The euphoria around the medal winning performance of two young Indian women at the Rio Olympics is understandable, though frankly less understandable is the ‘competition’ among politicians to rush with announcements of huge cash rewards for the badminton player P.V. Sindhu and wrestler Shaskhi Malik. The whole of India feels elated when an individual or an Indian team performs well at the highest level of international sport. What galls is not the money that is showered on the winner but the quarters from which it flows andthe reasons behind. To the best of one’s knowledge the cricket ‘legend’ Sachin Tendulkar because the first ‘civilian’ to be so generous with his purse in rewarding the two ladies. His contribution might be one of the biggest in the history of Indian sport. But the bulk of the cash awards have come from politicians who, of course, dip into the public coffers to display their ‘generosity’. They know well that in the process they have notched up some PR points which might be useful at the hustings. The politicians’ magnanimity would have been better appreciated if they had been consistent in doing something for the betterment of sporting standards in the country or their state. That their priority lies elsewhere was perhaps unwittingly displayed by the union minister of sport, Vijay Goel, who flew all the way to Rio to click ‘selfies’ with Indian sporting stars. The retinue of petty officials who accompanied him brought shame to the country by being rough with Olympic officials and throwing their weight around, as though their fiefdom extended beyond the shore of India.
The head of a sporting organisation, out on a bail while serving a jail sentence on alleged corruption charges, travelled to Rio, defying court orders against leaving the country. This is one of the more sordid aspects of Indian sports. Most of the organisations are headed by undeserving people who apparently know or care less about the sporting event they are supposed to look after but are more interested in using their post for personal reasons. It is said that Indian politicians never retire. It is perhaps more true of heads of most sporting organisations in the country. They refuse to quit even when the courts disapprove. Politics remains their full-time occupation. What contribution can they be expected to make to the sporting organisation they head? It might not be an exaggeration to say that the domination of Indian sport administration by politicians and other rich and influential persons at the cost of genuine sportsmen and women has done a lot of harm to Indian sport. How blatantly they exploit their position even while neglecting the welfare of sportsmen and women was also on display at the same Rio Olympic. A radiologist son of a sport administrator was part of the Indian delegation, ostensibly to provide help in case his services were needed. One has not heard of any Olympic team travelling with a radiologist. What is more when there was need for medical help during an event in which the radiologist was present but he was unable to do much. The politicians might think that their gesture will be lauded and appreciated as a proof of their ‘broad’ outlook but it sounds strange when the chief minister of a state which figures very low in sporting achievements in the country loosens his purse strings for the Olympic winners. Some chief ministers have made it a habit to scurry with hefty cash announcements whatever the occasion or wherever it takes place—from the victims of disasters, policemen killed in action or gang warfare, various achievers and so on and so forth. These powerful politicians need to take a look at the state of sporting infrastructure in their states--and the people. If sport facilities are inadequate or in a deplorable state one of the excuses offered will be lack of resources. That may be true, in fact, because budget allocations for both education and sport are generally low. This is an excuse we have been hearing for decades. After India started to create a minor stir at the Olympic level by doing well in individual events, this explanation has begun to sound reprehensible. Sportspersons who can compete at international levels need to be trained hard, continuously and with the support of good and adequate infrastructure. You cannot expect wrestlers to be doing well, no matter how naturally talented they are, if they have to be trained in ‘desiakharas’. Hockey these days is played on artificial turf and we do not have enough of them. Again, because of the ‘resource crunch’. The practice of rewarding only the medal winners and neglecting the rest itself needs to be questioned. Sportsmen and women have to sweat and toil a lot to achieve the Olympic qualifying standards and be able to participate at the mega event once in four years. Not all of them can win meals but if they do well they also deserve some ‘reward’ as encouragement. It may also be mentioned that the majority of Indian sportspersons come from poor or middle class families where they have to resist the pressure for giving up sport (and education) in order to be able to help run the family kitchen.
A credible performance cannot be related to winning a medal. A good performer who does not win a medal also needs encouragement without having to worry about their minds off their domestic problem. Some of the medal winners in international sporting events are said to be in very poor financial shape, doing menial and other odd jobs. Their state government was obviously unconcerned about them. Their example would be a ‘disincentive’ for many budding talent. Cricket, the most pampered game, has started a practice of grade-wise fixing of ‘fee’ for national and international level players. It assures the recipient a fairly reasonable hassle-free life—free from the worries of bothering about their household personal expenses. One is not aware if athletes and other in the country have the same facility. Most of the sporting organisations are run scandalously because they show least respect for their sporting wards. It is often brought to light that players at a national event are put up in temporary shelters with primitive facilities while the officials cool their heels in five-star comforts. It is their undeserving reward.