On a hot and humid summer evening in Tokyo, Neeraj Chopra, stood on the podium to receive his gold medal for throwing javelin in the Olympic games of 2020. The only Indian to achieve the milestone, sixty years after legendary Milkha Singh in Rome Olympics 1960 and forty years after PT Usha, in 1984 Los Angeles Olympic games, missed their chance of a podium finish by a whisker. What a day to live and savor the glory! Who could have imagined in his wildest dream that an Indian athlete would fulfill the dream of a Track and Field medal for the success starved nation? As the melodius tune of “Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka Jayo He —” filled the grand Olympic stadium, my eyes turned misty.
Played in a near empty venues, in COVID ravaged Japan, Tokyo Olympic was special for India. Our medal tally had improved, albeit, marginally over London Olympic games played nearly a decade earlier. In absolute terms, there is not much to be happy about Indian medal tally. Many countries with a much smaller population had done better than India. There were much disappointment. Our shooters could not lift their game. Neither did our archers. Many celebrated boxers and medal hopefuls, made an early exit. So did a few wrestlers. Many a time our athletes, could not convert fourth position finish to a podium finish with a bronze, a bronze to a silver and silver to a gold.
But on a brighter side, green shoot of revival could be seen in several sports represented by young and energic players. In addition to gold in Track and Field, Indian hockey, both men and women, has seen revival. Men ended with a podium finish after nearly four decades. Women hockey players, no one gave them any chance, fought for bronze valiantly and lost. There was excitement in golf, in wrestling, in boxing and in badminton.
Euphoria of win and associated exuberant welcome will end in a few days after return to India. Politicians would announce rewards for medal winners, as if their responsibility ends there. What about those athletes that did not win? Was their effort any less? If we want to be a sporting powerhouse, we must keep in mind that it is easy to back a winning horse. Much more difficult is to create a setup that churns out champion horse year after year. For that to happen, average citizens of India must consider playing sports can open opportunity to earn a living. The same happened in cricket after India won world cup in 1983. Many young boys wanted to emulate our cricketing heroes and decided to play the game.
The Board of Control of Cricket (BCCI) did not let the opportunity go. They invested in building infrastructure and developing talent. At the present time, BCCI three levels of contract, one for Test players, another for one day players and the third one for T20 players. In addition, players that play for their state are also supported by cricket administration. Advent of IPL has further brought more money to the game of cricket. Now a relatively unknown player can hope to bag a cricket contract worth crores of rupees based on his ability and skill. Such an opportunity brings in talent to the game of cricket. Moreover, when a young cricketer plays with the world’s best, he imbibes learning and experience and develops confidence. Such a professional league exists for Hockey, Badminton and Kabaddi. If possible, many such leagues should be created if feasible for other sports. If not, our sports people must be exposed to tournaments and competitions abroad to hone their skill and competitive spirit.
State of Odisha has adopted hockey, our national game. Odisha government had organised hockey world cup. State government has promised to bring one stadium with an astro turf in every district of the state. An wonderful idea that must be emulated by other states and a sports or a game must be adopted for encouraging the sports.
A sport loving nation is recognised by grassroot level penetration of interest and awareness of sports. Effort must be directed in this direction. Sports must be made mandatory in school curriculum. There should be scholarships and admission for students in colleges. Tournaments must be organised at different levels in school and colleges. This apart, a sports person must be supported not only during his training days, but also once his sporting career gets over. In India, we hear stories of sports person selling tea or an Olympic working as a manual laborer in a tea estate. Unless there is a possibility of a gainful employment at the end of career, not every sports person will win medal and get reward money, not many may want to pick sports as a career option.
In the end, Tokyo Olympic is a good begining. But we have a long way to go before we can sleep.
- When Milkha Singh missed out on Olympic medal by a whisker: It was India’s bad luckWhen Milkha Singh missed out on Olympic medal by a whisker: It was India’s bad luck. https://www.indiatoday.in/sports/other-sports/story/milkha-singh-1960-rome-olympics-4th-400m-recalls-memories-painful-1816817-2021-06-19
- PT Usha thanks Neeraj Chopra for fulfilling her ‘unfinished .https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/sports/pt-usha-thanks-neeraj-chopra-for-fulfilling-her-unfinished-dream/articleshow/85130051.cms
- This roadside tea-seller is an Asian Games medallist. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/asian-games/this-roadside-tea-seller-is-an-asian-games-medallist/articleshow/65727060.cms