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Sports and Nation Building

October 5, 2010

That I am writing about sports at the time when the Commonwealth Games are on in New Delhi is just a coincidence. Alright, obliquely the CWG have been instrumental in me picking up this issue. Obliquely, because this thought struck me as I watched a beautiful program where one of the news channels felicitated Indian achievers in sports over the years. Stalwarts about whom I had heard were right in my drawing room and that was heart-warming. The program was held as a retrospect to the upcoming Commonwealth Games.

Sport men are the unsung heroes of our country. They bring glory to our land and then are thrown into obscurity. Some land government jobs and those are the lucky ones, the rest languish. For a news channel to bring together the sports stars of the past who have done India proud was really nice. Men like Milkha Singh, Leslie Claudius, R.S. Bhola, Ajit Pal Singh, Kapil Dev, Limba Ram, Prakash Padukone, Vijay Amritraj, Dingko Singh, P.T. Usha, Randhawa, Karnam Malleswari, Stapal Singh along with his prodigy Sushil Kumar and so many others were there. The 1975 World Cup winning hockey team was felicitated specially and it was good to see the camaraderie between the players as they recounted how they achieved victory and that one moment of brilliance that made them excel. These were men and women who had given their life and blood to sports and their commitment and their simplicity touched a chord.

Aslam Sher Khan recounted how once the team had reached the finals he was dropped as we were to play against Pakistan. Leslie Claudius then intervened and he went on to convert two penalty corners. There was a tinge of sadness and remorse in Aslam’s voice as he credited his success to Claudius. As a true sportsman would he then recounted how Ashok Kumar had scored the winning goal. Ashok then talked about his take on the match. The one tee a tee that was most hilarious was when hockey star of yester years R.S. Bhola recounted how he had missed a sitter in 1960 Olympics when the goalkeeper had fallen down and accepted that India lost the match because of him. Claudius standing next to him egged him on saying that yes it was because of him that they lost. And that he was fully responsible. The captain and the player relationship had clearly not diminished after over half a century nor had the love and affection between the two. It was very touching.

Vijay Amritraj had come all the way from Los Angeles to be a part of this event. He had a few tongue in cheek remarks and his humorous side never eluded him. Satpal Singh’s passion came through as did Shiny Abraham Wilson’s. All these super achievers had one thing in common, dedication, faith in their ability and a will to work hard. It was just so good to see all these greats together. The piece de resistance however was Milkha Singh’s story of how he got the name ‘Flying Sikh’. It was an evening to remember.

There was this other thing that came out that struck me. Having been a sportsman myself, I was not surprised at all by what I saw. There was an innate simplicity, goodness and forthrightness in these men and women who had done India proud. That is what sport brings out in a person. Pursuing any sports is an education in itself. It teaches a person to strive to be the best. It teaches a person the importance of hard work. It helps a person to discover talents in him or her that he or she did not know existed. It teaches one the importance of honesty. It makes men and women better human beings. That evening when there was a gathering of so many outstanding sports persons that place had an aura that was hard to describe. It was a hallowed ground. It was dev sthal – place where Gods reside. I know there are sportspersons who are not as simple and as good as we associate sports persons with, but generally sportsmen are better human beings.

That is what is required in a nation. If we are to be a better nation and a better society, sports must be made compulsory in all schools. I am not talking about the electronic games that have become part of majority of youngsters. I am talking about outdoor sports – traditional sports that test the skills and endurance of men and women. Sports like hockey, football, athletics, tennis, badminton – the Olympic sports. These must be made compulsory. They not only help in character building but also keep people healthy in mind and body. A nation of strong, healthy citizens will mean better human beings who are more productive and have values that make a better society.

India lacks sporting culture and that is a big drawback. This must change. And the time to change it is now. Sports must be a part of day today lives of us Indians. There is a need to develop sports from the grassroots. It is good to have modern sporting facilities in big cities, but every village and every taluk must have sports facilities too so that men and women have access to sports and games as a matter of routine. Mani Shankar Aiyer had emphasized on developing sports at the grassroots level and he was right. What I did not agree on with him was his total rejection of mega sporting events like the Commonwealth Games or the Asian Games. We as a nation need to take both together. While developing sports at the grassroots level we must not shy away from organizing mega sporting events. They have their own place and their own importance. But a healthy, forward looking nation which has inherent values can come up only if we have a sporting culture that we lack. We need to rectify this to ensure that future generations have a healthy lifestyle and we as a nation imbibe values that help us reach our goals as a people and as a nation. This is especially true in today’s Indian where electronic gadgets like TV and computers have become a way of life. We must encourage men and women to go out and indulge in some sporting activity. There was never a greater need for encouraging sports as now. Commonwealth Games are a good ruse to get the nation developing a sporting culture.

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