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Discrimination? what discrimination!

In the Indian context, talking about Olympic sport vs cricket seems as equal as David and Goliath, only that Goliath always wins, reports Ajai Masand.
Hindustan Times | By Ajai Masand, New Delhi
UPDATED ON OCT 13, 2007 11:24 PM IST

The T20 euphoria triggered it again. And like always, this time too there will be no answers that please one and all. In the Indian context, talking about Olympic sport vs cricket seems as equal as David and Goliath, only that Goliath always wins.

Thriving on the success of excess, cricket is religion in India. The debate on that should end even before it begins. But we can agree or disagree on why and for how long would other disciplines continue to be neglected.

Administrators who run Olympic sports — and they are mostly politicians — usually up the ante whenever the Indian cricket team performs well and gets everything, from media to moolah, from astronomical sums to automatic state-of-the-art mean machines and apartments. As jealousy increases and so does the tempo of their rhetoric.

Not only administrators, even baize sport exponent and world champion Pankaj Advani has complained at being ignored at cricket’s expense. Hockey players have threatened hunger strikes at the ‘step-motherly’ treatment meted out to them in comparison to cricketers.

In Dola Banerjee, they find a resounding echo. “Obviously I feel discriminated against. Cricket is not even an Olympic sport and what the archers have achieved in the last three four years has been phenomenal. Yet little has changed by way of public perception or corporate backing,” Dola, who won the fourth leg of the World Cup in Dover in August, said from Jamshedpur.

She got a rousing reception on coming home from Dover but little by way of rewards. “I got Rs 1 lakh from Railways, my employers and have been promised a promotion. But that is nothing compared to what the cricketers got for the T20 win.”

But shouldn’t this complaint be directed at federation heads? Besides, doesn’t every country have one sport that is more popular than the others? Whether recognition for Advani may or may not have been belated is debatable. What is not is that he received the Arjuna and the Khel Ratna within three years and before he was 22!

Has double-trap marksman RVS Rathore’s achievements gone unnoticed? Or that of world champion Viswanathan Anand? As for hockey, who is to be blamed other than the federation for the game’s current state? And unlike the past, we don’t even know whether we can make the Olympics this time!

‘No sporting culture in India’

Every sport caters to a certain group of audience. So, if only a handful turn up when Anand or Advani are playing, it is innate to the sport. But that in no way takes away the achievements of these great sportspersons. Let’s accept that cricket is the No. 1 game in the country, like soccer is in Europe or rugby in New Zealand or gridiron football in the USA. The discussion can only be on the number 2, 3 or 4 sport in India and how to make it more popular and who should initiate that process.

Trap shooting world champion Manavjit Singh says: “We don’t have a sporting culture; we only have cricket culture. We as people of the country are responsible for our non-sporting culture. Look at the US, where every individual has knowledge of about five sports played in the country. But here in India, unless it’s an exemplary achievement (a medal in the Olympics), we don’t stand to be recognised.”

Paresh Mukherjee, senior vice-president of the Archery Association, agrees. “I feel the government stipulated bonuses for medals in different competitions is fine, considering the socio-economic state of our country. But this abnormal benevolence towards cricketers for hitting sixes and bowling two overs well is what kills and demoralises sportsmen. Here I am blaming everyone. I don’t care whether the money is coming from the state government or the corporate houses,” he said.

Lack of information or skewed public perception, one might say. But in this cyber-age world, what are the administrators doing for Olympic sport of which they have been heads for ages, at times generations? True, they cannot match cricket’s pull, but are they really making any effort to popularise their disciplines? A senior Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) official says that most of the Olympic sport discipline administrators haven’t been able to put their houses in order.

“Where is the money going to come if they don’t even have proper marketing strategies to lure industry? Industry is not a social organisation,” he says. “All those federations that have done even some work towards that end, have succeeded,” he says, adding that the MoU between the FICCI and Sports Authority of India (SAI) wasn’t renewed because the federations did not come up with any marketing plans.

“Probably, it was SAI’s lack of initiative to get the federations along that resulted in the non-renewal of the MoU,” he said. “Sport is no more a leisure activity. The need of the hour is to employ professional managers who can device strategy for publicity, telecast etc, so that the package looks attractive to the industry. If the government’s social programmes like Pulse Polio, anti-malaria and AIDS campaigns can get publicity, why not sport,” he said.

The official doesn’t feel that the government is not doing enough for non-cricket disciplines and that the sportspersons should feel disheartened. “Why would the Commonwealth Games have come to India had the government not been interested.”

Why blame the government?

For long, the government and the Sports Ministry have borne the brunt of not doing enough. Agreed that in India, spending on sport is limited but it is not so meagre that players cannot perform or not get rewarded for excellence.

If cricketers earn crores, there are lakhs to be won for commendable performances at the international level for Olympic disciplines. The government, through SAI, takes care — of course, there are glaring aberrations — of athletes from when their talent is spotted to the moment they stand on the podium.

Hundreds of training centres, infrastructure, scholarship schemes, exposure trips, coaching camps, board and lodging and finally the awards, which might range for Rs 30 lakh for an Olympic gold to Rs 10 lakh for Asian Games, World Championships and Commonwealth Games, show the government’s interest towards Olympic disciplines. They have even sanctioned a Rs 1,000cr-plus budget for athletes’ training.

Even at the domestic level, states organising National Games lure the cream from all over the country with the promise of hefty rewards. It’s another thing that some athletes do not get the promised sums or get it late because of lack of a uniform policy.

Tighter regulations needed

The only issue is of tightening the rules and guidelines by the Ministry so that corruption and favouritism are weeded out. Also, the state governments must have some uniformity in their evaluation of sporting excellence. A big responsibility too lies with federations to not just wait for the government to give them grants, but also court sponsors.

If Indian shooters can win every thing the world has to offer, they have to be projected properly to get them lucrative sponsorship deals and better facilities. Then probably one of the Olympic sport would truly become the No. 2. or No.3 discipline of the country.

Like as Samresh Jung, the most valuable player at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games with five medals said. “Even if I throw a brick at the bull’s eye, I know shooting cannot be the No.1 sport. The cricketers are also bringing glory to the country so why envy them.”

(With inputs from Nilankur Das in Kolkata)

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