Sports should be made affordable, says Sunil Gavaskar
BENGALURU: If cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar’s television commentary is insightful, his knowledge on the growth of sport is in depth. The former India skipper on Friday stressed the need to make sport a career option in the country for the sporting culture to prosper.
Speaking during a panel discussion 'Making Sport in India' organized by the Embassy Group and Ashwini Sports Foundation, Gavaskar said: "Our biggest plus is our population. It is not difficult to find champions. I'm not necessarily saying gold medallists. For that to happen, there are three important things; first is to make sport affordable, next is to make it a part of the school curriculum and the most important thing is to make it a serious career option."
Citing the example of cricket, Gavaskar added, "Cricket is a career option and that's why it flourishes. You don't have to necessarily play IPL or be an international cricketer. Today, if you play Ranji Trophy, you can make more money than say having a corporate, airline or railways career. Making sport a career option is what will attract more youngsters. It will mean parents will not tell their children, 'come in and study' if they see a spark in that child."
Former badminton champion Aparna Popat said governance and funding were the key factors. "Population may be a blessing but also a lot of resources just get split. For me the keys are governance and funding. Also, it is easy to be cynical but times have changed. When we speak about sporting culture, it is always one-dimensional, it is about medals. But we need to realise only a fraction of the participants win. We need to look beyond medals. Sport can give us health, it can boost our economy, but for now we just talking about national pride. We need to open our thinking a bit."
Hockey has been the most successful sport at the Olympics, yet the spectator and potential player interest has faded. On the other hand, while India failed to make a mark in cricket in the formative and post-independence era, the popularity of the sport only grew.
Gavaskar pointed to the royal patronage, talented cricketers who were impressive personalities and later media coverage as one of the reasons for sustained interest in cricket. "It is hard to put a finger on why cricket sustained its popularity. Hockey was a sport which was winning us medals and when we started playing cricket, we were in fact not winning. We got thrashed in all the four Test matches we played in Australia in 1947-48. In 1952 when we went to England we again got thrashed. But what worked was royal patronage. The royals first took up the sport to be in the good books of the British. Later, when a royal played the game, irrespective of whether they understood the game or not, people would come to watch. That kept the sport going. Then Then in the 1960s.... I am not being frivolous here.... there were some of the most good looking Indian cricketers... The Pataudis, Salim Durrani, Abbas Ali Baig, ML Jaisimha, Farokh Engineer... just a few names there. So if you are good looking, you will have a following."
Dying school sports culture
Once a thriving culture in the city, school sports, especially in athletics has hit a low. Recounting her days as an athlete, former sprint queen Ashwini Nachappa, said, "I'm a product of school games and back then it thrived like an Olympic movement. Our mode of transport used to be walking. When we walked into the stadium, out of curiosity people came in to watch what was happening. At that point of time schools and institutions took great pride in showcasing their sporting talent. But in the last couple of decades we are seeing the love for sports among schools is dying."
Need for corporate support
Mooting corporate support for sport, Embassy Group's Jitu Virwani, who has been in the forefront of the Equestrian movement in the country and started the Embassy International Riding School (EIRS), said, "When we first set up EIRS in 1996, we realized that while there is immense sports talent in India, it is not being brought to the forefront owing to several gaps. This can be bridged with corporates coming forward to help cultivate diverse sports talent in India, through collaborations with the government and private institutions. Our journey and success in the 2018 Asian Games is a template for how other sports in India can reach milestones and shine across International platforms. Channelizing the CSR mandates of corporates towards sports will bring about an advancement in this field for the country. In Equestrian, we are now gearing up for the Olympics 2020 and confident that we will set another landmark in this sport."