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It’s time we produced champions

🔴 Sunil Alagh writes: Indian sportspersons must be satisfied at nothing less than first place

Written by Sunil Alagh |
Updated: November 28, 2021 7:40:38 am
For a country that stands nowhere in global sports barring cricket, this kind of behaviour from us is not acceptable. (Getty/Thinkstock)

A young lad whom I am mentoring came up to me and asked, “Sir! I have failed in my initial effort, am I now on my way to success?” It was a tongue-in-cheek remark, but it made me stop and think. There have been too many important persons who have been glorifying failure of late. Has the pendulum swung too far when many are saying that failure is of utmost importance and without it, success rarely happens. Enough examples of this are also provided. Sure, we need to say that failure is not something to be ashamed of but that at the same time we must strive for success.

Don’t you think that we are encouraging failure by over-saying that it’s okay to fail? I have yet to hear a winner in any field say that it’s important to have played or been in the game, even if they have not won. It’s more a statement attached to losers. Just one Indian wrestler, Bajrang Punia, who won a bronze medal in the recent Olympics demonstrated this. He said that he wished to apologise to the nation as he should have got gold. That is the spirit that we need to inculcate. We are no longer an underdeveloped nation where there is high praise for anyone who wins any medal. We have 1.3 billion people and yet we are happy to win only seven medals and crow about it. Even small nations with fewer people have done better.

For a country that stands nowhere in global sports barring cricket, this kind of behaviour from us is not acceptable. This can only mean that we are a sad bunch of losers whose self-image gets a little boost every time an Indian performs well at the international level. We delude ourselves that we are going to become a global sporting power and then a global superpower. No country has performed well in sports without taking care of the basic needs of its people, especially health and social security. The current government is doing a lot. From the Soviet Union to the US, South Korea to China, their rise in the sporting world was preceded by widening the sporting pool from which they tapped talented boys and girls who went on to do well at the international level.

In China, the sons and daughters of poor peasants, electricians and daily-wage labourers are representing the country because most of the population — even in rural areas — has access to schools and stadiums. In India, our pool of talent is limited to a few pockets. The entire badminton team, it seems, has been picked from P Gopichand’s academy; the boxers and wrestlers are all from Haryana or the Northeast; and the shooters are all, with the exception of Vijay Kumar, rich kids who don’t need any state support. This small talent pool is not enough. But we seem to celebrate.

We need to change our attitude and not accept second-best anymore. I do not recommend that we must win at any cost. But we must stop pretending that losing gold is more important than winning gold. Bronze winners and even those who have not won at all are felicitated as if they have won gold. Complacency could creep in when we think like this. Please do not for one moment think that I am against those who do not win in their respective fields. It is just that the happiness of just participating in a competition may kill the desire to win.

Like any other human activity, sports too should be seen in the right perspective — how it helps the community at large in becoming better. If sports do not serve a social purpose, they are a useless exercise that helps only those who play or sponsor it or earn their bread and butter through it. If a boxer or shooter wins a medal, gets bags of cash from the state and puts it all into his house and cars and private academies and personal indulgences, we don’t achieve much.

It’s often said that we cannot find and develop winners in various fields unless we create the necessary infrastructure and commit budgets. Yes — but our culture and attitude must also change. Our current culture does not encourage us to think beyond what is obvious or the caste system does not permit us to break out but to accept our fate. We are told that if we accept our poor situation now, then we will be better off in our next life. Everything need not be transactional. The Hindu religion, of which I am a part, encourages us to even donate to the gods and only then can we hope for a return. We are capable of creating leaders in every field. Leaders who think and act, not leaders who think they act. We must bring about sustainability in our actions whilst we strive for the top. Success will come from clarity in our thought, in our actions and in our attitude and not from frantic and cluttered actions.

I have deliberately made controversial statements because we need to be shaken and stirred out of accepting and adjusting to things. No more complacency and expecting to be supported and praised for being second-best. India needs heroes and not just “tryers”. We have developed enough “tryers” and very few heroes. For this, we must grab the rainbow at both ends and move forward. There is an old Scottish proverb: Those who wish to sing will always find a song. We must find ours and soon.

This column first appeared in the print edition on November 27, 2021 under the title ‘Trying isn’t enough’. The writer is a business advisor and brand consultant

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