Sharply differing perceptions make it rather difficult to properly assess India’s standing in the world of sports today. The pessimists love to paint a gloomy picture of the Indian sports and its detractors, too, are eager to point out that for a nation of India’s size and population its sporting successes are few and far between. They, however, tend to forget that in today’s highly commercialised and fiercely competitive sports, mere skill and talent are not enough to ensure success in the form of medals. In this regard the developed countries have a definite edge over the developing ones for they have surplus financial resources as compared with their basic needs. They can obviously afford to spend enormous amounts of money on providing proper infrastructure, modern equipment, latest coaching and training facilities and, above all, adequate financial incentives to their sports persons. The big financial gains that sports person from the developed countries enjoy during their active career and the post-sport security available to them are the crucial factors which tilt the scale in favour of the developed countries. The proverbial wisdom that money makes the world go round applies to sports also. India’s sportspersons have generally performed creditably only at the Asian and Commonwealth levels and in quite a few cases at the world level as well.
India’s sporting icons such as chess wizard Viswanathan Anand, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, billiards maestro Geet Sethi, tennis duo Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi and iron women Kunjarani Devi and Karnam Malleswari are currently rated among the world’s best. Gopi Chand and Aparna Popat in badminton, Jaspal Rana and Mansher Singh in shooting, Chetan P. Baboor in table tennis, Narain Karthikeyan in motor racing, Chiranjeev Milkha Singh in golf, Baichung Bhutia in football, Dhanraj Pillay in hockey and A.Maria Irudayam in carrom are some of the other contemporary Indians who have created waves with their exceptional skills to make their presence felt at the international level. All these sportspersons and many others lent prestige and splendour to the Indian sports.
One notable feature of the Indian sports is that their organised and systematic development took place only during the post-Independence period. With hardly any infrastructure, what to talk of promotional efforts, training and coaching facilities which were practically non-existent, sports in the pre-Independence era were mere fledglings. The success at the international level was limited only to hockey in the form of three precious Olympic gold medals and to some extent polo.
Some of the rulers of the erstwhile princely states were keen followers of polo and cricket and alongside them also patronised professional wrestlers. Another striking feature of India’s sporting scenario is that a large number of sports are played in the country ranging from as different games as cricket to carrom, polo to billiards, hockey to chess besides traditional indigenous games like kho-kho andkabaddi. Only a few countries can boast of such a sporting diversity. Governmental EffortsSports being a State subject under the Constitution, the role of the Central Government is primarily promotional which includes, among other things, laying down the guidelines for the national sports federations and also giving them financial assistance. Launched just six years after Independence, the Rajkumari Amrit Kaur Sports Coaching Scheme was the first notable national level promotional programme. It was superseded by Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports at Patiala in 1961 which, measuring up to the expectations, has served the nation reasonably well over the years.
The year 1961 witnessed another landmark coming up in the form of Arjun Awards instituted to honour the outstanding sportspersons. The Arjun Awards were followed by the Dronacharya Awards meant for the eminent coaches in 1985 and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award for the phenomenal achievers in 1991-92. Alongside recognition these awards also carry cash prizes of Rs.50,000, Rs.75,000 and Rs. 1 lakh respectively. Though meagre by international standards, the cash prizes are reasonable in Indian context.Another notable governmental effort was the establishment of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in January 1984, which was set up primarily with a view to looking after the vast infrastructure created in Delhi for the Ninth Asiad in 1982. It was a beginning in the right direction. SAI is now a nodal national agency for broadbasing the sports including training of the sportsperson.
Subsequently, the Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports and its allied centres at Bangalore, Calcutta and Gandhinagar as well as Lakshmibai National Colleges of Physical Education at Gwalior and Thiruvananthapuram were placed under SAI which is presently engaged in a number of schemes to scout and nurture sporting talent through its six regional centres at Bangalore, Calcutta, Delhi, Gandhinagar, Chandigarh and Imphal and two sub-centres at Guwahati and Aurangabad. The Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports, Patiala and Lakshmibai National College of Physical Education, Thiruvananthapuram act as the academic wings of SAI which also has a High Altitute Training Centre at Shillaroo (Himachal Pradesh).
