Business Standard

BS Manthan: What experts said on India's transformative sports culture

The panel on Indian sports, which looked beyond cricket, discussed at length the different changes that have come about and others that are needed for India to become a global sports powerhouse

BS Manthan Sports panel

BS Manthan Sports panel

Abhijeet Kumar
Sportspersons are slowly attaining the status of heroes in India, and people are now warming up to non-cricket sports too, former long-jumper and Khel Ratna awardee Anju Bobby George said at the annual Business Standard summit, Business Manthan today.

She was part of a panel discussion, which also included Arjuna award winner Abhishek Verma, and CEO of Jamshedpur football club Mukul Choudhari. Together they discussed a host of possibilities and challenges that Indian sports face in the run-up to the 2036 Olympic games.

Speaking about the ways on how to create or change the current sports culture in India, George said that in India, sports hasn’t been a part of the culture. But that is slowly changing. “Now we are looking towards sports and sportspersons are becoming today’s heroes. Now the culture is changing,” she said.

She pointed out that one of the important things which has pushed young children and their parents away from sports is to find a career in sports. Job security has been missing in the sports section, thus dissuading many from taking up sports. 

“Athletics especially has been a low-level event. No one knows how much one can earn in even marquee events,” she added.

However, she said that now the government has taken up a lot of efforts and things have started to change.

Agreeing with George, star-archer Abhishek Verma said that before looking at the next 12 years till the 2036 Olympic, it is important to note how far Indian sports has come in the last 12 years, all due to the government’s sustained efforts.

“In sports now you have fame, cash and medals if you are performing well. Government has given job security for sports persons. I am an assistant commissioner in the Income Tax department now,’ he said.

However, Mukul Choudhari, the Chief of Sports Excellence Centre at Tata steel, said that there is still a lot that needs to be done.

“Sports is not an easy career. Coming to the grassroots, we don’t have that culture right now. We are choosing sports which are prevalent in our working areas (Archeries, football, hockey etc). As far as sports culture is concerned, a lot needs to be done,” he said.

Choudhari also highlighted the lack of infrastructure in tier one cities and said that to expand athletics or other sports, one needs to look at tier two- tier three cities.

“We don’t have those kinds of facilities, like open spaces in urban areas. Developing sports culture in urban areas is difficult. You need to go to tier 2, tier 3 areas,” he added.

George and Verma talked about their humble beginnings and the adversities they faced before they made their mark in their respective games. 

“My mother pushed me into sports. I started at the age of five. She was like a backbone. It was her dream to be a sportsperson… I started winning small tournaments. Then I realised I can do something in sports,” George recounted.

Remembering his initial push towards archery, Verma told that his biggest inspiration as a kid were from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. 

Answering a question on what changes are needed in the school system to push sports into the life of children as young as 6 or 7-year-olds, George said that currently the education system is tight and is not allowing kids to step away from classrooms.

“Kids till tenth should be allowed to play and enjoy their childhood. That system should come from school. During our time, if anyone was interested in sports, teachers would say why are you going out to play, you’ll be thrown out of school. Schools should allow kids to enjoy their life,” she remarked.

Verma, on the other hand, while agreeing with George also pointed out that school PT teachers should play a pivotal role in developing children’s talents and skills in various sports.

“PT teachers in school can play the role of a coach because their judgement is the best as they spend 6 hours with the students,” he said.

For the educators, Choudhary emphasised that educators will have to figure out respective sports in terms of optimisation of space.

Further, answering a question on the absence of archery as a sport from schools, Verma said that archery has long been thought of as a dangerous sport.

However, that is not the case anymore. He said that indoor archery is there and a few schools have started adopting it for students.

“Indoor archery (18m) is not so well known in the country. Schools have been issued guidelines through the government and archery federation that they can start indoor archery in schools because it is safe,” he informed.

Finally, talking about the interest of advertisers in sports other than cricket, George recounted that back in 2003 when she won the World Athletics Championship, there wasn’t much buzz initially because media outlets were few and far between.

However, once she got back to India and people got to know, she received all the love and support from people as well as brands.

Verma however was of a different opinion on archery. “There is no commercial interest in archery. Cricket is a very loved game. Archery should also be given a chance,” he commented while suggesting that companies like Dream 11 can play a pivotal role in uplifting the interest in archery.

Choudhari, while answering the question that can India see a Tata athletics league like the Tata IPL, said that they are not supporting any individual sport. “I am chasing numbers. It’s not only for cricket but for the numbers it generates,” he said. 

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First Published: Mar 27 2024 | 4:30 PM IST

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