India is a bit of an enigma when it comes to leadership in sports. If you look at powerhouses like Australia and European countries like Germany and England, I have felt that there is a broad pattern that their leaders follow even if each individual captain has his own style.
Possibly that’s because they come through a broad system geared towards producing sporting excellence. There is also a cultural pattern wherein their captains will subscribe to some established norms of behaviour. In India this is absent. If you compare a Kapil (Dev) to a Sachin (Tendulkar) or a Rahul (Dravid) to a Sourav (Ganguly), or even just now, a Dhoni to a Kumble, each brought forth a distinct type of leadership which reflects their roots and has individuality stamped all over it.
In tennis, a Naresh Kumar was so distinct from Leander Paes, the captain. There really is no set pattern. That can be great strength as change and can be the harbinger of growth but at the same time, there is little consistency in transition. I have always felt that in Indian sport there are few born leaders as most would rather be followers. As such, the pool to select our captains is very narrow. I find that really quite strange given the wealth of leadership this country has in the political spectrum as well as in the business community.
Indian sport is on the verge of major changes. Now, albeit in narrow pockets, we can boast of great infrastructure. When I began playing there was no decent clay court in India. We used to practise on courts with a layer of cow dung. That was hardly ideal preparation to take on the world. As such, few prevailed to make it big internationally. Now, that is no longer the case. At the same time, we need to move away from the traditional manner in which Indian sport has been led by the federations alone.
I would like to see our dynamic leaders in business — like the Ambani brothers, Ratan Tata, N.R. Narayana Murthy, to name a few — transcend from their fields of specialty to help lead Indian sports into a new future. I would appeal to our emerging political leaders like Rahul Gandhi to also do their bit. There is a new generation of the Indian leader who is well travelled, has seen the world and is in a position to envision policy that can lift our medal tally in the Olympics beyond just three.
In sync with past and present champions in different disciplines, these men and women of the new India can help shape the winners of the India of tomorrow in a manner that traditional leaders of Indian sport are incapable of managing. Proven leaders in different fields can be great sporting leaders, it’s just a matter of getting them involved.
Producing champions has been an arbitrary process in our country so far. Precise systems can change that and help reduce the struggle that every aspirant for an India jersey faces, across the Indian sporting diaspora. These systems can only come from leaders who are used to solving problems, no matter what sphere they function in. The necessary ingredients are aplenty in our country; it’s just a matter of achieving the right blend.
Going back to individual captains, I feel that there have to be broad rules within the ambit of which each new incumbent functions. Once we have a winning formula in place — like it appears to be the case with Dhoni’s boys — then the system needs to be concretised so that there is continuity when the mantle passes to another.
Leaders should be spotted early and then groomed through positions of ascending authority. That happens within our political firmament but is yet to seep into sports. Leadership is an art that can be learnt only to some extent, beyond that the ones with a natural proclivity to command, emerge through the pack. Such men are few and hence must be nurtured from an early age. Only then will Indian sport grow from year to year sans the moving and shaking that happens whenever a new king happens to come to the crown.