Sports is not only beneficial to our health and well-being, but also useful in developing teamwork, partnership and friendship. A healthy body, as one says, leads to a healthy mind.
Sporting icons for us in India are like real-life heroes. We need to create an environment to encourage people to try and emulate them. Withdrawal of incentives such as sports quota for jobs, additional marks for students which are being suggested by certain states in the country could be detrimental. We need to get our youth to play, and therefore, should give them reason to do so.
India has always been a very sports oriented country. Our history is full of tales of skills, not only in riding, use of weaponry like bow & arrow and sword fighting, but also in the art of physical combat. Sports such as wrestling, boxing and kabaddi are reminiscent of this fact.
The British brought in the game of cricket, which according to them had the perfect characteristics of what one would face in one’s journey of life. Although hockey was acclaimed to be the national sport of India, cricket has always had a larger following, even in the golden era of hockey. The reason being it suited the easy pace of life, there was a royal flavour to it and it had an element that highlighted not only individual performances but also teams’ achievements. The uncertainties of the game made it even more attractive. This was a sport that did not require physical combat, therefore one did not need to be strong, tall and well-built. The popularity of the sport that the British made very fashionable automatically incentivised Indians from all walks of life.
Sports, which has always been an important part of our school curriculum, gradually seeped into every educational institute. Sports in schools, colleges, universities and then at work brought in the ingredients of friendship, teamwork, leadership and a culture that boasted honesty and proper ethics.
Unfortunately, after Independence, India was left in poverty and the scarcity of jobs transformed the country into a competitive machine. As time elapsed, the competition grew and people lost interest in old values and ethics with success being measured either by money that one accumulated or by the marks one scored in examinations.
Sports teachers and coaches were not given the pride of position or the same remuneration as other staff and so the standard of creating a sports culture gradually disappeared. India did have a few sporting victories but the life of their sporting heroes, thereafter, did not inspire many to follow them.
The government establishments and some corporate houses became the only saviours for sportspersons who passionately followed their trade, knowing fully well that their future will be bleak if they did not succeed. Most schools and colleges around the country converted their additional spaces into classrooms and even at present the schools are graded on account of their accomplishment in academics. Sports wasn’t not even considered a parameter.
But things have changed for the better. India, although a developing country, is now one of the most powerful growing economies in the world. Indians are considered to be very intelligent and with 67 per cent of the population below the age of 35, predictions are that India will soon be the intellectual hub of the world.
A young Indian today is a passionate and confident individual and sports has become a very important ingredient in his life. The success of cricketers and other sportsmen has revived the image of sports as a career option, as money and fame has now made it a lucrative choice. The television and cellphone boom has made sports a household recreational activity.
India as a country is progressing towards becoming a super power and performance at sports has always been a good indicator of the status of a country’s position.
The government’s incentives and the PMO’s initiatives to once again make sports an important cultural movement is in the right direction. But the recent possible withdrawal of sports initiatives and sports not being given any importance in the skill development programmes does not augur well for the future.
India needs to change its’ perception about sports. It has to be a compulsory subject at every school, which should be monitored regularly. We now have enough sports legends whose stories and tales of success can be as invigorating and inspiring as the tales of Arjun, Ram, Shivaji, Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi.
Fortunately, India presently has an Olympic medal winning sports minister in Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. His marksmanship fetched India a silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and his aim now must be to pass the Sports Bill expeditiously in the Parliament. This will go a long way in making India healthy, wealthy and wise.
(The author is a former India cricketer)