SAI has also set up a number of sports academies in collaboration with the public and private sector undertakings in such games as hockey (New Delhi and Rourkela), handball (Bhilai/Rourkela), tennis (Calcutta), table tennis (Ajmer), archery (Singrauli), chess (Calcutta)and Gymnastics (Allahabad). In a nutshell, SAI has been endeavouring to achieve what was enjoined upon the Government in the first ever National Sports Policy announced in 1984.With a view to rewarding and encouraging achievers in sports, special cash prizes are being given to the medal winners in specific international events in disciplines included in the Olympic, Asian and Commonwealth Games since 1986. Another commendable promotional scheme is that of pension to meritorious sports persons. The Government is granting pension to medal winners in Olympics, World Cups, World Championships and gold medal winners in Asian Games from the age of thirty to the rest of their lives. Though these measures look inadequate when compared with the conditions prevailing in the developed countries, yet the spirit behind them is undoubtedly commendable.However, the fact remains that sports in a democratic country cannot thrive merely with State help. The role of the sports bodies is crucial in this regard as it is only they who have to plan, promote, propagate and develop their respective games.
Unfortunately in India, barring the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCI) and to some extent the All-India Tennis Association (AITA), most of the national sports federations or associations face a perennial resource crunch and are, thus, unable to fulfil their obligations properly. Though the detractors of the Indian sportspersons usually attribute their below par performances to poor stamina, lack of killer instinct and motivation, there are several other factors, too such as lack of adequate knowledge, about the latest developments in the sports medicine and technology, non-availability of modern sports equipment at affordable prices and absence of innovative coaching methods. Unless and until these deficiencies are tackled by the funds-starved sports bodies, the present scenario is not likely to change. This is a classic case of Hobson’s choice. There is also a bright and cheery side of the Indian sports. Apart from organising several world championships and a horde of major international tournaments, India has the distinction of hosting the Asian Games twice including the inaugural one in 1951. India proposes to host the inaugural edition of the Afro-Asian Games in New Delhi in the first fortnight of November 2001. Several Indians have held important positions in the international sports bodies.
Presently, India’s Jagmohan Dalmia is the president of the International Cricket Council and Randhir Singh is the Secretary General of the Olympic Council of Asia. Performance Hockey is the game which brought plenty of laurels to India in the Olympic Games, though it is not true of late. India has won 8 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze medals in the hockey competition of the Olympics including three gold claimed in the pre-Independence era. This has been a tremendous feat which no other country can boast of in the game of hockey. Besides, two more Olympic bronze, one each in wrestling and tennis, were bagged by K.D. Jadhav and Leander Paes respectively. In thirteen Asian Games held so far, Indian sports-persons have captured 93 gold, 122 silver and 178 bronze medals. In the Commonwealth Games, Indian players have claimed 50 golds, 57 silvers and 46 bronzes generally finishing among the first six in the medal’s tally. Lean PhaseOnce pride and joy of the nation, Indian hockey is passing through a lean phase nowadays. The last Olympic hockey gold was won in the boycott-afflicted Moscow Olympiad in 1980.
The most pleasing recent display was in the 13th Bangkok Asiad in 1998 when India won the Asian Games hockey gold after a long gap of 32 years. However, the biggest Indian hockey victory was in the third World Cup hockey tournament held in Kuala Lumpur in 1975 under the captaincy of the famous centre-half Ajitpal Singh. India was runner-up in the second World Cup at Amsterdam in 1973 and was placed third in the inaugural World Cup at Barcelona in 1971. Later World Cup performances were literally heartbreaking. In women’s hockey, India’s lone golden triumph was in the Ninth Asiad in Delhi in 1982. Indian eves, however, finished a creditable second in the 13th Asiad held in Bangkok in 1998. CricketBy far the most popular game not only in India but the entire Indian subcontinent, cricket has a tremendous following in the country. India has an impressive track record in cricket. It is noteworthy that India’s 60 Test victories upto October 5, 1999 including 13 wins abroad were secured in the post-Independence era.
Though India won only five Test series abroad including the series wins against the West Indies, England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, the Indian cricket teams were quite formidable on the home grounds. Alongside 190 wins in one-day matches, India has also recorded 17 one-day tournament victories involving teams from three or more countries but the grand triumph in the third World Cup in England under Kapil Dev’s inspiring leadership was the most fabulous achievement. In the early days of cricket, three Indians – K.S. Ranjitsinghji, K.S. Duleepsinghji and Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi – represented England in Test cricket, especially the great Ranji lent oriental magical charm to English cricket.
