Jump on to the nearest podium and uncork the bubbly. Sunday’s success in the Formula 1 ring has got Indians revving with delight. Though the achievement of Vijay Mallya’s Force India, powered by Italian driver Giancarlo Fisichella, in Belgium took on the Ministry of Sports’ recently aired belief that F1 is not a sport “but pure entertainment”, it has given us an opportunity to raise at least a pint of beer to a sporting success with a strong Indian participation.
But the government’s spurning of an increasingly popular sport is symptomatic of how it reacts to sports in general before we make a mark. Sportsmen blaming the State for apathy and getting blamed in turn for being churlish has become an almost regular occurrence. Olympian Abhinav Bindra was only one sportsman who highlighted the role of Indian sporting successes despite the State rather than because of it. State enthusiasm towards sports like hockey and football — sports that we were once good at — tell their own stories. The neta’s role is confined to competing against other netas in showering the winner with cash prizes, plots of land and other sporting gestures of encouragement and pride that enhance the neta’s brand.
But with Formula 1 now, we can be rest assured that things won’t go awry — at least not because of any loss of interest until Mr Mallya or any other racing enthusiast with deepish pockets decides to move on to, say, darts or lacrosse. The fact that Indian sportsmen need patrons before they wear laurels and step up on the podiums is undeniable. Instead of waiting for a China-style ‘whatever it takes’ push from the State, let our sports be powered the way our industry is: private pride with private-public returns.