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To excel in sports, ‘catch them young’

There is no quick-fix solution for revitalising sports in Mumbai

mumbai Updated: Mar 23, 2017 23:52 IST
Ayaz Memon
Marks for sport is not just an incentive for procuring admission or getting better grades (which it is), but also acknowledges sporting excellence as a commendable virtue. And it is crucial this comes at the right age, not when passion is spent and ambition has ebbed.
Marks for sport is not just an incentive for procuring admission or getting better grades (which it is), but also acknowledges sporting excellence as a commendable virtue. And it is crucial this comes at the right age, not when passion is spent and ambition has ebbed.(Hindustan Times)

For sports to get a fillip in India, the biggest thrust must come at the grassroots level. This is a no-brainer, but you only have to see the extent of neglect at this level to understand why we still languish where we do in sports.

At a session I moderated at FICCI Frames the other day on ‘The Changing Face Of Sports in India’, all the panellists — India captain Ravi Shastri, TransStadia Managing Director Udit Sheth, owner of Telegu Titans kabbadi team Sreenivas Sreeramaneni and ESP business head Vinit Karnik — unanimously said that if India has to make any headway, we must ‘catch them young’.

“It’s about having systems,’’ Shastri argued. “If this is in place, talent spotting is that much easier and progress will have fewer hindrances.”

His contention was that every other sport in India lagged behind cricket because their national federations operated at a 30% or less efficiency level.

Sheth took it a step further. He believed that unless sport is made compulsory in schools and colleges and unless India gets a ‘national fitness backbone’, excellence will be difficult to achieve.

These are broad-based ideas that have to be diced into several components to become actionable and sustainable. As in most things, ideas come to naught if the implementation is poor.

In this context, the Maharashtra State School and Sports Education department’s decision to relax the rule for awarding marks for sports is most heartening. This had been the subject of debate for a few years and was finally cleared a little over a fortnight back. (HT carried details in the edition of March 9).

Under the old criteria, a young athlete had to win at the national level or participate in international tournaments to be eligible. Unsurprisingly, only a negligible number of students benefited from this.

Under the revised system, participating at the international level or winning a medal at the national level, will earn 25 marks. But even those who qualify for the nationals or win at the state level will get 20 marks.

How does it help? With academic pursuits becoming extraordinarily competitive and the cutthroat scramble for even fractions of percentages, school and college kids are usually dissuaded from seeing sports as worthwhile.

Marks for sport is not just an incentive for procuring admission or getting better grades (which it is), but also acknowledges sporting excellence as a commendable virtue.

And it is crucial this comes at the right age, not when passion is spent and ambition has ebbed.

Obviously the revised rule does not rule out chicanery entirely. One reason why using sport for marks was made difficult (it had existed for decades in a much easier format before being revised) was because it was being grossly misused.

Every system develops a grisly underbelly if not managed well. Like age fudging in Indian sport, marks for sports was exploited to benefit even the undeserving, which defeated the very purpose for which the rule had been put in place.

Even so, better checks and balances and creating greater consciousness about what sporting excellence means to the national psyche and national health is better than preventing the genuinely good athlete from benefiting.

However, this is only one aspect of the issue. The other, as Adille Sumariwalla, former national sprint champion and now President of the Athletics Federation of India, highlights is the quality of coaches and trainers.

“Even at the junior level, it is imperative that there are qualified people who train kids. Sports periods can’t be just for time pass. That is actually detrimental to whatever talent we have.’’

Mumbai in the 1960s and ’70s, as I remember, could boast of outstanding young sports talent.

The annual Bombay School Sports event at the Brabourne Stadium was hugely looked forward to: as much for its carnival atmosphere as for the quality of athletes, several of whom would acquire cult status.

Ditto college sports at the University Stadium adjoining the Wankhede Stadium which was also the venue where several athletics clubs would train their athletes. Now it is in virtual disuse.

There is no quick-fix solution for revitalising sports in Mumbai.

Optimum use of facilities (why can’t clubs give their grounds and facilities to schools or colleges?) is an imperative, but more so a change in mindset which sees sports as vital.

Marks for sports is an important step in that direction.

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Sports marks rules relaxed for SSC and HSC students in Maharashtra

Non-state board students in Maharashtra want sports, cultural marks