes. Make the infrastructure ready and available, hone skills and inspire people to succeed.

It is not difficult to achieve once the commitment is made, just difficult to overcome the reluctance to commit.

10 thoughts on “A Leap Yearly Affair”

  1. Saumya

    IMHO, political will is useless. The only will we need is our clowns to get out of the way. And privatize every branch of sports and infrastructure.

    Dissolve the sports ministry and get out of the way. Let private investment take over the stadia, let them manage it, run annual events, collect revenues and select the olympics team.

    I bet you we will produce enough medal winning athletes. The China model won’t work for the Indian bureaucracy – the US model will.

    If you see just about every success in the Indian sports arena, it has been private body driven – places where the government got out of the way.

    Of course, none of these clowns will give up their power and get out of the way.

    PS: If you are wondering, my political leanings are libertarian :).

  2. Anand, I sort of agree to the private enterprise part of it. Don’t you think that will be achieved by making sports an industry by itself? But there has to be a starting point, and that is infrastructure. The government can at least show its commitment by starting there, and then step aside for private enterprise to take over. Pretty much, in Cricket, that is what seems to have happened right?

  3. Well, in Cricket, there wasn't an industry. BCCI is unrelated to the Government [other than the fact that politicians run it now]. It is an independent organization which builds and maintains the stadiums.

    It receives no Government funding [other than land in prime locations] – everything else is managed by the BCCI. So, I am not sure if you want to call it an 'industry' – it so happened that it created the 'industry' around it – but it has no Government intervention or appeal.

    Infrastructure too – Government will mess up. Consider the by-pass road in Coimbatore, created and maintained by L&T. Private companies have a vested interest in making sure infrastructure projects succeed. If private companies owned and ran stadiums, they will make sure they make a profit out of it – which will include leagues and meets for athletics, track and field and so on. They will use all the tricks to attract eyeballs and earn revenue, ala IPL.

    At least that is what happens in the US, and it seems to work. India has tried the Chinese route of government sponsored and controlled olympic committee and such – we know that it doesn't work.

  4. I didn’t know that the stadiums were BCCI owned – I thought they were owned by the Govt, but BCCI was a private body!

    As for Abhinav Bindra, I realised that he had financial backing from Mittal Group. That explains a lot!

    Archana: I agree with your thoughts. We should try our luck in areas like weight lifting, shotput throw etc where it is relatively less glamourous, but good chances of gettng a medal.

  5. I am sure this topic is discussed in Indian forums at least once in past week.

    Everyone knows that the sole gold medal did not came because of infrastructure but inspite of it.

    But I see a new hope with the boost in economy in general, youngsters are not so hooked on being a software engineer. For them, it seems to me at least, it is just another means to make money. Children of this generation will have lesser will to achieve financial security (as we did) and MAY have more free spirit.

    “Hope is a good thing”, Shawshank redemption!

  6. I think the term “infrastructure” is overhyped… There are lots of sports where infrastructure is not a necessity… A lot of track and field events, in my opinion does not require much infrastructure… ( I think most decent schools have a good playground…).. I think the same is true for sports like swimming… In my opinion, the real problem is the average indian’s balance of education/career and sports… Trying to be risk averse by trying to get the best of all worlds… And, the very few who take the extra effort and risk are the ones we really see… Unless, we evolve as a system (privatisation looks appealing), there is not much that’s going to happen, except that, we will talk about it during the next olympics..:)

  7. @mindframes

    I thought about this quite a bit. I think you are wrong. Infrastructure does not mean just the practice facilities.

    Let us take swimming for instance. You need great swimming pools, researchers who understand fluid dynamics, companies that excel in fluid dynamics and continuously push their R&D to develop better swim suits, private companies that are willing to fund swimmers during their training and great universities that are willing to hire such swimmers into their program and nurture them so when they are in their mid 20s – they have a post swimming career in place.

    This is a heady concoction – which is available may be in the G7 countries of the world. Of course, I was surprised to see Coventry is Zimbabwean [of course she spent her last 6 years in Auburn.

    Cavic is Serbian only for olympics. He is a thoroughbred Californian. The other great swimmers from the non G7 countries seem to have gone to Ann-Arbor or Cal.

    Basically at this level of competition where the difference between #1 and #10 is less than half a second – infrastructure is EVERYTHING.

    I can extend this argument to Track and Field as well. San Jose Mercury News carried a story about why Jamaicans rule in Track and Field – it went back nearly 40 years to SJSU. Their athletic program took nearly 30 years to start yielding results. Of course a lot of the research support I mention is now available to those athletes too, who also train a lot in the US.

    If anything, I am totally convinced that to be anywhere near the top in any of these competitions, you better have the entire infrastructure to support you.

    When would India grow enough to create such support? Not anytime soon I think. If someone spent $200m to build a fantastic T&F center or a swim center – imagine the ruckus it would create right now. Only when the basic needs of the common man are met, can and will India think of esoteric acts such as excelling in sports come into being.

    Yes, there are random acts of individual brilliance that bring medals to much smaller countries – which will happen in India too. But as a system that generates medal winning athletes olympics after olympics – I would be very surprised if I saw it happen in our lifetime.

  8. @anand: I said, infrastructure is overly hyped and I still hold to that argument. As you rightly said, it is an entire mix of highly skilled trainers, being part of best teams, being constantly challenged to perform well, latest scientific equipments and so on. But, to being nowhere amidst hundreds of countries, is a disgrace (did I mention billion+ population?). Statistically, insignificant…IMHO, citing infrastructure to be a reason for failure is just BS and a loser’s complain for not performing…

    All said and done, Indians do have their strong points in academics. And, my point is that, that’s what most Indians focus and that’s where they excel. Honestly, I dont think it is in most indians’ system to take up sports, even for regular well being, forget about olympics or world championship. And, dont call cricket a sport…:)

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