Vol. 6 | Issue 4 |July 2012
olympics v krishnaswamy
Change the game
The controversy surrounding the selection of the Indian contingent for the 2012 London Olympics again puts the spotlight on the need for a transparent sports policy with better governance
In India, where sporting facilities are available to a sm
all part of population, focusing on medals and perceived success seems unfair. Simply because the pool of people available for sports is large, but they are hampered by absence of sporting infrastructure.
India may have won only three medals in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing–which by the way was the best tally for an Indian contingent in Olympic history – but it is nothing unique for a developing economy, where pressure on the facilities, not just sporting, is huge. The priorities are more inclined towards health, education, sanitation and basic amenities.
Yet, as India develops, so should its focus on sports. The fact that India has begun to achieve some success in sports other than cricket – a sport limited to a handful of nations – is a testimony to its growth in sports. Focus on sports is also an indication that the society is beginning to look at quality of life – again not to be confused with medals. Medals in any country are won by a small number of high achievers. It is the overall numbers of participants in sport that are a better indicator of the state of the country, economically and in terms of the level of development.
Sport in the last couple of decades, and more so since the Sydney Olympics in 2000, has been a catalyst for industry – sporting and allied goods industry. It has given rise to a host of other possibilities – new employment avenues, a new breed of professionals in sports management, technical skills ranging from coaching to equipment manufacture and assessment and horticulture (in sports where natural surfaces are preferred). It has also brought with it, attendant benefits and avenues in areas like hospitality, travel and retail among others.
For all that to happen in a straight-forward manner, a standard needs to be set within the multi-faceted industry which would then bring us to the point that we now need to focus on in sports – that is governance.
Sports in India till recently was an unorganised sector where accountability was low. It still is. But the industry has grown in size. The evidence of this can be seen in the mushrooming of professional leagues in popular sports like cricket, football, hockey, and so on. It will keep growing, for there is a lot of scope for growth.
Just as it happens in society, where feudal systems give way to elected and chosen systems, sports, too, need to go that way. A regular infusion of ideas and the ability to recognise the need to change at various points is crucial in this matter. What was good in 1980 will never hold in 2000 and in a fast-changing world, things and systems may need to change fast, maybe every decade or even five to seven years.
The conduct of the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi was a landmark. It not only brought big sports to the people for the first time in a ‘new’ and emerging India, but also showcased sporting heroes, who became an inspiration to the youth.
‘Sports has the power to change’, said the legend Nelson Mandela once. It can wean people off from anti-social activities by channelising their energies to productive activities. The fall in Punjab’s established supremacy in sports can be linked to the terrorist-linked phase in the State. Now that it is curbed, sports in Punjab over the last decade or so is clawing its way back to the top. The fall does not take much time, but climbing back to the top does!
It took India a long time to bid and get the honour of hosting another major event, the 2010 Commonwealth Games. That could have been a major catalyst for the growth of sports industry. Unfortunately, the taint left by charges of corruption has left sports and sports organisations reeling.
Mind you, sportspersons were not to blame. They acquitted themselves well. They won more medals than before. New stars emerged in different sports. Boxing and wrestling joined the ranks of established sports like shooting, which had begun making a mark a few years earlier. Emergence of badminton stars like Saina Nehwal and Jwala Gutta-V Diju and their international success has added to the sheen. There are a few other sports too, but the moot point I wish to illustrate is that sports is growing.
Adding to the growing number of sports management companies, there are more sports organisations, whether for organising, spotting and nurturing talent, or taking care of their needs by sourcing sponsors and funds, or creating media awareness through public relations and social media and much else than before. All these indicate that there is a need for better governance. Governance needs transparency and a willingness to change; brows should not get raised in matters of finance, conduct and selection of meritorious sportspersons. It requires a system and a policy, which again need not be cast in stone, but tweaked every few years to keep in touch with the times. Yet the over-riding principle should be fair, honest and have integrity.
Just as sportspersons have a limited playing life, administrators need to realise that they themselves need to make way for the next generation, which would be better equipped to know and understand current needs.
A sports policy, no matter how flawed, will set the tone for better policies tomorrow, making it almost mandatory for a policy to be drafted and implemented at the earliest.
In my 30 years of watching and writing about sports, including five previous Olympic Games, I feel the complaints about selections and facilities have decreased – yes, they have – but there is still a long way to go. A clear-cut and honest policy will get us closer to the goal of clean sport.
Sports bodies need to have some autonomy, but not to the extent that they become fiefdoms of a handful of individuals. These are regulatory bodies – just as regulatory bodies exist in telecom and power sectors – and they need to have proper elections and a regular change of guard.
Given that the Government of India is still the biggest funder of sports, and that money comes from the taxpayers, accountability is paramount. Yet, government interference needs to be limited. Government officials are not specialised in sports, which federations are expected to be. The government and a regulatory body can act as a watchdog to see that some legislation (a Sports Bill) is implemented in the right spirit. Else, we will continue to have subjective decisions like in the selection of the tennis doubles teams for the 2012 London Olympics.
Eradication of subjective decision-making is unlikely to happen soon, and mistakes, if committed, in innocence, can be pardoned. However, such decisions will continue to haunt us, unless we have sports policies in place which can happen only through a properly drafted and carefully studied Sports Bill. g
V Krishnaswamy, one of India’s senior-most sports journalists, has covered five Olympics, seven Asian Games and five Commonwealth Games, besides more than 30 other World championships in different sports. He is representing gfiles as Sports Editor in the 2012 London Olympics.