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Making sporting access universal is important

Updated on Sep 10, 2022 07:38 PM IST

The central and state governments are trying different approaches. Maybe some work and some don’t. But each government is constantly experimenting and trying. Right now, sport is viable

PREMIUM
I would like chess to spread to all the states and for youngsters to come from all parts of India. I would also like to see more girls participate. We are making substantial progress in these two areas, but we have a long way to go (Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)
ByViswanathan Anand

I became India’s first Grandmaster (GM) in 1988. The country got its second GM in 1991, and then it took us 13 years to get to the next six GMs. So, the bulk of our GMs came over the last decade. There has been a snowball effect recently, and it is only gathering steam. I believe chess is now a mainstream sport in India in a way that it was not when I began. We have so many people playing now that sometimes we have five or six GMs in the same year. The big difference between then and now is that many more youngsters are playing. We have so many young men and women under 15 who are GMs. That is an impressive statistic. The momentum is now picking up, showing how much depth we have in the game.

If you ask me whether I am happy about our progress in chess since Independence, I would say you can’t ever be satisfied. But we are doing incredibly well now. The fact that the Tamil Nadu government got involved and backed the Chess Olympiad in such a big way recently was pleasing. You see interesting engagements by the state and the central governments now. Athletes are getting a lot of support. The Union sports ministry is putting in a lot of effort to get more medals. Things have never been this good. Let’s acknowledge that but you can never rest on these things. You have to keep doing more.

Over the next 25 years, I want to see the growth in the game continue. I want to see more and more people take part. Of course, this has to be done gradually. Right now, let’s say the centre of gravity for chess in India is Tamil Nadu. Some other states are also involved. I want to see chess spread to all corners of the country and for young people from every state to come and enjoy the game. I would also like to see more girls participate. We are making substantial progress in both these areas, but have a long way to go.

Another thing that we have to accomplish is to produce another world champion. I am supporting youngsters at my academy and sharing my experiences with them as they improve their game. It is a realistic goal. This is not to say that we are the frontrunners – after all, talents today are mushrooming all over the world at a pace imaginable even a decade ago – but to underline that we have what it takes to accomplish it. We have a talented bunch of youngsters. And I feel that over the next decade, they are going to make us proud. We have already seen how well the likes of D Gukesh, R Praggnanandhaa and Nihal Sarin fared at the Olympiad. Tournaments are what people remember. The Olympiad was on such a scale that all the best players in the world were here in India. It was the sort of event that people will remember for the next 20-30 years. The scale of the Olympiad also showed that we are capable of organising big sporting events. It made chess the focal point of conversation and will serve as a source of inspiration, encouragement and conversation for people who may have had only a cursory exposure to the game. The key is for tournaments to be held regularly in India. A big sport has to keep engaging with fans, and we need big events in India to attract people’s attention and showcase what chess is all about.

In the broader sporting context, you can also see the same kind of factors working. You have more and more people playing sport. Everyone’s ambition has skyrocketed. It is no longer enough to go and compete in the Olympics and come back. People want to win Olympic gold medals. People want to win the world championship. That is the first big step. You have to aspire higher. You have got to want something before achieving it.

The central and state governments are trying different approaches. Maybe some work and some don’t. But each government is constantly experimenting and trying. Right now, sport is viable. Many private organisations are also getting involved. I am part of the Olympic Gold Quest, for instance. It is hard to imagine that this will not lead to great results.

By 2047, I want to see an India where everyone has access to food, water and shelter. I would like us to do this while still conserving what we can of our nature. That’s a good place to start. Once basic facilities have been assured for everyone, I hope sport can become a part of our culture in a much more meaningful and holistic way. One of India’s thorniest urbanisation problems is that you may live somewhere where it is not easy to play sport or even have a patch of open land. Regular sport is essential. Forget sport, regular exercise is vital for your health. This is one of the challenges we will face in the decades to come. I think the contribution sport can make is by inspiring people to want to play and driving the need for sporting facilities, parks and gardens where you can engage in physical activity and come together as a community. This is an area we need to work on. Making sporting access universal is important. It has nothing to do with medals, but a tremendous lot with the health of the future citizens of India.

