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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Why is billion strong India a laggard in Sports

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A few days ago, I wrote a post on India’s chances to host the 2020 Olympic Games. I disgusted to see the reactions of people who laughed at this mere suggestion. They mocked the Indian Sport persons. This post is for those morons who have no idea to Sports and perhaps don’t watch any sport other than Cricket. They have no idea how much sports has changed.

I am starting this article by covering some of the sports which I follow.

Hockey is the national game of our country and India has won the Olympic Gold and World Cup several times. However, field Hockey moved from playing on grass to synthetic surfaces in the early 90’s.

India does not enough of these which are costly. Moreover each surface has only a fixed life. No wonder, India has hardly done well at either the World Cup or in Olympics. The lowest point came when the mens team failed to even win a medal at the 2006 Asian Games. They even lost to China. Infact the Chinese went on beat Pakistan as well and finish second on Mens Category and won the gold in Womens - can you imagine that!!! Indian eves however saved some grace for the national sport by winning the bronze medal. I suppose by that logic sooner Chinese might even win the Gold in Kabbadi as well.

Chak de India, a Bollywood sport movie based on Indian Women’s Hockey clearly showed the difference. While Australia’s coach was strategizing based on video footage and printouts, India’s coach was merely encouraging his players.

India’s current Hockey coach, Brasa from Spain is realizing this lack of facilities. According to him, India badly needs a sports psychologist, GPS system, heart-rate monitoring machine, a software to analyse matches and some laptops for the coaches. Till date he has only received promises. (Source)

Vijay Amritraj (former World no 16) is perhaps the only singles player (of good quality) that India has produced. Though he never won a Grand slam, he defeated John Mc Enroe four times. Sania’s best rank was 37th and even she has hardly defeated any top ranked players. On the doubles circuit though, Leader and Mahesh have been a dominant force.

The reasons are not hard to guess. It is a herculean task for any Indian player to rise in the ranks. Top ranked Tennis players usually prefer to compete in tournament in the Europe and the US. This is because of the higher prize money. This means that the local talent gets to see and play higher ranked players thus improving the standard of play. An Indian would have to spend a lot of money just to travel and compete. Better training and coaching facilities abroad further aggravates the gap. As a result, higher ATP points are given for winning a tournament in Europe than a one in India. It is no wonder that generally the top ranked players hail from Europe, US and Australia.

Ten years ago there were just 8 Indians among the top 2000 men and women. Today there are 50. But just one woman is among the top 100 while none in case of men. Yuki Bhamri, the number one junior player essentially trains abroad. Prakash Amritraj also has a US passport and play there.

Mahesh Bhupati in partnership with Apollo Tyres launched the Apollo 2018 mission with an aim to produce singles Champion by 2018. It aims at selecting young talent and providing them with the best training. However, this has run into financial troubles due to recession.

This is surely an upcoming sport in India. This sport is dominated by the Chinese. In the past Prakash Padukone and Gopichand have won the prestigious All England Cup. Saina Nehwal, perhaps the best Indian singles talent, has been doing a great for the past couple of years. She reached the last eight in the Beijing Olympics.

But even this sport is not without any fiasco. Recently Saina had to miss a major international event because the Badmintion Association officials didn’t send her entries. As a result her rankings dropped from World No. 6 to World No.8.

Not long ago, she had almost missed out on participating at the Yonex Sunrise World Super Series Masters Final in Malaysia because she hadn’t received her passport in time from the regional passport authorities of Hyderabad. Only when The Times of India intervened on behalf of the teen did she receive the documents from the Chief Passport Officer in New Delhi. It took him just a few hours on Saturday, which is usually an off day. (Source)

Shooting is perhaps the most promising non-cricket sport of all. We have producers winners like Rajwardhan Rathore, Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, etc. We have got a realistic chance of producing many more Olympic medals in Shooting.

But all is not well. For instance, at a major international event, India performed exceeding well (as compared to the previous edition of the Games). Soon after the team lands, the Chief Coach resigned because he was sick and tired of delays in ammunition.

Abhinav Bindra, India’s lone Olympic Gold medal winner comes from an affluent Sikh family and his father had setup an indoor shooting range at their home in Punjab. He was someone who got the right training. Sports have moved beyond the sport fields and into the research labs. For instance, Shooting at the highest level involves controlling your heart beat. Not many Indians can afford this.

