Develop a sporting culture

Independence Day is a reminder of the role of sport in nation building; sport must be a part of life

Updated - August 15, 2021 01:20 am IST

Published - August 15, 2021 01:15 am IST

Hockey sports hostel students in Bhubaneshwar celebrate the Indian men’s team bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Hockey sports hostel students in Bhubaneshwar celebrate the Indian men’s team bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Making it big in international sport is never easy. If you have someone to look up to, a role model, it helps. But you could do wonderful things without one, too. Remember, somebody has to reach there first.

When I started playing chess, India did not have a Grandmaster [it is the ultimate title denoting a player’s strength]. I saw it as a nice challenge to attempt. In some sense, that there had been no Indian Grandmaster made it easier for me, because there was no pressure on me to do it. You knew it would be nice to do, but it was not as if you were obliged to do it.


I wanted to be better at chess and there was no way I could have done it without becoming a Grandmaster in the process. It was, of course, tough getting the title. You had to play all those tournaments and you needed to get a certain number of points in order to get a norm [you required three norms]. It was a struggle for me, from 1985 till the end of 1987, when I finished my title. It was something that occupied most of my thoughts those days. When I was in school, the first thing I thought of after finishing my examinations was about how to become a Grandmaster.

I was lucky that there were so many good tournaments in India then, in places such as Calcutta, Bhilwara and Coimbatore. Maybe there were not as many events that we have now, but you had the opportunities to make your norms. When I was finding it hard to complete my title, Stewart Ruben, an arbiter, told me, “One day you will get your title without even thinking about it.” And that is how I got it after so many close misses, by scoring the final norm at the Sakthi Finance tournament in Coimbatore. The title meant a lot to me and I was very happy.

It was acclaimed across the country as a big achievement. And it was perhaps my third big jump in fame. The first was in 1983 when I won the National sub-juniors and qualified for the men’s event. Suddenly, the principal talks about you in the school assembly, and other boys tell you that they have seen your picture in the newspaper. The second was in 1987, when I won the World juniors; I was on the magazine covers and I remember giving a lot of interviews, almost non-stop. It is nice to notice that India now has 69 Grandmasters (only four countries have more). After winning the World junior and getting the Grandmaster title, I immediately started getting invitations to the tournaments in Europe. I knew my career had moved on to the next stage.

It is important to have parental support for a child who tries to build a career in sport. My parents would probably have wondered whether I would be able to make a living out of chess. But I think they instinctively knew that it was wrong not to support me.

When I began playing, there wasn’t a system in place in Indian chess, like they had in countries such as the erstwhile Soviet Union. I developed naturally but that was more of an innocent time, when you did not need so much training. A system does help; it makes life easier for any sportsperson.

It was a pleasant surprise to see India winning seven medals at the Tokyo Olympics. And it was heartening to watch Neeraj Chopra winning the gold. There were, of course, more highlights for India, such as the hockey team securing a medal after 41 years, P.V. Sindhu making it a double and the heart-warming shows from the likes of Lovlina Borgohain and Mirabai Chanu.

We should also be proud of India’s women’s hockey players and golfer Aditi Ashok, who all performed exceptionally well to come so close to winning medals. It is nice that there have been so many individual success stories for India in Tokyo. Let us hope that we can build on the good show.

This edition of the Olympics is a milestone for Indian sport. You can praise the athletes as much as you want to. They deserve it.

Winning seven Olympic medals is unprecedented for India. But when we say unprecedented success, we should remember it is for India, not for other countries. Many of them have been doing much better than us for so long.

I feel seven is not the right number for us, though it is better than six, the number of medals India won at the 2012 Olympics in London, our previous best. Let this be a first step rather than an opportunity to go overboard with celebrations.

But I think what Indian sport needs most is a sporting culture. You can have all the stadiums you want, but what is the point if you do not play any sport? Every city, town and village should have sporting arenas for people to come and play. Sport must be a part of life. I think the Government could do something about it. We must realise that just being a spectator is not enough. Having lived for a long time in Europe, I could say that we need a long way to go when it comes to sporting culture.

Then the Government, the various sports bodies, private foundations and sponsors could create more athletes. They should ensure that the best athletes get the support when they need it, for careers in sports are short.

Indian sport began its journey long ago. Slowly the pieces are coming together. We should continue doing that if we want to go forward.

As we celebrate Independence Day, we are reminded of the role of sport in nation building. Sport is one of those few things that could make a lot of citizens of a country happy at the same time, as we have just seen with the Olympics.

Viswanathan Anand is a five-time World chess champion

(as told to P.K. Ajith Kumar)

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