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Divesting sport is the way forward if India is to succeed

Currently athletes fight the system; infrastructure, apathy, society, finance, opportunity and only if they are standing after that can they fight an opponent.

Written by Harsha Bhogle |
Updated: August 12, 2016 9:21:17 am
India rio 2016 olympics, india rio olympics, rio olympics india, india rio olympics, india sports, sports in india, sports Maybe there is another Dipa Karmakar in Jharkhand, another Deepika Kumari in Karwar, another Jitu Rai in Alwar, who knows maybe a Neymar in Shillong. (Source: Reuters)

Many years ago, I had written an article which I hoped would become irrelevant but which, sadly, still hasn’t. I had tried to argue that just as governments cannot make feature films and run hotels, they cannot be in the business of sport; that governments can at best issue clearances, maybe formulate policy (notice the ‘maybe”) and generally act as benevolent guardians. I had asked then that if VSNL and Maruti can be exited from, maybe Indian sport should be too.

I am still excited by the idea of divesting sport. Since I wrote that article, India has become a far bigger economic entity, corporate houses have huge spending power, young Indians have begun following, and receiving, sport like never before, the IPL has spawned many leagues and, most important, India is a far more ambitious country. India deserves to be a sporting power, India simply has to win more. And governments, the bureaucracy and ill-equipped, and ill-intentioned, administrators can no longer be allowed to come in the way.

For all the extraordinary physical feats that you see, sport is actually run on softer skills. Athletes have to be nurtured, encouraged and cajoled back from failure. It is incredibly demanding and in few other endeavours in life do people fail as much as they do in sport. Failure is like a pathway that guides you along not a coffin you must be entombed in. Athletes, like artistes, are sensitive people who lead hard lives. They are inevitably hurt for they demand ridiculous things from their bodies. Government departments, however benevolent, cannot sow the seeds they need to flower.

Neither can corporations, which is actually, where I am headed. But corporations understand brands, the planning that goes into success and the finest of them understand excellence. And so my thesis is that if corporations are told that it will make business sense for them to set up infrastructure and produce champion athletes, and that the goodwill is the cherry on top, they will be very happy to say yes.

Currently athletes fight the system; infrastructure, apathy, society, finance, opportunity and only if they are standing after that can they fight an opponent. Admittedly things are better than they were but that is like saying we have a bike where we had a cart. I regularly attend functions that my friend Viren Rasquinha invites me to and I have often had moist eyes as I see ambition, talent and excellence find a home at Olympic Gold Quest.

There are at best two or three others like OGQ and while they insulate their athletes, they are running pillar to post to fund themselves. It is wrong.

I see Niraj Bajaj, a top table tennis player himself, quietly supporting OGQ and I saw Parth Jindal fight for Narsing Yadav. These are great signs but my suggestion is that they shouldn’t do this as benevolence but treat it like they are running a business.

WATCH: The good, bad and ugly for India at Rio 2016 Olympics

If the Bajaj family was given table tennis to run, if HDFC was asked to look after archery, if Infosys was told to handle shooters and if Anand Mahindra was empowered to ensure that we have hockey medals, they would (okay maybe, could) put the investment behind it if the government gave them concessions against infrastructure built and loaded in incentives for world class, even medal winning performances. I am not a finance person but I have no doubt the numbers would work out. Admittedly the government is spending a lot more on sport these days but there is little point in painting the walls and tiling the bathrooms if the pillars are faulty.

Maybe there is another Dipa Karmakar in Jharkhand, another Deepika Kumari in Karwar, another Jitu Rai in Alwar, who knows maybe a Neymar in Shillong. If you incentivised finding them, people would try harder to search. And it wouldn’t cost such a lot.

It pains me when we look at our athletes with pity and compassion when we should look at them with pride. India is rich enough not to require its athletes and benefactors to plead for support. And it can happen if the will is there. Otherwise we will get sporadic bursts of patriotism and larger sequences of apathy. The quicker sports moves out of the Ministry of Sport (where the minister is often deemed to be on a punishment posting), the faster we will advance.
Let us divest sport. And I hope I am not rewriting this article ten years from now.

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