Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Road to Tokyo

A day after the National Sports Day. Couldn’t think of a more apt day to finally publish this post which has been in the works for quite some time now.
Just under three years to go before the next Olympics at Tokyo. It’s the Olympics. So it’s never too early to prepare for the big event, even if you are just a fan sitting at your home. 

Nearly a year has passed since the Rio Olympics. The Indian performance was a little underwhelming, especially coming after the relative high of the London Games. We had sent our biggest contingent ever, but the final result was a big letdown although there were quite a few last step heart-breaks as well.

Rio produced its own fair share of “stars” – PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar, Lalita Babar et al. But with the exception of Sindhu, the rest have seemingly disappeared from the sporting arena (if you go by the media following). There were mega felicitations for the big winners, but then what next? Most of the Olympic sports have been seemingly forgotten and disappeared from the public eye. Probably to re-appear just before the next Olympics. Badminton being the sole exception – thanks to sterling performances by the players.

Why this apathy for sports other than Cricket (and to a certain extent Badminton and Hockey). As Joy Bhattacharya writes in this article, we tend to follow the stars and not the sports. And that is precisely why our performances at the biggest stages seems so underwhelming. 

Meanwhile, me, the self-described sports tragic had decided to regularly update this blog with features on Olympic sports (from an Indian perspective). Had envisaged a monthly frequency for the updates, progressing to fortnightly and weekly in the run-up to the Games. However, it took one whole year, to bring the first post in this series! 

First a look back at the year gone by!

Post Rio, the Government announced the creation of a task force for the next three Olympics. Probably the first time ever, we seemed to be planning for the long term and not just the next event. However, the results will only show in due course. Yet, it did begin with the right intent. 

Meanwhile, NRAI, one of the better managed national bodies, immediately set up an independent inquiry to assess the Rio performance. And came out with a recommendations too, and all this in an open manner. Something which the other sporting bodies should also have done. [At least, I haven’t heard of any such enquires by any of the other federations]. (NRAI Introspection Report)

Rio presented its share of controversies. Most notably the Narsingh Yadav doping scandal, OP Jaisha’s racing controversy, Anirban Lahiri’s accusations of official apathy. All that’s water under the bridge, but hopefully the task force has taken note. Doping headlines become a national embarrassment and make the low medal count appear even more shameful. 

But what next? The medals cost money. Just look at how much Great Britain spends invests on the Olympic sports - by some estimates nearly ~5.5 Mn Pounds per medal. That is a huge amount. And the money has yielded results. From 1 Gold in 1996 to 27 in 2016. 

Well, India might not be able to fund this much (from its current sports budget anyway). But we can open up alternate revenue options. Why not legalise sports betting? And put all the revenues earned into development of sports at grassroots and dedicated training for the top performers. A side-advantage is betting agencies are also becoming good at detecting match-fixing. (e.g. Tennis). But given the “ethical” issues involved, it may not be the most palatable solution. Guess we have to stick with corporate sponsorships for now.

At the Olympics, the margin between fame and anonymity is very fine. Every little thing matters. Hopefully, actions taken from the task force recommendations might be good enough to bridge that gap.

The multiple World Championships held during the last year have brought mixed results. Badminton is good, Shooting is dicey (as always), Athletics failed to live upto the usual hype in the run-up, Wrestling drew a blank slate (the biggest disappointment), while Boxing is looking better again. Hopefully these are looked at more as preparations for the big event coming in 3 years time.

So to the question of What Can I (an average fan) Do? 

Well, as a starter follow more sports. 
  • Want to know where Indian sportspersons are participating - follow this guy on Twitter. There's no one better!
  • Build your own sports calendar for upcoming events. Wikipedia helps here as well with a couple of dedicated pages for current and upcoming events 
  • Watch more games in the stadium. And not just the big ones
  • If you can, make a monetary contribution to causes like Olympic Gold Quest.
  • Cheer for our performers on social media. (It raises the profile of the game e.g. Our women’s cricket team) 
Just a starter. Next episode (hopefully soon) will cover the event changes changes from Rio to Tokyo

Monday, August 14, 2017

India @ 70

Happy Birthday, India! And it's time for my annual round-up of many things that is India.

Usually, the perennial optimist in me would always find the silver lining in the clouds hovering all around. But, with every passing year, it is getting a tad harder to do so. Maybe the times are troubled or simply because I am growing more and more cynic.

There is a sub-clause, in the Constitution, under the section of Fundamental Duties: "To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. But that was before the era of Whatsapp and Facebook. Judging by the amount of blind faith in Whatsapp forwards, there is a large deficiency of "scientific temper" and the "spirit of inquiry" in us Indians. Why do people have a tendency to share and be willing bearers of sensationalism without a basic fact check? Something which has now been exploited to the hilt by the creators of "manufactured" news and and those rewriting history to propagate their own devious agenda. Even more worrying is the speed at which the "anti-national" tag is being thrown at people who do not conform with the "official thinking".

Coming to the most recent and shocking "news" - over 70 children die in a hospital in Gorakhpur because the oxygen supply was shut-off. A simple mechanical act leading to a tragedy. Somebody did not ensure payments even after multiple reminders leading to a "massacre". As if the tragedy wasn't bad enough, we now have to witness the vultures (politicians and media) swooping in to feed on the frenzy. Some downplaying, some outraging, some just intent on blaming others and finding a convenient scapegoat. The entire system needs a brutal shake-up.

The current state of India is such that there are more people ready to take cudgels on behalf of the members of "Bos taurus" species than for fellow Homo Sapiens. Somehow the bigger crime is "consuming and transporting beef" than the public lynching of the alleged "criminal".

Last year, we witnessed the grand exercise of "Demonetization". Almost one year down the line, we have still no clue why it was carried out (there are theories) and whether any of the promised "benefits" (and there were lots of them) actually were brought forth. And there were poeple who believed about the tracking chip in the currency notes!

Every few months, we hear of Chinese sneaking into Indian territory. A clarion call to boycott Chinese made goods is raised, ironically often via phones made in China. And then it dies down, to be raised again following the next Chinese "incursion".

The Indian soldier was also in the news throughout the year. Sometimes for dealing with skirmishes at the border, sometimes for having stones pelted at them at home, sometimes for raising the occasional complaint about their conditions. But they were kept in the news mostly by the jingoistic jokers who would bring about images of soldiers at the border even for mundane day to day activities like withdrawing money from a bank account.

A cartoon to sum it all up
Enough ranting for now. We are still better off than many parts of the world, but much worse than others. After all, I still have the freedom to post this.

भारत माता की जय !

P.S. 2016 Edition