It is difficult to imagine Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hurting himself playing basketball, hockey, even tennis ball cricket. It is possible to visualize Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi doing so, which is one of the things adding to the man’s growing mass appeal, but this isn’t yet another political commentary on the two men and their abilities.
If US President Barack Obama’s 12 stitches arising from a basketball game reflects his (relative) youth, especially when compared with Indian political leaders, it also reflects the US sporting culture. Yes, this newspaper is aware that the US also has a significant obesity problem, but its people are definitely more inclined towards sports than Indians.
The reference here is to a natural proclivity for sports, much like what is seen in Australia and South Africa, not state-sponsored drives aimed at sporting excellence and Olympic medals.
There are indications that India is becoming a nation with more of a sporting culture than it ever had in the past. A decade ago, the country boasted no marathons. Today it has at least half a dozen, and all witness enthusiastic participation by amateurs who, despite working, manage to find the time to work out too and train seriously for the run. More Indians are taking to golf and even more active sports such as tennis and squash are witnessing a significant revival among the young and the middle-aged.
It is unlikely that India will become a nation of fit, toned, and tanned individuals overnight, but the sporting culture is surely catching on. It is this, more than any other factor, that will see the country emerge a significant force in at least a few Olympic sports in the next decade-and-a-half.
Much of the recent renaissance in Indian sports has been driven by economic aspirations of small-town athletes, the focused efforts of a few sports bodies, individual excellence and demographics. Already, this has resulted in the country’s sportsmen winning medals in categories where India has traditionally never had a presence. The emergence of a sporting culture will take this renaissance to the next level. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a prime minister who is into some sport.
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