Friday, November 26, 2010

Great show at the Asiad, but when will Indian media be more sympathetic to sport other than cricket

As I write this, news has filtered in, about the Indian women bagging the gold in the 4x400 m relay at the Asiad, bring India’s tally to 13, perhaps a first in a competition against the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans. These are great victories for Indian sport, great moments to cherish as well. After what has seemed a very long time, India has suddenly from nowhere been able to produce winners of the calibre of Milkha Singh, P.T. Usha and Sriram Singh. It’ll be interesting to know more about the new world-beaters, but I wonder how much and for how long media here will dwell on such triumphs – after all, it is not cricket.

And that’s the sad part, the point I’d like to stress here. That victories, such as the ones being witnessed at the ongoing Asiad, have come not because of the system, but despite it. In the Olympics, except for various Indian hockey teams (1928-1956, 1964, 1980) that did the country proud by winning gold, and even coming up with sterling performances in other years (Mexico and Munich Games, for instance), there has been little to talk about. Milkha Singh and P.T. Usha became legends but they were exceptions to the rule. Both lost out in the race for the bronze, Usha by 1/100th of a second! If people like Abhinav Bhindra have shown their mettle in recent years, it has more to do with their background and individual effort rather than the Indian sport administration lending a helping hand.

And we all know who calls the shots in Indian sport – politicians and businessmen who know little or have nothing to do with the game. Even considering cricket for a minute, Sharad Pawar may be a good administrator but why should he head the BCCI? Why aren’t players put in charge? The answer always is that players are not good administrators. I have no doubt Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble will soon prove that wrong in Karnataka Why aren’t players of the calibre of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev given key responsibilities? Why wasn’t somebody like Leslie Claudius, who has won for India the most number of medals in hockey, put at the helm of affairs years ago when he would have had so much more to contribute for the sake of Indian hockey? Ajitpal Singh, Govinda, Dhanraj Pillay… I can go on and on, but why weren’t they allowed to do nothing for the country post-retirement?

The media must also share the blame for a lot that is wrong with Indian sport. They go completely gaga over cricket, but forget there are many games that must be covered and given encouragement. Tennis has received coverage, thanks to players like Ramanathan Krishnan, Vijay Amrithraj, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathy and, now, Somdev Dev Varman. But Indian athletes, swimmers, boxers, and hockey, football, basketball, volleyball, table tennis players and many others hardly get a fraction of the coverage that cricket gets. Columnists and agony aunts think it’s a status symbol if a picture of them with a cricketer is published in the papers. So, it’s not surprising when a columnist chooses to pose with Sachin Tendulkar and not Viswanathan Anand, because poor Anand, despite being World No. 1, doesn’t have the glamour quotient. Of course, if you have a handsome boxer who is also a medal winner, then it is different.

Today, there’s such a surfeit of cricket in all its varied forms that someone like me who grew up following every Test match (even the ones India didn’t play in) hardly has any idea what match is being played and where. Big bucks and media are responsible for bringing Indian sport to such a pass. Yes, media played more than its part in unraveling the filth behind the recent Commonwealth Games. But my question is: Where was media during the progress of the construction of stadiums etc? After all, the process was set in motion four years ago. And in its obsession to regularly pillory Suresh Kalmadi and get him his due, all the good things that happened was never highlighted.

Surely, there must have been several well-meaning men and women who made the Commonwealth Games possible. Who highlighted their efforts? Why do media in this country cover only the rotten? Why can’t feel-good stories be featured? These are questions we can only ponder over. Reasons why countries such as Germany, Japan, China and Korea have stolen a march over us in many respects.

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