What do they know of cricket who only cricket know, famously said legendary cricket writer CLR James. Equally renowned for anti-colonial campaigns, James located sports in wider political economy.
Sports are politics as much as they are a form of art, science or culture. They provide an expression for social and political passions. Subaltern historian Dipesh Chakrabarty believes that a ‘sports-media complex’ has subverted the high culture of yore. The cult of televised and aggressively patriotic sport has already taken the game away from the connoisseur. And new sporting successes, measured purely in terms of Olympic medals and championships, have deepened the global divide between haves and have-nots.
A matter of self-worth
India’s self-image swings between exhilaration and self-pity. Occasionally, we are euphoric about cricket triumphs but the whole nation sinks in remorse when we return disgraced from the Olympics or when we fail to qualify for the big soccer game yet again. The failure is blamed on insufficient killer instincts, meager resources and even flawed genes. The moot question is if there are any material factors that work for a successful sporting nation.
Andrew B Bernard of Tuck School of Business and Meghan R Busse of Yale School of Management establish in a 2001 global study that a country’s real GDP is the single best predictor of their performance in the Olympics. The study shows that a nation’s chances of winning medals hinge on per capita resources spent on sports.
India prepares for the big league by holding national coaching camps weeks or months ahead of an upcoming tournament. Their eyes on the prize, the coaches try to extract the best out of the potential winners by pushing them really hard. This is at best a short cut rather than a grassroots method of raising generations of youth who enjoy the thrill of sports with a real capability of winning medals.
The National Sports Policy 2001 talks about ‘broad basing’ of sports and ‘achieving excellence’ at the national and international levels. But the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports can’t enforce it because sports are a State subject. The policy aims to integrate sports with education but, paradoxically, without emphasizing universal education, adequate nutrition and school-based physical training for all.
The policy makes no attempt to use the power of sports for building a healthy social environment. A case in point is the Developmentally Focused Youth Sports programme, run in 15 US cities, that uses sports to constructively engage youths susceptible to anti-social activities. The programme runs on the premise that team sports offer many qualities of “gang activities” to teenagers such as risk taking, conceding losses and celebrating triumphs and together they make for a winning formula.