President & Group Managing Director: Dr.Shelly Ahmed | Editor in Chief & Group CEO: M H Ahssan

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Creating 1,000 Milkha Singhs for Indian sport

By M H Ahssan

Even before a line of script has been written and the first shot canned, Milkha Singh’s act of selling his life’s story to filmmakers for just Re1 has already been extremely inspiring.

An orphan of the Partition who struggled against trauma and adversity, the very mention of his name creates a wave of excitement. Therefore, when the Flying Sikh (so nicknamed because of his splendid athletic record at the Tokyo Asiad (1956), Cardiff Commonwealth Games (1958) and the Rome Olympics, 1960) decided to help capture his life on film there was jubilation all around.

His passion and a burning desire to see his country prosper in sports are evident and he has been pained by India’s dismal performance in international sports, especially athletics.

The film will, no doubt, be a source of inspiration to many, but whether it will translate into medals is a moot question because inspiration alone is not enough. The ground reality is such that India is unlikely to get medals till professionals take charge and politicians are restricted to ceremonial duties in sports.

Last year, Indian Olympic Association chairman Suresh Kalmadi supervised the spending of nearly Rs200 crore on creating a magnificent, international class sports complex in Pune for the Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG). Post-CYG, the infrastructure has not been of much use to most sports associations in the city who are unable to hold training camps or tournaments there because of high rentals. This same complaint is heard from national associations also. Thus, very often, the CYG complex is hired for entertainment shows or college youth festivals.

Although Pune has been famous as the cradle of Indian hockey, having produced such legends such as Babu Nimal, Joe Philips and Dhanraj Pillay, the city lacks a decent hockey ground for its children. Till recently, a newly constructed hockey stadium was left neglected to the extent that the ground could not be played on and the fittings and fixtures were stolen and vandalised. The irony is that this did not bother any of Pune’s politicians — including Kalmadi — even after it was brought to their notice.

The lack of grounds with synthetic surfaces such as astroturf for junior teams at the inter-school level — inspite of heavy government subsidies — is part of the reason for India’s poor performance in international hockey. A small country like Holland has 400 such grounds across schools. Indian professionals say that the game is lost by the time our best players reach the national team because of inadequate practice on synthetic surfaces in the formative years. India needs such grounds in every promising city and European coaches to elevate standards in hockey.

As has happened in cricket, the day-to-day running of various associations has to be left to professionals and a steady stream of talented players has to be identified and trained to consolidate team strength. Too much dependence on just a handful of star players is not good for Indian sports. Professionals also lament the complete lack of a long-term national vision and a road-map to achieve specific goals in sports. There’s plenty of money today, but no direction. Politicians are efficient when it comes to spending crores of rupees in constructing stadia and sports complexes; but disastrous in sports administration and management.

Indian sport needs Milkha Singhs by the hundred to inspire and guide budding talent,along with visionarieslike Sam Pitroda to chart a roadmap for revolutionary change. We have done it in telecom; we can do it in sports.

Till that happens and till politicians are kept at bay in sports, we can only dream of winning medals. An inspiring film will make us feel good. Winning medals is an altogether different ballgame.
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