Let us not be afraid to face the truth. We are a one-sport nation, writes Nirmal Shekar
As a professional sportswriter, I am sick of hearing the question over and over and over again. I find it almost nauseating. If there are tens of millions posing the question, then, over the four decades that I have spent in the profession, there have been tens of hundreds of answers, from serious commentators and sports critics down to lay persons.
Why does a nation of over 1.2 billion people end up with just a few pieces of bronze and silver every four years in the most celebrated event in sport?
Psychologists often talk of something called paralysis through analysis in life. When you think too much about something and ratchet up your anxiety levels, the performance is bound to dip. When it comes to this clichéd question, this very much seems to be true.
While, some might believe they have the right answers/solutions, we have been left in such a confused state that there is no single ‘right’ prescription for the malaise.
But if you chose to leave aside all serious analysis as to why Indian track and field athletes, swimmers, gymnasts, hockey players and other Olympic participants fail to live up to our — and sometimes their own — expectations and came around to zeroing in on a rather reductionist, and surely controversial, viewpoint, the answer might be simple.
For, this question raises its ugly head for only about two weeks every four years. The rest of the time — for three full years and eleven and a half months — we are obsessed with, worship and shamelessly pay obeisance to a sport played with any degree of seriousness by eight-and-a-half nations.
Let us, then, accept the truth. We are a one-sport nation. And even a toddler would tell you what that sport is.
So, let us forget the London Games. In a few weeks, the Indian cricket team will be playing in the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka where the conditions will suit Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his boys to the hilt.
Another wild parade
Let’s look forward to another wild parade through the streets of Mumbai with the boys peacocking from an open-top bus. Let’s unabashedly hail their heroics, throw fresh flowers and encomiums at them even as my fellow professionals try to pull out every adjective in their vocabulary to celebrate the great achievement.
Meanwhile, Mary Kom would probably be running from pillar to post to find a cooking gas cylinder in Manipur, Yogeshwar Dutt would be walking to the nearest tea stall in his hometown, unmolested, his stellar achievement long forgotten.
The peerless Viswanathan Anand’s fifth world chess title would be a distant memory and he would be preparing for yet another tournament that nobody cares about even as Jeev Milka Singh tees off somewhere that nobody has heard of. Birdie and eagles…well, we haven’t been to a bird sanctuary in a while; should make it a point to visit one.
That’s who we are. That is what we are. That is India. Say all you want about how mediocre Indian sportspersons — cricket is advisedly left out of the description of sport because it is no longer a sport and hasn’t been in quite a while as it is on a par with things religious — are but we simply do no care for them for the most part.
We let them down
And when the Olympics come around, we are saddened, angry and aghast that we are not able to revel in reflected glory. We are ashamed that countries with one millionth of our population pick up gold medals. These guys have done us in, we say. We believed so much in them and they have let us down.
But the truth is, it is we who let them down. For, we don’t care about them for three years and eleven-and-a-half months. We don’t care about their impecunious circumstances, their heroic struggles, their fight against-the-odds and battles with cynical, self-serving sports administrators heading often corrupt sports bodies.
Instead, we spend sleepless nights over whether Chennai Super Kings would make it to the final of the IPL or whether a mediocre also-ran cricketer really did take recreational drugs at some rave party in Mumbai; or whether Yuvraj Singh is dating the latest Miss India or some other starlet whose only claim to fame is that she was seen with a cricketing superstar on a night out.
My dear readers, let us get real. We have failed the Koms and the Yogeshwars and the rest as much as we seem to believe that many Indian athletes have failed us. They don’t owe us as much as we owe them.
We need to follow their careers, cheer them from grassroots up, care about how they are treated by the administrators, worry about how they are ignored by the big corporate giants who would readily part with $10m for a 15-second TV ad campaign featuring a Sachin Tendulkar or a Gautam Gambhir. But we don’t.
We simply don’t give a damn most of the time and then bemoan their lack of success at the Olympics once every four years.
Believe me, it is not easy being an Indian and trying to achieve world-class feats in most sports, barring cricket, with its superb infrastructure public and corporate support and unmatched financial clout.
This is not to belittle what the Gavaskars, Kapils and the Tendulkars have achieved. But, tell me this: why is nobody canvassing for a seat in the upper house for Anand, why isn’t anyone talking about a Bharat Ratna for the genius of the 64-square game?
The world chess champion is an Indian — chess, my friend, chess, where the grey matter matters more than in any other game — and that should make us prouder than any other achievement by any Indian sportsman or team.
But forget it. By the way, when is India’s first match in the Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka? I bet Harbhajan will be back with a bang. What a fighter the man is!
Nothing reflects our unity in diversity — and is a greater tribute to it — than our national obsession with cricket.
Sorry Mary, we forgot about your gas cylinder and the constant problems with power failures in your little house. But that is who we are.