As a sports lover, is there anything you can actually do about the questions around India's Olympic performance?
Why don't we win more medals?
Why do some athletes perform lower than their national best?
Why do athletes take selfies?
Tiny nations are winning medals with no money.
See what Great Britain is doing? Read the "Brutal but effective" truth:
"On average, each medal at the Rio Olympics has cost £5.5m"
And the next step is bashing of the "system", the federations, the government, the officials etc. And people who have worked with the system tell me that most of the bashing is well-placed.
"Government should invest in sports!" is heard as much as "Government should stay out of sports!"
Which one is it? Give us the money and stay out? Who is "us"?
But the biggest question that bothers me as a sports lover:
What can I do?
Is there anything I can do beyond tweeting and posting scathing articles on Facebook? And ranting about Indian sport on WhatsApp groups?
Most sports lovers do not have the access or the credibility that can influence the "system". Or the time.
Though some folks have been fighting the battle by filing PILs against sports federations, demanding transparency & accountability.
But all the sports lovers do have a few things going for them:
1. Time. If enough sports lovers show up, sponsors will show up. (Remember how the Mumbai Marathon started?). IMO, Fans = Sponsors = Money for the sport = Money for supporting athletes performance = Better chances of medals.
2. Money. Sure, most of us can't buy an IPL team. But we can buy tickets for games - IPL or local, buy merchandise, support our local team/athletes with jerseys, refreshments, support their travel etc.
3. Scale. And when enough of us give the time and money, we get a lot of sport lovers spending a lot of money. And that gets big businesses interested. And sponsors interested. And entrepreneurs will figure out a way to build on the high-engagement time & money spent by sports fans. Just look at how Pro Kabaddi League changed the "game" for Kabaddi players.
Reminds one of Aamir Khan's dialogue in Rangeela:
'Apun public hai. Kisi ko bhigirasaktahai.'
(Rough and inadequate translation: "We are the audience. We can make anybody fall." Or in this case....succeed!)
So, here's are my suggestions on 4 things YOU can do for Indian Sports:
1. Play. Go out and play. Thrice a week. Too much? Once a week? You are a sports lover, aren't you? Or only an armchair one? Run, Play, Swim - whatever. You get to make new friends. Meet old ones. Have a good time.
It also helps with fitness. Saves on gym & cost of wearables.
Kids might even think you are cool.
Encourage your kids to play. Daily. Take them to the playground if required.
If you play or encourage your kids to play, you will start asking for sports facilities to be maintained & accessible.
If you play, you will demand a playground (yes, the one that doesn't exist or has been encroached upon or has been used as a dump yard). And if you have a child, the same one that your child has been complaining about.
Imagine that: A playground in your neighbourhood!
If you play, you will refuse to buy an apartment or a house in an area that doesn't have enough sports facilities and playgrounds.
These playgrounds and facilities will help your future Olympian get access and opportunity. Read the backgrounds of the Olympians. Most of them got neighbourhood sports access & opportunity at an early age and often enough.
Not huge budgets & sports stadiums.
If you want to know more, read "The Gold Mine Effect - Crack the Secrets of High Performance" - by Rasmus Ankersen. His talk summarizing his learnings on high performance here. It also has the story of MVP - the academy that produced Usain Bolt.
2. Support local athletes/teams and tournaments. Go for the local game in the neighbourhood. Take your kids along. Sport is not only about watching the superstars in a stadium. If enough of us show up, sponsors will also show up. The quality of the players will improve once there are fans and sponsors.
The current stars came out of these local games. Somehow. We surely lost many stars en route due to lack of support.
It is a vicious cycle. Fans don't show up till the quality of the game is good. Good players don't show up as there are no sponsors. Sponsors don't show up as there are no fans.
Let's break this cycle.
If you love sport, show up.
Not only when you are being "entertained" by loud Bollywood music, gyrating cheerleaders & MCs pleading with you: "Are you having fun?"
The real show is the game.
"Adopt" a talented kid or a local team that needs support. Crowd-funding for ventures is common. Maybe we should consider crowd-funding for supporting athletes seriously. You and 10 friends? or your alumni batch?
But many talented kids today don't really need financial support. They need opportunities to compete and train. A well-informed friend told me that a budding footballer should be playing 40 matches a year - while in Bangalore; the number was around 8-10. How will we compete at the world level if our athletes just don't get to face competition?
Show up & support local sports & athletes.
3. Volunteer. Offer your time & enthusiasm to sports in the neighbourhood. To the academy next door. Or to the local tournament organizer. If you were good at a sport, volunteer as a coach. Else just volunteer with enthusiasm.
Some of the world's largest tournaments globally - including FIFA World Cups - are run by volunteers. 15,000 volunteers for the FIFA World Cup Finals! All working for free. They pay for their own transport to the city and accommodation. They only get some jerseys & free meals. No payments. Likewise for many other local tournaments. Volunteer driven.
The main costs in organizing a local sports event are facilities, officials, volunteers & promotion to drive participation of the teams. If you can help reduce the cost of volunteers and promotion, many more local events will get self-sufficient. Reach out & help a local enthusiast. Can your company offer the premise for free for a weekend? Or organize your own local galli tournament. If we have enough of these happening, we will have lots of players, lots of fans and therefore sponsors. Therefore money.
4. Have fun. Have fun playing with the kids. Have fun making new friends in the neighbourhood. Have fun working with some wonderful people who share your passion for sport.
Fun was the reason we loved sport in the 1st place. Not to win Olympic Medals.
Let's do our bit.
Play. Support local sports. Volunteer.
If we are not willing to do anything about Indian sport, what's the point in complaining?
Show up. Or Shut up.
And here's the link between local sports and high performance:
Brazil produces world-class footballers consistently. Not because of a "system". Not because of government funding.
Brazilian kids play in the "favela". In small patches. No stadiums. No grass. No fancy sports analysis & coaching. But they play nearly 10,000 hours by the time they are 13 years old. As against that, English kids play 3000 hours by the time they are 13.
If our kids are not playing & competing enough, how can we expect medals?
Maybe the Brazilian model is the one to be followed. Maybe we should chose sports that work for our context and don't require specialized infrastructure.
Let's get all our kids to play in the neighbourhood. And play more. And then some more.
And then the medals will follow. Or they might not.
We might only get a generation of kids to play & experience the magic of sport.
We might still not win Olympic Medals.
But hey, is the current system working for you?