India’s tryst with Ri¢h $ports
“India was the king in hockey when no one else knew hockey” – My class teacher, Mr. Devidas uttered these words when I was still in high school. India had failed to win an Olympic medal in hockey that year. These words echo in my ears whenever I see a Kabaddi match. We have been winning gold in Asian games ever since it was introduced and every other tournament where Kabaddi is introduced. A few other countries are catching up with this game and can one day assert supremacy over it. I would not like to hear someone say – “India was the king in Kabaddi when no one else knew Kabaddi!!”
India did perform well in Asian games and Commonwealth games, but on a global scale, the achievements are minimalistic. India’s performance in the Olympics – lesser said the better. We have participated in 22 Olympic Games and we have won only 20 medals in all. That’s way too less for a country with population exceeding a billion people. On a population to medals ratio, India is first from the bottom.
Let’s take a look at all the sports where India made a mark in a truly global scene. Horse Polo, Hockey, Billiards, Shooting, Tennis, Golf, Wrestling, Badminton, Boxing, Air race, Cricket … are some of the events.
Take a look at the above list. We will find it rather strange that a lot of sporting accolades India has received belong to rich man’s sport. India’s GDP and per capita income today is far ahead of what it was at the time of her independence. But the performances of the India’s rich man’s sporting glory dates back to independence or even pre-independence days when India was really poor.
Horse Polo – Indian team or the team from Jaipur is credited with winning every tournament which existed between 1930 and 1938. That’s 9 consecutive world titles – which is more than India’s gold medals in Hockey at the Olympics.
Billiards – This is another rich man’s game which produced Independent India’s first World Champion. Wilson Jones won it in the year 1958. India has since produced a lot of great players who went on to become world champions in Billiards.
Shooting – India has produced several world champions and an Olympic champion.
Tennis – India did come to winning Davis cup a couple of times. India has been able to win Grand Slams only in the doubles event and an Olympic singles bronze medal.
Golf – In the recent past, this rich man’s game has witnessed keen interest among all classes. Jeev Milkha Singh won 4 tournaments in a year in 2008. This was the best show by an Indian in this sport. This could just be the beginning.
Air Race – Vijaypat Singhania, Chairman of the Raymond group became the world’s first International Round the World Air Race champion in 1994.
F1 – Not many gave India any chance in this sport. India haven’t yet produced a champion but have produced a driver who raced in F1 a few other drivers who are waiting in the wings. F1 is the second most viewed sporting event in India after cricket.
How did India begin is bonhomie with these rich sports? A lot of it has to do with British. How is it that India took Cricket so seriously and left out Rugby and Soccer? One word answer to that question would be ‘Fitness’!!! One look at the list and we can see that apart from Tennis and to some extend F1, none of the above sports demand astute physical fitness. Apart from Tennis, the other sports are played in a handful of countries. In other words, India has done well where there is less competition and requires less physical fitness. India is nowhere near the world’s most popular sports – Soccer, Athletics, Aquatics, Hockey, Basketball, Rugby, Volleyball, etc. Cricket is the only popular sport where we win matches regularly. It is followed and played by a lot of people but very few countries actively play the game.
India dwindled in hockey once a lot of countries became active in that sport. It will not surprise me if India begins to stumble in Kabaddi once a lot of other countries take interest in it. But the rich man’s sports continue to bloom. A lot of youngsters are taking keen interest in horse riding, golf, tennis, gokarting, shooting, snooker & billiards etc. If these sports become Olympic events, then we may see a few more medals but there is a flipside to it. If they indeed become Olympic events then a lot of other countries will take interest. In that case, will India’s hegemony in these sports be questioned?