What ails Indian sports as well as what drives Indian sports were both encapsulated in shooter Jaspal Rana’s comments after he won the last two of his three gold medals at the Doha Asian Games on Friday. "I know the NRAI [National Rifle Association of India] and the government will try and take credit... but they have been no help to me." Coming as it does from a new world record holder in the men’s 25-metre centre fire pistol event, this is no instance of ‘sour grapes’. Rana’s victory, even as he was suffering from viral fever, is doubly creditable as the 38-year-old shooter was written off in some circles as a has-been.
Indian sports has been too intricately tied up with governmental sporting bodies. If that amounted to success of the kind that, say, the Chinese model flaunts, then there would have been no problem. But the State is clearly not good at fostering a sporting culture. Otherwise, why are our athletes languishing at the bottom of the global sporting pool? Clearly, results in individual sports such as shooting and tennis bear witness, we are not a talentless bunch. But somehow, as evident in ‘popular’ sports like football or hockey, training conditions and facilities provided by State bodies are farcical. For a nation that pays little value to its sportsmen (as stories of ex-national hockey players languishing in penury confirm from time to time) it is up to our sportsmen to pick up the gauntlet and run.
Rana was not provided cartridges for training before his event. Indian sportsmen lower down the visibility chain are provided with even less. So any talk of potential sporting heroes being encouraged by the State makes very little sense beyond the seminars and committee meetings.