Mumbai has always been considered the capital of Indian cricket. But till not so long ago, it was also a bastion for other disciplines. Besides various individual sportspersons, Mumbai was renowned for its footballers and hockey players. And one could refer to Mumbai as a sporting destination. Now, though, it’s definitely not what it used to be; there used to be a time when we had a sporting culture but not anymore.
I say this for a variety of reasons. You don’t need Olympians or world champions to be a sporting city, but you need to inculcate sports as a habit from a young age. Once that happens, achievements follow.
The solutions are not rocket science. It’s about doing the simple things right. Unless we start thinking more radically about improving our attitude towards sports, we will only be playing lip service to them.
Don’t blame cricket
Many people tend to blame the decline of other sports on cricket. I am not one of them.
On the contrary, we should see the good things they have done with cricket and learn from them. Like the manner in which they have marketed the game so well, how they have created heroes and role models, how they have invested that money back into the game to development of grounds. I remember when I was young, no one would ever dive on an Indian ground for the fear of getting hurt. But now, we have lush green fields at all cricket pitches and stadiums; not just in Bombay but all over India. Cricket has progressed by leaps and bounds over the last two decades. There have been lots of wrong things done as well, but we have to be sensible and pick up the right things to learn from.
How to be a world-class city
I remember when I was a kid growing up in the 1980s and 90s — I grew up in Bandra — we played hockey, football, cricket, seven tiles, gilli-danda, hide-and-seek in its lanes. I remember during the summer vacations there would be 30 to 40 kids from the surrounding buildings who would come and play every single day. Today, they all play single-kid games during their summer vacations, and there are many reasons for that. When we were kids, no one had cars. Today I can see at least 20 cars parked in the lane where we used to play. There’s just no space. There are fewer open spaces and playgrounds. Most kids today have mobile phones and iPads and prefer to stay indoors, play on the computer, on their phones, rather than step out and play a sport.
We see Bombay as one of the big emerging cities in the world, but we don’t have proper places where we can take our kids to. We need to look at all these things if we want to improve as a city.
If you break up the community, it boils down to individuals and, in turn, to attitudes. Are we allowing our own kids to play? Are we allowing our children to go out and have the childhood that we did?
I understand it’s not always possible because of security reasons and all that; it’s increasingly becoming tough for parents to let their kids go out the way we did, without some sort of supervision. But they should do it as much as possible. That’s where schools should play a role.
Nurturing sports in schools
The school is the most sheltered and protected environment. We have to understand that the attitude of the household and the school towards a more outdoor sports-friendly environment will change things to develop a sports culture. Because that is where your roots develop: at home and in school.
Not all schools have the luxury of having playgrounds. Schools that have playgrounds should allow them to be used by multiple schools at various times.
Maintenance, preservation and protection of playgrounds is key. A lot of them are owned by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. These grounds should be kept clean, and there should be proper security. They need to be free of drug and alcohol addicts occupying various corners at night; parents who find empty bottles lying around in the morning would hesitate to send their kids to play in those places.
The attitudes of parents and teachers are also key. We should look within. We are sort of overprotective of our kids; we don’t want them to go out and play, or go out in the sun. This wasn’t the case earlier.
I was lucky that I went to a very old school which has a big playground. School playgrounds today have become even rarer than public open spaces. There are so many new schools, but no school playgrounds. In all these new, fancy, modern schools, only the building is fancy; there are no playgrounds. Where do the kids play? And to a large extent, your home and your school defines your childhood, so if there are no playgrounds, you lose out on the freedom of running and playing in open spaces.
It’s very easy to say there are no open spaces, and so on. We have to encourage our kids to go out and play rather than sit hunched over their computers and mobiles. Send them for swimming, send them for anything; just create a more outdoor lifestyle for them rather than keeping them indoors all the time.
True physical education
We also need well-trained physical education teachers in school.
Most physical education teachers and/or coaches in schools don’t know anything about sport or how to impart physical education. And they take away from the joy of doing physical education. When it comes to the Physical Education period, what do we have, one every week? There should be one a day. That change has to come from the top. Principals and senior teachers should understand the importance of sport and games and physical education. PE teachers are invariably lower down in the hierarchy of school teachers, whereas it should be the other way round. The lessons we learn from playing sports are something the classroom can never teach us.
Girls and women
We also have to encourage more women’s tournaments in all games, be it athletics, football or cricket. Have more local tournaments, whether at the school or community level.
The SSC board offers 25 grace marks or so for sports achievements. That prompts a fair bit of participation at the school level. But there is a big vacuum after school.
We should perhaps adopt an educational model like those at US colleges, which give a lot of importance to sports. Or even in Australia. For example, when I went to ISB, I had an Australian classmate who used to tell me that sportsmen are the school heroes there. In India, it’s the other way round: if you are first in class, then you are a hero. We have to project sportspersons as heroes to parents, teachers and even to society. We should also give compulsory weightage for excellence in sports in colleges. That will push more kids to play sports.
Maybe it’s time to take radical decisions like giving weightage to basic physical education in the Class 10 and 12 board exams.
Schools for sports
The state government can show support to sport by starting a state-run school or a college where priority is given to people who are good at sports; there should be aspiration to get into that place, from parents, from kids. People from that school and college would get their conventional education, but sport would be their priority. Such a a school would automatically have more playgrounds, and more kids wanting to play.
Obviously, the onus doesn’t lie only on the government. Corporate houses and NGOs need to be proactive in this cause as well. NGOs are already doing their stuff because they are quite focussed. They have a particular mission and they have been working towards that with whatever limited funds, resources they have.
Corporates should actively encourage employees to be fit, adopt a healthy lifestyle. Right now, especially in a big city like Mumbai, with stressful work hours, all of us tend to neglect our health. In the long run, healthy work-life balance is important, fitness and health is important. In the hectic lifestyle we have — we all are in the rat race — our health is suffering.
Another thing corporates can do is adopt, in their locality, at least one park and beautify it, maintain it. As it is, you can count on your fingers good, nice parks you can go to in Mumbai.
As told to Amol Karhadkar
Viren Rasquinha is a former Olympian hockey player who also captained India. At 27, after earning 180 caps, he decided to hang up his boots and pursued MBA from the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. Since 2010, he is the chief executive of Olympic Gold Quest, an NGO to support India’s Olympic medal aspirants founded by some of the biggest names in Indian sports including Geet Sethi and Prakash Padukone.