Rewind to the dreary black and white films of yesterday where young heroines had to choose between money and love as part of a great emotional conflict. Sportspersons today are confronted with a similar situation: They have to decide whether they are playing for money or the nobler objective of national glory.
Surely, this is a difficult choice. To reach the top in sport, one has to give up normal life and slog like hell. Despite the grind, only a few succeed, and at the end of it all what do most get? Minor recognition, a lowly job in a government department, and yes, a princely $20 allowance for turning out for the country on trips abroad.
Normally, players accept their fate without complaining but I suspect it gets a bit rich when they are accused of being insensitive about India, and condemned harshly for asking for better terms.
When the hockey players stood up for a better deal their demands were very, very basic: they only wanted decent incentives, enough money to support their families and a honourable deal — not tips doled out to school kids.
This money vs country debate is a convenient myth created to confuse the issue because keeping top players below the poverty line cannot be good for anyone.
Moreover, what is the connection of poverty (as of the hockey players) or the cash comfort (as of cricket players) with patriotism? Will national glory be achieved by keeping players poor or by encouraging them to raise the bar?
The reality is that sporting talent has to be sufficiently rewarded and the skills of players celebrated without reservations or conditions. Only this will ensure they pursue excellence, which then results in national glory.
As sport gets more professional and competitive, the aspirations of players change based on the social realities that surround them.
A problem however arises when people running sport either don’t recognise these changes or stubbornly refuse to adjust to the unfolding developments. There are many officials who are on the ball and in sync with current trends, there is a much larger group, which is hopelessly disconnected, imprisoned by ideas that became irrelevant years ago, unaware that the world has moved on and the ground reality has shifted.
Notions that players continue to live on shameful daily allowances and work like bonded labourers are things of the past. As a general rule, players are more right than wrong.