Thursday, August 17, 2006

Must the show really go on?

So the Indian team is in Sri Lanka for the third year in a row, and the fourth time in five years. I don't know about others but I hate to see India play there. The pitches are too sluggish, the bands in the aisles seem to be one of those cheap bands that play at weddings here and the women are just too ugly.

But the team had a case to cancel the tour this time round. With terrorism running rampant in today's world, the blast near the team hotel reminded us that the War on Terror isn't just one between the Western World and the Islamic Nations.

The South Africans first decided to go home to the muggings and rapes in their own country, then they were persuaded to stay back, and finally they decided it was better to go home rather than risk an embarassing performance in the Emerald Island.

The Indians, by contrast decided to stay back with the proverbial "The Show Must Go On" stance on the issue. It's anybody's guess as to whether it was the players who wanted to stay back or whether the BCCI forced them to. If indeed the former wanted to do what they did best, it would have been best to have a 5-match series, especially since rains have been the winners for four days in a row. A 3-match series with rain playing havoc virtually assures us of not getting 3 full games, and with the kind of weather conditions in Colombo there is every chance that one or more matches won't yield a result.

This brings us to the question: Why is the BCCI so apathetic toward its players? What was the need for India to stay back when South Africa went home? There was a blast just 3 Km from the team hotel and at a place which is a popular haunt for foreign players when they're in Colombo. How can any amount of reassurance satisfy the players? One goes by what one sees more than what one hears and there has to be some sort of apprehension in the Indian camp. Also, with the kind of security provided after the blasts and incessant rains, the players would be starting to feel a bit edgy as cricket has taken a backseat.

We seem to take pride in saying we're immune to these kind of incidents as they're more commonplace in our country, but South Africa is just as unsafe due to a whole different set of reasons. Do we want to think it's okay to pretend that life is normal in the aftermath of such attacks? I'm not ready to believe the BCCI ensured a series took place to send a message to the terrorists that they can't disrupt normal life through their antics. Do we really want to see half of our team massacred by terrorists just because the Board is too hung up on making money?? We just believe terrorists will not target the players but it's common knowledge that the likes of Tendulkar and Ganguly have received death threats in the past.While the events of the Munich Olympics are a distant memory, they're still a strong reminder of terrorists not dithering from targetting people from any walk of life.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sport and and the Indian Sportsperson

The entire world was in the grips of Football Fever for the past month, with the cricket-crazy junta of India re-igniting its quadrennial affair with the game. While everyone was caught up in the enthralling performances of the usual suspects there was a team which ought to make us wonder what is wrong with India as a sporting nation.

The small African nation of Angola gained independence in 1975 and was still embroiled in a civil war when Ronaldo sported the most ridiculous hairdo ever at the 2002 finals. Through all these years the people of Angola somehow managed to learn to play the game well enough to qualify for the finals in 2006, and they didn't do too badly in the finals either. They held their former occupants Portugal to just one goal in their first ever game on the big stage, managed to hold group favourites Mexico goalless for 90 minutes and scored their first ever goal at the World Cup Finals in a 1-1 draw with relative veterans Iran.

This feat forced me to pose a very serious question about our people:
Are we genetically bad sportspersons?

I'm very sure the resources at the disposal of the AIFF are far greater than those available to its Angolan counterpart. And yet, we fail to even make it past the first round of qualifying in the Asian zone.

We embrace the mediocrity of Sania Mirza when she gets pummeled by glamour girl Maria Sharapova in just the 4th Round of a major event saying she's just 18. Someone forgot to tell these people that the shelf-life of women tennis players is very short, and the likes of Seles, Hingis, the Williamses and Sharapova had already scaled dizzy heights by that age.

Sure a Round of 16 performance at a Grand Slam in your first year on the tour is commendable, but Sania was supposed to build on it. Instead, she hadn't won consecutive matches at a tournament until a Tier 3 event just before Wimbledon. I've seen more consecutive commercials of her on TV.

Members of the Indian Hockey Team have always complained of the lack of facilities and money provided to them. They finally got a huge sponsorship from Sahara in 2002 and have since then reached lows never before imagined, the culmination of which saw India being relegated from the elite Champions Trophy last year by finishing last in their backyard. The scene of crime was Chennai and the last rites were performed by our kind neighbours Pakistan.

However, there are cases of Indians achieving excellence and they surely merit more than a few lines here.

Anyone who follows Golf would have heard the name Arjun Atwal. What most of us don't know is that the man LED the US PGA Tour in putting last season. We're talking about Atwal beating big names like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh (The Indian media embraced him when he won his first Masters Title, the guy is Fijian and has never set foot on Indian soil) with the flat blade. He even managed to finish 2nd at an event Phil Mickelson won last season.

Sharpshooter Samresh Jung was the Golden Boy of the Commonwealth games. The man won everything left, right and centre and was voted the best athlete of any country at the Games. Unfortunately the lasting image of the Games would be our actors dancing to Bhangra Beats at the closing ceremony.

Perhaps India's best kept sporting secret is teeny-tiny MC Mary Kom. One could be forgiven to think she's a 14-yr old but she is the only world champion in any sport who stands in attention to the Jana Gana Mana. Now with what sport would you associate a barely 5-foot, 40-something kg lady from Manipur??? Obviously boxing is the first one that comes to mind.

The ability of these Indians to succeed inspite of the odds is more an exception than the rule. I think there is a lack of sporting culture that sees Indians underachieve at the world stage (And cricket doesn't count as a sport in India, if I might use a cliche, it's a religion).

Why is it that we show an incredible resilience to numerous aspects of everyday life, and yet it fails us when it comes to sport? We refuse to let the dirty politics and corrupt babus get the better of us when we need a ration card or a passport. We refuse to bow to yearly floods and famines and yet blame the sporting bodies for not providing the right facilities. We refuse to relinquish an inch of Kashmir but bow to Pakistan in just about every sport. We keep churning Engineers and MBAs by the thousands every year but can't find a fast bowler who can put the fear of death in the minds of the opposition.

India has the worst ratio of people per medal at every Olympic games. It's high time the people thought of changing it instead of waiting for sport to be a fashionable profession.

Let Angola be the yardstick...