Yesterday I met Sanjay, who would represent India in the Asian Games to be held this year. He has previously participated in various Judo competitions worldwide.
Sanjay (24) is a resident of Manipur and is currently employed in the Indian Military Police. He is amongst some fortunate players who have been sponsored by the Military police. His training, equipment, coach fee, travel and registration costs are government funded.
But there are very few players who receive such benefits. During our discussion I realized that there are various reasons which contribute to the unsatisfactory performance of Indians in international sports.
1. Too much Importance to Cricket :-
Cricket has been given outmost importance in India. Games like hockey and Tennis have also gained popularity in the past but sports like judo, karate, rugby, football and squash are generally ignored by the masses.
2. Societal Pressure:-
Sports is thought to be a leisure activity in the country. Sports as a profession is largely condemned. The people prefer traditional careers over sports. Education is considered a pre-requisite to attain success. Sports is barely given any importance in schools. The players have to struggle between their rigorous practice schedule and school timings. They often have to choose between education or sports and the former wins almost every time.
3. Lack of Remuneration
Life of a sportsmen is considered more of a struggle and less of an achievement. The profession guarantees financial safety only for those who are famous; the ones who are still struggling to establish their identity are hardly given any remuneration. Most of the potential sport-persons experience disillusionment and stress from the very beginning of their career and usually end up sacrificing their dreams.
The costs of equipments and other facilities are very high. For example: most of the protein supplements are imported from Europe. A small bottle of protein costs about Rs. 4,000 in India but the same bottle is considerably cheap for the European players in their currency.
5. Foreign Coaches:-
There is a dearth of competent coaches in India. Thus, a player has to rely on foreign coaches for assistance and training. The fees and expenses to hire a foreign coach cannot be easily met by an individual. Hence, most of the times the players have to make a compromise. Either they are given incompetent coaches or no coaches at all.
6. Travel Costs:-
Due to lack of funds Indian players are send only to selected competitions. India remains unrepresented in most of the competitions. The players are unable to afford the huge travel and registration costs and hence it is on the discretion of the government to decide whether India would be represented in a competition or not .
The multinationals and private companies are uninterested in sponsoring a game which people barely watch. Due to lack of private funding the players have to completely rely on the government funds.
8. Balancing Job and Sports
Sanjay has a rigorous practice schedule from 6 am to 8 pm. Fortunately, the Military Police encourages him to follow his dreams. Not all employers provide their employees with funds, job salary and a healthy work atmosphere. It is almost impossible for players to strike a balance between their jobs and sports.
Politics has dominated almost all spheres of Indian sports. Discrimination on basis of Regionalism at the time of selection is prevalent in all sports including cricket. Other factors like political recommendations and corruption have also affected the selection procedure adversely.
10. No Pension:-
A player is usually active till the age of 35 years. Most of the players retire with no substantial achievements, education and financial security. If they still wish to be connected with the profession; the only option available is to coach students and youngsters for meager amounts.
What needs to be done?
Nothing would change until we change our attitude. These games will attract sponsorship and private funding only when the people start appreciating them. Transparency must be brought in the selection procedure. Government may provide deserving players with more jobs and remuneration.
The educational institutions must also encourage the students to excel in sports and not only in academics.There are very few universities which provide for sports quota in higher eduction. Similar reservations must be made in other universities too. A change needs to be brought at every stage; if we expect India to perform well at the International level.
A player sacrifices a lot for his game. His spirit and dedication needs to be respected and not ignored by the nation.