Two recent incidents tell us a lot about the sordid state of sports administration in India.
India’s only individual Olympic gold medal winner may not be participating in the forthcoming Commonwealth Games because he did not appear for trials conducted by the apex National Rifle Association of India. Abhinav Bindra says he could not attend the shooting trials because he has to take part in top-notch international events as part of his training. He later said that the rifle association and the sports ministry have been playing ping pong and using him as the ball.
This is the bureaucratic curse, where senseless procedure is deemed more important than results. The Bindra episode is akin to the cricket board keeping Sachin Tendulkar out of the national team because he has not played enough domestic cricket. Cricket buffs may remember that the board had tried this tactic way back in 1971, leaving cricketers such as wicket keeper Farokh Engineer out of the team touring the West Indies because he had that year played for Lancashire in the English county circuit rather than for Bombay in the Ranji Trophy.
The shooting controversy comes a few days after the Indian national hockey team went on strike. Hockey players are paid a pittance while the Hockey India is a snake pit of corrupt ambition. The strike made it to the front pages of newspapers and prime time television, one reason why the hockey administration backtracked. Anybody who has watched the film Chak De! India should have some idea about the ways of high-handed administrators and the miserable conditions under which our hockey players train.
The pat response is to compare this with the way cricketers are fawned upon and the big money they earn. Cricket dominates the Indian sporting psyche partly because the people who run the game have understood the needs of newer audiences and the potential of commercial television. There is much that is wrong with the Board of Control for Cricket in India, but the lack of flexibility is surely not one of them.
India has created individual champions such as Bindra, Pankaj Advani and Viswanathan Anand. But team sports will require a new administrative set-up that treats sportsmen with respect.
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