Avik Chattopadhyay: The Poverty of Indian sport!

09 Aug,2021

Avik ChattopadhyayBy Avik Chattopadhyay


Well, the games are finally over, and we have done our best in the ‘arena’. The euphoria around the medal winners will remain till the time our “men in blue” ‘conquer England’!


While we celebrate and savour our first ever gold in athletics and a total tally of seven medals, we lie in the 40s in ranking. The question remains as to why we end up winning so few medals in every edition of the Olympics. Before Tokyo, our best performance was in London when we got six medals. Since 1980, we have not won a team gold and the only previous individual gold was in 2008.


It is not that we do not create world champions outside of cricket. We have quite a few of them in boxing, shooting and archery over the last decade. This has been despite the state of Indian sport and our collective deliberate apathy.


Indian sport is poor. The poverty is not in the talent and the individual drive to excel. The poverty of Indian sport lies in the ecosystem built around it, composed of administrators, sponsors, policy makers, media, supporters, public and business enterprises. The commitment and support of the eco-system lets the sportsperson down, time and again. The hypocrisy, grandstanding and posturing gets exposed. And it got exposed once again in these Olympic games…


• When we had debates on television channels on how to become a “sporting nation”! Experts professed how all children should be made to play a sport and only then will the parents appreciate this aspect of growing up as well produce a huge talent pool. Given the obesity rates in children in the US, GB, and Italy right now, they surely cannot be sporting nations!! Sport is treated there as a viable profession for the athlete and as serious business for some of the world’s biggest brands, from apparel to equipment and supplements.


• When we admire pictures of the less than humble living conditions of many athletes and talk of their ‘struggles’ without being ashamed of keeping them in such a state in the first place!


• When the broadcasting channel shifts focus on the sports minister cheering from a studio while your national team is marching past in the opening ceremony.


• When Amitabh Bachchan, Bipin Rawat, Akshay Kumar, Sudha Murthy, Sajjan Jindal and Kiren Rijiju are brought in to cheer your contingent and give ‘victory punches’ while PT Usha, Abhinav Bindra, Rajyavardhan Rathore, Dhanraj Pillay, Karnam Malleshwari and Leander Paes are ignored!


• When not a single state government adopted a sport inspired by the way Odisha has done with hockey, instead of merely congratulatory tweets and banners up in their respective cities.


• When you share lists of “India’s narrow misses in 4thplace finishes” and feel that is enough to satiate us as a nation.


• When the broadcasting partner starts promoting an upcoming cricket series on its channels telecasting the Olympics as if directing the nation to go into its “comfort zone”!


• When we do not have a single world-class sporting brand all these years while other developing nations have created a few that are endorsed globally and proudly displayed by the national teams.


• When the national channel with terrestrial reach is not allowed to share the feed by the broadcasting partner depriving more than 60 million television owning households who watch only DD. It could have actually been a “Barshim-Tamberi moment” for Indian broadcasting.


• When there are clear best practices available from lesser privileged nations like Ethiopia and Nigeria on how to develop talent, but we wish to be bound by archaic methods of grassroots development.


• When state governments announce rewards for an athlete after winning a medal but provide no incentives and infrastructure to him / her when preparing for the same!


• When corporates look for returns on investment from sponsoring sports that need long gestation periods while lamenting why we do not win more medals than Cuba or Kenya does!


• When names of sporting awards need to be changed as a political gimmick after a certain team wins in the Olympic year and not in the normal course of time!


• When most sportspersons look forward to getting a secure job with a secure salary in a corporate / PSU / government as a career in sports has none.


• When the broadcaster wastes time on stretched inane discussions and debates instead of covering as much live action as possible.


• When our sporting federations are headed by politicians or political appointments for decades, damaging all chances of progress through nepotism and corruption.


• When a state government announces crores as prize for a medal winner and will build a stadium for him in his village after the win but not before.


• When a football league for children folds up for want of Rs.20 lakhs per annum when brands vie with each other to spend the same amount on 3-4 ad spots on IPL.


• When media covers foreign football leagues more than raising the issue of building local ones.


• When we hunt for foreign coaches for our athletes but have no Indian coaches doing the same for other nations.


• When the country’s premier football league boasts of international players and coaches who are either spent forces or come from second / third division leagues.


• When the country’s national sport was not officially accepted as one by the Ministry till the chief minister of Odisha had to write to the Prime Minister to officially declare it so in 2018!


• When e-commerce brands give you 15% off using code ‘HOCKEY’ after the games but have no crowdfunding initiative for the team when they train.



Avik Chattopadhyay is a senior brands strategy consultant based in Gurugram. He writes on MxMIndia on most alternate Thursdays but sometimes on other days as well. His views here are personal.



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