On back of their strong performance, National Rifles Association of India(NRAI) recently got Sahara as its sponsor. Top 15 shooters got Cricket styled graded contracts. “ Abhinav Bindra’s absence in the National Rifle Association of India’s (NRAI) graded contracted system is just the most apparent lapse, it’s hardly the only one. Kynan Chenai, who won a gold at the Youth Commonwealth Games in Pune last year, has more national and international accomplishments than Shresyasi Singh. And yet the latter is placed in the higher slab — Rs 12 lakh per year — while Chenai gets Rs six lakh per year. Shresyasi also happens to be the daughter of the NRAI president Digvijay Singh. ” (Source)

Cricket, the most popular game in India is played in just a handful of countries. There are just nine Test playing countries. Of this, we all know the standard of Bangladesh Cricket while West Indies Cricket has been struggling for quite some time now. That leaves just seven countries that play good standard of Cricket. Yet there is immense popularity of the sport in India. There two reasons for it – first Cricket is a team sport which makes it much more interesting to watch, second, unlike other sports India has in the past has won all the major Tournament (World Cup, World T20, and Champions Trophy).

Now just picture this, India’s population every year increases by an amount that is roughly equal to the current population of Australia. Yet our team (of which most of us ardent supporters) is thrashed by a team that was essentially composed of Australia’s reserves.

Reasons are not hard to guess. There are 27 teams in the Ranji Trophy (at least one for each state). These are divided into two divisions – Elite (10 teams) and Plate (17 teams). This number was even higher in 2007 when there were 12 teams in the Elite division. The number of reduced following India’s humiliating exit from the 2007 World Cup. Ideally this number should be further reduced to eight (something that is hard to do). Dhoni who played for Jharkhand( a Plate division side) made it to the Indian side shows that the systems is well equipped to promote talented players even from the Plate Division. Only difference is that, Had Dhoni played for a bigger Ranji team like Mumbai or Delhi, he might have made his debut by time he was 19. He eventually made his debut at an age of 23.

Compare that to Australia which has just six teams in its domestic structure. This means every Australian has to fight hard just to keep his place in the state side, forget the national side.

Infrastructure has improved compared to the past. But picture this; UP an Elite-division team has been very well for past few seasons. Some of the top player like Suresh Raina, Praveen Kumar and Piyush Chawla hail from here. But until very recently they did not have a full time physical trainer. You can surely imagine what would be the condition of the Plate division teams.

IPL has brought in the money, but has it really improved the quality? Earlier this year, IPL tournament just preceded the T20 World Cup, seemingly an ideal preparation for it. The defending Champions were badly beaten. One of the obvious reasons is that there are as many as eight teams in IPL. Most teams have just one or at max two good bowlers. As a batsman you would try to play out these bowlers and attack the rest.

You all can imagine what would happen to the standard of Cricket when the number of teams is increased in 2010. Domestic T20 tournament in Australia has six teams with each team allowed just two overseas players as opposed to four in IPL. And what I find really hard to understand how people can support any of these teams? I asked some of my colleagues who hail from Hyderabad, why were they support the Team. That team hardly had any players from Hyderabad or AP for that matter. Other than the foreign recruits most of the Indians in the team hail from other states.

Inefficiency and Corruption in cricket is even higher at junior levels which are by and large outside the media glare. IPL has addressed this to a certain extent but it has also made players less enthusiastic of playing for India, since they can make enough money even if they never get to play for India. Most of the support staff around the world are Australians. There was time when there were as many as five Australians as National Coaches – Greg Chappel (India), John Bucchannan (Australia), Tom Moddy (Sri Lanka), Dave Whatmore(Bangladesh) and John Dyson(West Indies). The best umpire till very recently was also an Australian. Surely there is something in the Australian setup.

Our Sports Administrators
Most of the times, it is the sportsmen who face the ire of the fans. The public is completely oblivious to what happens behind the scenes.

