Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Games We Play

The suspension of the Indian Hockey Federation by the Indian Olympic Association will raise many questions about reviving hockey – supposedly India’s national game and once the one discipline where India could be assured of a medal. This happened after the International Hockey Federation advised the India’s Olympic body to take over management of the country’s hockey after a bribery scandal plunged the game into crisis.

A larger question will go unanswered in the midst of all this murky ruckus; the question of how many games we as a country ought to play. That focus will help in allocating scarce resources on a select few instead of investing in every game under the sun and ending up mediocre in practically all of them. At the moment the Indian Olympic Association is the classic show case of India’s famous “Unity in Diversity” slogan and the Association recognizes every thing from Atya Patya, Ten Pin Bowling and Thang Ta. Check out the IOA’s web site for a whole lot more games that the Association supposedly supports. Of course, none of these games are Olympic sports and will ever be in the foreseeable future but no one cares.

Apart from all these obscure games, of course India plays all the better known ones – Basketball, Baseball, Volleyball, Ice Hockey, Throwball - you name it and we play it and play it mostly terribly. Even in those games, where we have some modest success, like tennis or chess or perhaps badminton, there would be perhaps one or two players or one or two athletes who hold the flag in a country of India’ size and population. And they usually have discovered long ago that they will gain little from the somnolent and ineffective sports federations that preside over them like deities in a pantheon. Remember the cynical, sneering, pan chewing official running Women’s’ hockey portrayed in Chak de India? The film maker had to have picked up his cues some where!

No nation in the world plays as many sports disciplines as we do with official blessings and perhaps as poorly as we do. Whereas at one level sports is a pastime and recreation and any one can play any thing, professional sports is a different game altogether. Since sports is never ever going to be a strategic concern in a country like India, it will always be at the bottom of the pile in the budget allocated to the larger social sector. One would assume therefore that the little piece of cake that is available would be used judiciously. But that does not appear to be the case.

India’s sports policy is fairly recent having been drafted in 2001. However the policy does not address this issue and if any thing , in an attempt to be all things to all people, talks of broad basing sports. Of course some aspects of broad basing are pretty good – like making opportunities available to a wider section of the population ; encouraging traditional sports and so on. But the policy ought to have drawn a line some where but it hasn’t and the day may nor be far off when playing kancha (marbles) and lattu(spinning top). The pits to which sports administration has fallen as revealed in the hockey scandal should make us think a bit. Of course it is no one’s case that hockey should be axed but it may be a time to introspect as to which games enjoy official patronage and budgetary support. It is better to be involved with fewer sports, allot them more money out of the little that will be available and then manage their administration better. It is time for a newer and more achievable sports policy perhaps !

No comments: