“Run, Pheidippides run!”
One of the oldest stories on athletics dates back to the BC when the marathon races originated. However, this a story far from home. Closer to home, Indian athletics too have few stories attached their portfolio. But the negative side is, they are few. Homecoming of Indian athletes is often melancholic. However, there are a few Indian athletes who have managed to inspire athletics development in India and upcoming Indian athletes as well.
One question that plague the landscape of Indian athletics, Indian athletes and Quora is “What are the reasons behind Indian athletes’ poor sporting performance in Olympics” with over 2 million views. Every reason from the grassroots of Indian athletics to solid government policies has been dissected for debate, in vain. Indian athletes’ performance at the Asian Games and Commonwealth games have been decorating the headlines over the past decade.
However, we still have a long run in creating Olympians and champions in the most competitive tournament.
Here are five realities of Indian athletics that shall accompany us in this long metaphorical run.
Lack of a sports policy
Have you ever checked a country’s sports policy or even heard of one’s existence? Much like what Hawk-Eye is to the Avengers, is a national sports policy for the state of athletics in a country. A sports policy ensures that all frameworks, platforms, and infrastructure are held together cohesively. Top sporting nations like China, the US, and the UK have an efficient and concrete sports policy. However, the last time a sports policy was drafted and passed without any hindrances to the plethora of athletics and sports committees is 2001. An effective sports policy was drafted for India in the year 2001 which enforced the Center to co-operate with state governments, IOC and National Sports Federation to nurture grassroots development. A draft of the National Sports Development Bill was also brought to effect in 2007 to establish a concrete framework for sports in India. However, it faced stiffed opposition with the IOC and NSF, and the government did not implement it.
As in the intent of Khelo India sports policies and sportsperson should update themselves every five years. China has an efficient model which can be re-framed to attend to India’s athletic woes. China’s sports policy advises sportspersons, coaches and scientists to revise their knowledge of sports and technological awareness. However, this is enforced through a strong sports policy at the national level which India needs in its legislative ranks.
Athlete dropout rates
India has an abysmal record of fitness and physical health awareness which sharply reflects in extrinsic motivation and support for these athletes at national levels as well. According to a study by Puma, lack of time is cited as the main reason. Over 50% of the respondents, mostly between the ages 18-21, reveal that they haven’t played a sport in the last year. However, the same age group accounts for an average of 4 hours a day spent on social media.
The National Sports development programme, Khelo India, recognizes athlete drop out rates as an alarming situation in India. The most common reasons are high risk behind choosing sports as a career option and uncertainty in the incentives offered. The government managed to muster 732 probables for the London Olympics, and only 65 were qualified for the games. Such low participation severely impacts bench strength which is a stark contrast to top-performing nations.
Indian athletics- State wise representation
There occurs a serious question of sports being adopted as a political statement or an agenda by ruling parties of several states in India. Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Haryana top performances until 2017 with Kerala topping the National Youth Athletics Meet for the between 2012 and 2017. Monetary incentives as in the Tamil Nadu model and the Kerala model of giving grace marks in academics for winning athletes are few reasons for the success of these states. These states also coincide with being the states with the highest literacy rates as well.
Lack of a vision from the government
The 2018 budget for sports raised a few eyebrows and frowns from the analysts and athletics federation. The budget allocated about 400 odd crores for the Khelo India program and 300 odd crores of the Sports Authority of India which is India’s apex sporting body for regulating funds and infrastructure. One can’t help but notice the reduction in allotment for the apex body by 66 crores from the previous year.
The spending on sports arises from a vivid vision for the same. A government that aims to spend on education generously and considers the same to be a poll issue increases the spending for the same. As aforementioned, the dominance of Indian athletics a few states is directly proportional to their high education spending. However, education is a little know poll issue in India which blackens the reality of Indian athletics as well. The incumbent government has introduced several schemes to impact grassroots development and on the international scale. The Khelo India initiative, which according to the Sports Minister is a “Resounding Success,” has been received with mixed reviews with regards to the participation eligibility, age adulteration and focus of the program. According to a few, the program would be the “resounding success” if it was dealt with by an “iron hand.”
The hope for sports in India can only be revived through strong political will. How our political establishment connects national pride to everything else but sports needs to change. Perhaps the day the government delivers its promise of opening universities for sport in each zone, the young talent will have access to sports as a curriculum, thereby inculcating a culture of sports in every household.
Athletic sportswear and retail
All realities of participation busted; one can see athletics retail as a huge market in India. With online retail booming in India athletic equipment such as footwear are projected to grow at a rate of 9-12%. Market research also states that India is growing to be the 11th highest consumer of athletics and sports apparel and footwear in the world.
However, India lacks a sustainable and competitive sports manufacturing industry to supply for its indigenous athletes. The cost of competing and scaling their business, especially the medium scale ones, is difficult. Research into sporting sciences and leadership and innovation are short-sighted and the shortcomings that affect the manufacturing industry.