Viswanathan Anand is a five-time world chess champion.

The views expressed are personal.

I became India’s first Grandmaster (GM) in 1988. The country got its second GM in 1991, and then it took us 13 years to get to the next six GMs. So, the bulk of our GMs came over the last decade. There has been a snowball effect recently, and it is only gathering steam. I believe chess is now a mainstream sport in India in a way that it was not when I began. We have so many people playing now that sometimes we have five or six GMs in the same year. The big difference between then and now is that many more youngsters are playing. We have so many young men and women under 15 who are GMs. That is an impressive statistic. The momentum is now picking up, showing how much depth we have in the game.

If you ask me whether I am happy about our progress in chess since Independence, I would say you can’t ever be satisfied. But we are doing incredibly well now. The fact that the Tamil Nadu government got involved and backed the Chess Olympiad in such a big way recently was pleasing. You see interesting engagements by the state and the central governments now. Athletes are getting a lot of support. The Union sports ministry is putting in a lot of effort to get more medals. Things have never been this good. Let’s acknowledge that but you can never rest on these things. You have to keep doing more.

Over the next 25 years, I want to see the growth in the game continue. I want to see more and more people take part. Of course, this has to be done gradually. Right now, let’s say the centre of gravity for chess in India is Tamil Nadu. Some other states are also involved. I want to see chess spread to all corners of the country and for young people from every state to come and enjoy the game. I would also like to see more girls participate. We are making substantial progress in both these areas, but have a long way to go.

Another thing that we have to accomplish is to produce another world champion. I am supporting youngsters at my academy and sharing my experiences with them as they improve their game. It is a realistic goal. This is not to say that we are the frontrunners – after all, talents today are mushrooming all over the world at a pace imaginable even a decade ago – but to underline that we have what it takes to accomplish it. We have a talented bunch of youngsters. And I feel that over the next decade, they are going to make us proud. We have already seen how well the likes of D Gukesh, R Praggnanandhaa and Nihal Sarin fared at the Olympiad. Tournaments are what people remember. The Olympiad was on such a scale that all the best players in the world were here in India. It was the sort of event that people will remember for the next 20-30 years. The scale of the Olympiad also showed that we are capable of organising big sporting events. It made chess the focal point of conversation and will serve as a source of inspiration, encouragement and conversation for people who may have had only a cursory exposure to the game. The key is for tournaments to be held regularly in India. A big sport has to keep engaging with fans, and we need big events in India to attract people’s attention and showcase what chess is all about.

In the broader sporting context, you can also see the same kind of factors working. You have more and more people playing sport. Everyone’s ambition has skyrocketed. It is no longer enough to go and compete in the Olympics and come back. People want to win Olympic gold medals. People want to win the world championship. That is the first big step. You have to aspire higher. You have got to want something before achieving it.

The central and state governments are trying different approaches. Maybe some work and some don’t. But each government is constantly experimenting and trying. Right now, sport is viable. Many private organisations are also getting involved. I am part of the Olympic Gold Quest, for instance. It is hard to imagine that this will not lead to great results.

By 2047, I want to see an India where everyone has access to food, water and shelter. I would like us to do this while still conserving what we can of our nature. That’s a good place to start. Once basic facilities have been assured for everyone, I hope sport can become a part of our culture in a much more meaningful and holistic way. One of India’s thorniest urbanisation problems is that you may live somewhere where it is not easy to play sport or even have a patch of open land. Regular sport is essential. Forget sport, regular exercise is vital for your health. This is one of the challenges we will face in the decades to come. I think the contribution sport can make is by inspiring people to want to play and driving the need for sporting facilities, parks and gardens where you can engage in physical activity and come together as a community. This is an area we need to work on. Making sporting access universal is important. It has nothing to do with medals, but a tremendous lot with the health of the future citizens of India.

Viswanathan Anand is a five-time world chess champion.

The views expressed are personal.

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