• National Games to be held in Jharkhand in 2007 have been delayed four times and still no dates as to when they will be held.
• Our Commonwealth Games preparation is going shamelessly slow. Though IOA has assured that they will be done on time for the Games, Indian sportsmen would not get any home advantage because lack of practice and thus would cost us lot of medals.
• A certain Monica Devi missed out on the Beijing Olympics because the Indian Olympic Association withdrew her name after she tested positive during a drugs test. When she asked for another test, it was found that she was, in fact, innocent, but by then it was too late for the Manipuri to participate at a competition that just about every sportsman dreams of. (Source)
• PT Usha, the doyen of Indian athletics was denied proper accommodation at the National Athletics Meet in Bhopal. The 'sprint queen', as she is known as, was asked to share her less than spectacular room with five others. The room did not even have hygienic conditions or running water. (Source)

Forget the money, if we can just remove these inefficiencies, a quantum jump in performances can be achieved. With improved performance money will come as is shown by the recent contract won by Vijendra Singh.

The way forward……..
If money alone would have been the issue, then Africa or North Korea would never win medals at the Olympics. Surely they have something right in their sporting structure and it is not marred by the corrupt and inefficient practices. Perhaps this is not just the story of Indian Sports alone, this is a story of all Indian Systems across the board, be it civil administration, police, judiciary, etc.

Sports are a way of life. Sports can also play a major in raising nationalistic feelings. In India, the North-East and in particular Manipur has a sporting culture. In the last National Games, Manipur and Assam were at second and third spot respectively in the overall medals tally, quite disproportionate to their population size. This region is capable of producing Olympic Champions. Cricket is not the only sport in this region. More encouragement and better facilities could produce better results. These regions are also insurgency prone and sports could act as a means to integrate them with the rest of the country.

BCCI is perhaps the only Sporting organization in India that has loads of money. It has recently started supporting other games. It has promised 25 crore to help the Indian Football over the next two years. However, it can surely be more innovative and invest in long term projects that can produce lasting results. For instance, it can invest in an Institute of Sports Science.
Sport science is a discipline that studies the application of scientific principles and techniques with the aim of improving sporting performance. Human movement is a related scientific discipline that studies human movement in all contexts including that of sport. The study of sports science traditionally incorporates areas of physiology, psychology, motor control and biomechanics but also includes other topics such as nutrition and diet, sports technology, anthropometry kinanthropometry and performance analysis. (Source).

Andrew Leipus, India’s physio during 2003 World Cup had a Sport Science degree from an Australian Institute. If we could have a local institute to produce physios, most Ranji sides could have a physio and thus India’s perennial problem of fielding could be solved. Fitness in other sports would also greatly improve. Likewise, Indian sports need Sports Psychologists.

If Indian sportsmen still manage to win so many accolades, it is not because of the system, it is despite the system. Let us not mock these sportsmen who bring glory to our nation.



  1. Really a well researched article. Hope the persons who are to be heard would have a very serious look at this.
    Apart from this I also say that it is also the involvement of 100 crore people required to make our country. When we won 3 medals in the last Olympic I pointed the same
    It is spirit of people required to support sports other than just cricket!

  2. Thanks a lot, i took around 3 weeks to research the topic, but it was worth it.

  3. Hi Sandy,
    I found out about your blog by accident.
    First, I am Canadian (french), a former olympic athlete and coach, member of the Int'l Olympic Academy, member founder of the International triathlon Union, lobbyist to get triathlon as an int'l sport federation, then an olympic sport and finally into the olympic program (Sydney 2000). Conclusion: I know about the olympic movement. My prediction after being in sport for almost 30 years? INDIA WILL BECOME A POWERHOUSE IN SPORT.
    Go India!
    P.S.: Our prime minister just came back from India. And believe me, Canada as your commonwealth brother will support your candidacy 100%!

  4. @Coach
    If u r really a former Olympian (as claimed by u), i am really glad to hear the conclusions. Infact I am interested to know why do u think so. Are there any specific observations that u wud like to share.

  5. Good Job,
    really an excellent article,
    More comments at (indi).

  6. I want to assure everyone that Delhi is very much capable to host common wealth games. Indian government is going to invest a huge amount of money i.e US$1.6 billion for preparation of CWG. So this is the most expensive CWG ever (compared to Manchester 2002 - approx. US$420 million, and Melbourne 2006 - approx. US$ 1.1 billion). This amount not included infrastructure development activities like roads, airports and flyovers.

    commonwealth games delhi

  7. Hi Pawan, welcome to the blog.
    I think the question is not just about hosting on time. Does it means that the stadium will be completed a day before the opening ceremony. So when will our athletes practice. Will they enjoy any home advantage?