Athens Olympics silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore emphasised that Indians loved sports, but the catch was that sports was not as well organised in the country as in the US or Australia.

In a lively session of discussion on sports and entertainment organised by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) —which also felicitated the London Games silver medallist Vijay Kumar and bronze medallist Mary Kom with two lakh rupees each — Rathore said that Indians had the sporting spirit, but added that parents needed to love sports in the first place to encourage a healthy growth of society.

“We play cricket with our hands. Some times at the range, we play cricket with our gun barrel,” said Rathore, even as he pointed that sportsmen played basically for recognition and not for money.

Even as the panellists — Atul Singh, president and CEO of Coca-Cola, David Hill, Senior Executive Vice President of News Corp, Harish Thawani, Executive Chairman, Nimbus Communications, Aloke Malik, Managing Director, ESPN Software India Private Ltd., Sonali Chander, Editorial consustant, NDTV Nirmal Marks for Sports Campaign — provided insight on the subject from various angles, Rathore goaded the media to understand sport better so as to be able to package and present it in an appropriate and entertaining fashion.

“The television viewership for the London Games was much better because people were able to understand various sports much better”, said Rathore.

Renowned cricket commentator, Harsha Bhogle, brilliantly anchored the discussion, and made his point that a one-sport nation was not a sporting nation.

Need for packaging

Atul Singh pointed that even cricket needed to be packaged well, like in the popular IPL, to sell well. He challenged the modern broadcasters to create content from other sports as there was room for it in the market, as was the case with High School football in the US.

“We need world class content. When Mary fights, all of India watches,” he said, adding that there was a world beyond cricket.

He also sought attention on the fact that the India under-16 football team had made the semifinals in a field of 32 teams.

“Our youth has a lot of raw talent,” he said, stressing that talent tended to disappear for lack of follow-up.

“Sports, effectively, is a middle class pursuit,” said David Hill, and noted that the middle class population was expected to cross the billion mark by 2025, which he felt augured well for Indian sports.

Harish Thawani said that infrastructure was the key and stressed that there was not enough playfields for a nation of more than a billion. He took the example of Los Angeles and California and said that they had more tennis courts and golf courses respectively than the whole of India. He insisted that cricket was much better organised even at the school level in Mumbai even before big money came into play and sadly, it was not the case with football or hockey.

Sonali Chander quoted from first hand experience and said that it was important for mothers to love sports so that they would let their children play. Former athlete Ashwini Nachappa said that she was a product of school games, but said that her badminton playing daughter did not get the support from her school, which emphasised education.

“It is scary, if children don’t play,” said Sonali, and insisted that the government policies would make all the difference to Indian sports.

Ashwini took the example of the Kodava hockey festival in Coorg and said that communities would nurture sports if provided the support and infrastructure. She said that only with a bigger base would Indian sports be able to generate champions by choice rather than by chance.

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