Some of the most hearwarming memories of the recent Olympic Games for India will remain of sportspersons from humble backgrounds overcoming very heavy odds to perform very well at the biggest international sports event. Whether their hard work and perseverence resulted in medals or not, the great effort they put in won widespread admiration.
The most obvious example is that of the women’s hockey team of India which gave such a splendid performance and displayed such a spirit to fight back in difficult conditions. Most hearwarming was the bonding and the team spirit of our hockey players. This also brought back memories of the great Indian team effort in the 1983 Cricket World Up when Kapil Dev led a team of less acknowledged talents who displayed great comraderie and spirit to come back fighting from impossible situations to defeat acknowledged champions and emerge victorious in the end.
Profiles of several Indian women hockey players in the recent Olympics reveal that they grew up in conditons of great economic hardship and sometimes social discrimination as well. They had to practice in conditions where basic facilities and equipments were lacking, and they were even deprived of essential nutrition. One brilliant woman player had to initially train at a place which required trainees to carry the daily supply of milk to the training center, so that they could have a nutrition drink after the hard training. This girl often did not even have this meager supply of milk at home, so she mixed whatever little milk she had at home with water so that she could save face and say that she too had brought her quota of milk.
Some of these girls often faced taunts when they put on their sports dresses and went for practice. Arranging essentials like good quality sports shoes was often a problem. This is true for many players who represented India in several games and events at the Olympics. Their parents and siblings made sacrifices to somehow save the pennies for their eqipment, dress and training.
As one player’s home did not possess a clock for some time, her mother would remain awake for much of the night to ensure that her daughter would leave home early in morning every day for training. No less touching it is to know that when their hard work resulted in some initial success, including jobs and cash rewards, their first priority was to help their parents.
No doubt such experiences are not unique to India and talented players of several developing and poorer countries share such difficulties and experiences. However such difficult conditions also provide them the grit and determination needed to overcome very difficult situations, as displayed for example by some atheletes, wrestlers and weightlifters from India, apart from hockey players.
The sports policy must focus more on encouraging the talent existing among poorer communities, including tribal and dalit communities as well as small farmer communities. Those belonging to fisherfolk and boatmen communities should in particulr receive encouragement and training for aquatics, swimming, rowing sports while talent of adivasis should be identified for training in archery. We have several communities in our country with great skills in acrobatics. They as well as some circus artists can be tapped for their potential in gymnastics. In particular encouragement should be given to those team sports like football which do not require expensive equipment.
There should be adequate space for playing in cities and villages, paticularly for school-children. Where schools are somewhat cramped, arrangements for linking them to adequate open spaces for playing should be made. There should be special emphasis right from early training days on team sports and encouraging team spirit.
We need trainers and sports schools which are sympathetic to the aspirations of sports students from weaker sections and provide them very encouging conditions. Complaints of budding sportspersons, particularly girls, facing problems at training instititions have been received from time to time and strong efforts should be made to minimize the various reasons which lead to such complaints.
There has been a tendency all over the world to relate sports development and training to winning more medals and trophies. In some authoritarian countries this has been taken to absurd lenghts. This may result in more medals but often takes away the real joy of sports. There is an urgent need to move away from such an approach and instead come back to the basic aims of sports of promoting health, joy and team spirit.
Excessive competitiveness and excessive linking of sports to medals at prestigious sports events can ultimately prove counter-productive as far as realization of true aims of sports is concerned. These can result in some moments of euphoria and celebration of course, but these can result in even more heartbreaks and deep dissappointments.
The message to our young sportspersons should be—go out in the field happily and without feeling any burden, do your best and enjoy every moment of your game. If in the process you also win medals and trophies, most welcome, but if you do not fetch medals or trophies, as long as your effort is great and you play with team spirit, you are still equally welcome and will get the same encouragement. Above all, always play with the true spirit of sports, never cheat and never turn unduly violent. Sports should always promote friendship, never hostility.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children and Earth Without Borders.