Game changer Punjab can take a leaf out of Haryana’s success story by offering government jobs and attractive cash incentives to motivate its players. It has regained its lost glory in hockey but athletics remains a distant memory. Haryana will do well to focus on sports facilities at the grassroots and invest in training rather than only doling out rewards. HT’s Saurabh Duggal offers an overview:
Punjab: Players of sporting state need incentives
Punjab led India’s sports tally till a decade ago. The 2008 Beijing Olympics changed this when players from Haryana made their presence felt, particularly in wrestling and boxing. At the Rio Olympics in August, 14 sportspersons from Punjab were part of the Indian contingent, while Haryana sent the largest representation of 20 players.
This is in contrast to the 1968 Mexico Olympics, the first quadrennial games after the re-organisation of Punjab on November 1, 1966. Of the 25-member Indian contingent, 13 sportspersons were from Punjab, comprising nine hockey players, a shooter, two wrestlers and an athlete. A newly created Haryana managed to send only two players -- a boxer and a wrestler.
Though Punjab is still a force to reckon with in the sports arena, Haryana caught up around the turn of the century when the state government started offering attractive cash incentives and jobs through the sports quota to players who excelled.
There was a time when sportspersons from Haryana would look to Punjab for jobs. Punjab Police have proved to be a catalyst in the state achieving sporting glory.
Arjuna awardee and former Indian volleyball captain Amir Singh, says: “In the ’90s, Punjab was at the top. The reason was jobs in Punjab Police. It not only benefited players from the state but also motivated sportspersons from neighbouring Haryana to secure their future by excelling in sports. I am from Haryana but joined Punjab Police in 1993 for a better future. I became an inspector in 1998 before I quit playing professional league in the Middle East. During that period, Punjab won the national volleyball title twice in five years.”
“After 2000, Haryana started offering jobs to sportspersons its performance graph improved,” says Amir Singh, who worked with the Haryana State Infrastruc-ture and Industrial Development Corporation (HSIIDC) from 2001 to 2011. In the National Games, Punjab has remained in the top five. Haryana, which was behind Punjab in the overall medal tally, overtook the state in the last three editions of the games in 2007, 2011 and 2015.
Punjab has retained its supremacy in the all-India inter-university sports. Punjabi University, Patiala, and Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU), Amritsar, are on the top and doing better than universities of Haryana.
This year, Punjabi University won the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (MAKA) Trophy for excellence in sports for the fifth time in a row. GNDU has won the trophy 21 times before that.
In the last few years, Punjab has regained its glory in hockey. The state is once again contributing the maximum number of players in the men’s national squad across all age groups. In Rio and recently in Malaysia, most players in the men’s hockey squad were from Punjab.
Challenges and legacy
Punjab has been inconsistent in disbursing cash awards for national and international medals. The backlog stretches for years. The state government has announced 125
jobs under the sports quota in Punjab Police but the appointments are yet to be made.
“A sportsperson has a limited life. If we fail to provide him job security in time, we are curtailing his sporting career. With lack of government jobs under the sports quota in Punjab, many good players are looking outside. This is mainly why Punjab, which once used to be ahead of everyone in sports, is lagging behind Haryana today,” says Teja Singh Dhaliwal, the Punjab Basketball Association secretary.
The government also needs to upgrade and maintain sports facilities at the grassroots, he says.
Former sports director and hockey Olympian Pargat Singh says the unhealthy lifestyle of Punjabis is taking a toll on health and fitness. “Health has a direct bearing on sports. That’s why we are falling behind. Children should be encouraged to play in school. The state education department has failed to maintain sports infrastructure. It is an integral part of the sports policy. What’s the use of stadiums if we don’t have a good base?”
Haryana: Individual effort, not govt help, wins medals
Since 2008, Haryana has emerged as the country’s sports powerhouse. Whether it’s the Olympics or the Asian Games or the Commonwealth Games, players from the state have contributed to the country’s success.
The Beijing Olympics was the gamechanger for sports in the state. It was for the first time that Haryana sent the maximum number of players to the country’s Olympics contingent. Of the 55-member squad, nine players were from the state. In the next two editions of the games (2012 London and 2016 Rio), the state not only sent the maximum players to represent India but also won medals. Boxer Vijender Singh won a bronze in Beijing, while wrestlers Yogeshwar Dutt and Sakshi Malik returned with a silver medal and a bronze from the London and Rio Olympics, respectively. Sakshi became the country’s first woman wrestler to win an Olympic medal.
“In Haryana, sport has become a profession. Cash incentives and job security are drawing more youth towards sports. That’s why Haryana has become the country’s top sporting state,” says Vijender Singh.
Headstart for state
Haryana was carved out of Punjab on November 1, 1966. Five days later, athlete Bhim Singh from Bhiwani became the first Asian Games gold medallist from the state. Bhim Singh created a games record with a high jump of 2.05 metres. A week later, heavyweight boxer Hawa Singh won the gold medal at the games.
In the 1968 Mexico Olympics, of the 25-member contingent, there were only two members – Bhim Singh (athletics) and Udey Chand (wrestling) – from Haryana.
The state made its presence felt in sports early and overtook Punjab in performance in 2008. It sent 20 players to Rio Olympics this year, the maximum number of players from any state in the 119-member contingent.
Sports, particularly wrestling, kabaddi and boxing, are a part of Haryana’s rural culture. The respect sportspersons get in the state is incomparable. Here, being a wrestler is a matter of pride. Whenever a sportsperson from Haryana’s hinterland returns home from a successful foreign outing, one can see the entire village welcoming the star.
Sakshi got a rockstar reception on her return to her native Mokhra village in Rohtak. It was bigger than any politician’s procession. “It’s great that the state government is giving cash awards to medal winners but the focus should also be on facilities at the grassroots,” she says. Sakshi’s academy was among the centres shut for two years on the pretext of reviewing their performance. She had to train elsewhere.
The fate of other academies is similar. Forty girls from Shahbad shifted base to Punjab’s Fatehgarh Sahib last year as their hockey academy was closed down by the sports department.
“Cash incentives motivate players to excel but we lack basic facilities. What Haryana’s players are achieving today is due to their individual effort not the state government’s contribution,” says Dronacharya awardee hockey coach Baldev Singh.
For Rio Olympics, the state offered a prize of Rs 6 crore for gold, Rs 4 crore for silver and Rs 2.5 crore for a bronze medal. Haryana is the only state that offers cash awards at par to para athletes (athletes with disability). Deepa Malik, who won a silver medal in the Rio paralympics, got Rs 4 crore at the golden jubilee celebration function at Gurugram on November 1. The cash incentives were started during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, when the then government announced an award of Rs 1 crore for the gold medal, by Rs 50 lakh for silver and Rs 25 lakh for bronze.