In Indian context, if Prof. D.B. Deodhar, Col. C.K. Nayudu. Lala Amarnath, Mushtaq Ali, Vijay Merchant, Vijay Mazane, Vinoo Mankad, Mahomed Nissar, Dr. Jahangir Khan and the Syed brothers – Wazir Ali and Nazir Ali – were some of the big guns of the Indian cricket before Independence, a galaxy comprising such talented stars as Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Viswanath, Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, Mohinder Amarnath, MansurAli Khan Pataudi, Farokh Engineer, Syed Kirmani, Bishen Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Erapali Prasanna, Srinivas Venkatraghavan, Dilip Sardesai, Ravi Shastri, Mohammed Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, to name a few, adorned the Indian cricket after Independence.
A number of Indians were honoured by Wisden, the bible of cricket, as cricketers of the year. A number of world records have been set by the Indian cricketers, particularly in the shorter version of the game known as one-day cricket. The magnificent partnership of 413 runs for the first wicket by Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy against New Zealand in 1955-56 is still a world record. The “Little Master” Sunil Gavaskar was the first batsman to cross the 10,000-run barrier in Test cricket. Though his world record of 10,122 runs in 125 Tests was subsequently broken by Allan Border of Australia, the Indian maestro still holds the world record of 34 centuries in Tests. Kapil Dev’s stupendous haul of 434 wickets in Test cricket is a current world record. Azharuddin’s three consecutive centuries in his first three Tests is another world record. Azhar, the most successful Indian captain with 14 Test and 90 one-day wins under his belt, has played more international matches (323), scored more runs (9110) in them and captured more catches (153) than anyone else, creating thereby new world records.
The current Indian Captain Sachin Tendulkar has scored 23 centuries and bagged 34 “Man of the Match” awards, both world records for the one-day cricket. Six out of ten world record stands for different wickets in one-dayers are in the names of Indian cricketers. This shows how well Indians have battled in one-dayers in the recent years. Impressive PerformanceIndia has been taking part in the men’s international team competition, Davis Cup, the symbol of supremacy in tennis since 1921, and produced such fine players as Mohd Sleem, the Fyzee brothers, Ghaus Mohammed, K. Prasada and J. Charanjiva in the pre-Independence era. The Indian tennis, however, flourised after Independence, when a number of brilliant players particularly Sumant Mishra, Dilip Bose, Ramanathan Krishnan, his son Ramesh Krishnan, Premjit Lall, Jaideep Mukherjee, the Amritraj brothers -Vijay and Anand – performed creditably for the country. But the real glory was brought to Indian tennis by the deadly combination of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi in men’s doubles who took the tennis world by storm by reaching the finals of all the four grand slam tournaments in 1999 and winning two of them.
It was a unique feat which no other pair could accomplish in the open tennis era. India’s track record in the Davis Cup is quite impressive as it has figured in the final (previously known as the Challenge Round) three times in 1966, 1974 and 1987. It is no mean achievement as not many countries in the world have such a fine record in this prestigious competition. Four-time Asian champion Ramanathan Krishnan, once ranked as high as world No.3 in singles, reached the semi finals at Wimbledon, the Mecca of tennis, twice in 1960 and 1961, bowing out both times to the ultimate winners Neale Fraser and Rod Laver of Australia respectively. Winner of four grand prix tournaments held in India, Vijay Amritraj reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 1973 and 1981 and Ramesh Krishnan accomplished this feat in 1986.
Apart from Ramanathan Krishnan, two other Indians Jaideep Mukherjee (1966 and 1969) and Dilip Bose (1949) had won the Asian crown. In 1997, Mahesh Bhupathi became the first Indian to win a grand slam event when he won the mixed doubles title in the French Open partnering Rika Hiraki of Japan. Mahesh in tandem with another Japenese girl, Ai Sugiyama, won the mixed double event in the US Open as recently as September 1999. The Leander Paes Mahesh Bjhupathi duo is ranked world No.1 doubles team presently and they have won the men’s doubles titles in the French Open and Wimbledon in 1999. At the junior level three Indians excelled Ramanathan Krishnan had won the Wimbledon junior title in 1954, Ramesh Krishnan annexed the same in 1979 and Leander Paes went a step further by winning Wimbledon’s junior title in 1990 and the US Open junior crown in 1991.