News & Articles / New Delhi / 18 May, 2017
Why Rich Aspiring Athletes stop playing Sport ?
India's Olympic record is the worst in the world in terms of medals per head. Is this because of India's sport system that thwarts our athletes from reaching their full potential? But it's quite ironic that at major sports events India is represented by the people who don't even have the access to most of sports resources. So why is India so bad at sport?
We talk about athletes facing problems due to lack of sponsorship or apathy of the government or federations. Have you observed that most of our athletes who make the part of an Olympic contingent are generally from lower or lower middle class background? While, I have nothing against these people but one question which needed to be answered is ‘Why India is represented by people from the strata of the society which barely have access to good sports facilities, top class equipments, nutritional food and other important things required to be an elite athlete. The obvious reason might be ‘sports talent’. However, I do not believe that India’s rich and affluent and strong middle have paucity of talent. Even sports which are historically associated with rich and affluent (Tennis & golf) find very little representation of the elite in International competition. (Most of the golf players are former caddies). For the sake of argument, let's look at few pointers. Most of the elite sports facilities are used by them, in fact they they use facilities in other countries when they travel abroad.They buy the best sports equipments. They are the most fittest people in India. Their eating habits are becoming nutrition friendly. If we look at all the private schools (where most of affluent kids study) in India, then we find that majority of them have decent sports infrastructure. In fact, many of them have infra which rival the world’s best. So, still we get so few people in elite sports from this strata. One can say the reason may be politics in sports but we are not dealing with politics today. We want the actual reason. The reason which I believe is the biggest deterrent is the lack of clear cut path towards becoming an elite athlete. Not a single sport (not even cricket) in India have a clear cut system in place for career development. Let me take an analogy here to explain this. One day your child decides that he want to become an engineer. You what you and your child need to do to reach that goal. There is a linear pathway which says after 10th you take PCM (Physics, Chemistry Maths) as your primary subject. Then after 12th you appear for Engineering entrance examinations. If you do well in the examinations then you may get to the IITs or the NITs. If not then still you can become an engineer by enrolling into one of the many private colleges (many of them are good). So, you have a clear cut career path. However, same cannot be said for the sports system in India. Let’s take a look at how the Career development of young athlete work in the US or Europe. In the US they have proper school leagues for most of the popular sports. The school participating in this league can become state and national champions. The colleges pick the talented athletes from these leagues. Athlete can also decide which college to go. However, the caveat is that an athlete should pass the high school. Then at the college level there is an organisation called NCAA which organises all the sports leagues at this level. The best athletes from these leagues are pricked up by the professional leagues like NHL, NFL, MLB, NBA etc. Again the caveat would be that the athlete should finish his college. So, a 10 year old who aspire to be a professional athlete knows what path to take to have the best shot at becoming a professional athlete. Now, it is not at all same in India.There are many entities which are managing and organising sports in India. There are education boards like CBSE, ICSE and state boards . Then there is an organisation called School Games Federation of India. Then there are Sports Authority of India and State Government’s Sports departments. Then there are National sports Federations and their affiliated associations. Phew!. All of them trying really hard to improve the quality of Indian sport at Grass root level (pun intended). Still we lack in quality and quantity of players reaching at the elite level.The problem is that while athlete can excel in any of the leagues and tournaments organised by these entities, the only entity which can take himher to the elite level is the federation (As per the olympic charter. Even government with best of intentions can’t do anything about it). So, the athletes who are part of Federation’s grassroot programme have any realistic chance of going anywhere (as Federations do not work in tandem with other entities. How typically Indian.) and they might not be the most talented or the most eligible. This means that effort of other entities does not have any impact on the final outcome and this leads to the good athletes from affluent background stop playing sports as soon as they graduate from school. Further, they have option of alternative career which their counterpart from lower class may not have. Now, what is the solution. By now you would have also understood that we need a simple and linear career path for young athletes. Let’s look at ideal scenario. We have two entities who organises leagues for various sports at school level and college level respectively. These government organisations and federations should play a role of enablers at these levels. After college the students are picked up by federations for International competitions. This kind of a system solve two problems. One, we get quantity and quality in terms of athletes. Two, athletes graduates from universities and colleges. This might help them in future to have an alternative career if their professional career does not take off. Further, if we have competitive sports ecosystem like this then not only we’ll see more individuals taking up sport from different stratas of the society but also we will have more private investments in core sports and related activities. So, it is best we reduce our dependency on the flawed ‘Talent Hunt’ model to attract talented athletes and follow a model similar to what is described above.