Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Self before service

Most Indian parents follow a religion of making available to their kids all they missed out on. Some go a step further; wanting to give their kids all that they did not have plus what they think the next generation should have.

A sport was on one such wish list for our girls. We were clear that they would grow up learning one game at the least. The play field would teach those valuable lessons they would have no opportunity to learn in the classroom, we mused; out there in the rough and tumble, they would learn to stretch and push themselves, was our idealistic rationalization for throwing them into a murky cauldron called Indian sports.

I remember their first swimming trial at the Talkatora indoor swimming pool. The lights were not functional and it was a 50 m pool. We watched the two tiny capped heads, pulling away in the distance, it was a huge expanse of water for them at that young age; Aqseer mentioned years later that she imagined a shark would rise from the depths any moment to set upon them. They cleared the test that day and it was the start of a foray into a world that existed primarily to serve itself.

There were other stadia and a range of sports. The National Stadium, Nehru Stadium, Indira Gandhi Stadium; it did not matter whether it was swimming, gymnastics or boxing….the pattern of self before service remained more or less uniform. The coaches did not teach much, they barely went through the motions of instruction. It was a mass hoax, faintly legalized, thanks to the venues and the stamp of the Sports Authority of India association.

We were in the company of co-sufferers. There were fathers and mothers, so fired with zeal for their children’s sporting dreams that they went beyond the call of duty, becoming a gofer for the coaches, providing administrative and moral support to the stadium community. They drove huge distances on scooters and in buses, waiting long hours outside the games area, planning their child’s diet and training schedules. Many devoted a disproportionate amount of their modest salaries to the needs of their budding champions. They gamely put up with mismanaged competition trips that are a part of the sporting culture in our country.

I have sat there on the hard benches with them, buoyant on the surface but with a sinking feeling of grasping at straws inside. We put up brave faces to the kids as they struggled on their own to make sense of the game someone was being paid to train them in. But the writing was on the wall. The giant edifice, the huge, high roofed spaces, the battery of officials, the VIPs who surfaced during meets, the entire machinery of sports was focused on something other than the sportspersons and their promotion. Themselves!!  

I have known “bhai bandi” to be a given in many fields in our country but the depth it touches in the world of Indian sports is unparalleled. The sports biggies are like family chiefs, ruling a selective fiefdom. There is a corrupt, office for profit brand of symbiosis our sports arenas breed. “You become the Bowling Federation President and we will make my daughter the Rowing Federation Secretary”, is the vein the free for all goes in . Talent and aptitude be damned, international competitions are opportunities for sports heads to take the families on  fully paid for jaunts.

Every time India performs poorly on the field, experts rue the lack of a sporting culture, blaming your typical Indian parents for discouraging their kids from taking up games. Which father or mother would have the heart to put their children through what our Paralympic athletes are suffering currently in England? 

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