‘Some of those higher level belief issues have been blown out of the water,’ says GoSports co-founder Nandan Kamath, who says India’s growing confidence more generally has been trickling down to greater sporting belief.
But despite these glimmers of hope, huge systemic obstacles to success remain. As senior sports writer Ayaz Memon wrote recently: ‘There is utter lack of understanding of sports in several federations and the constraints under which Indian sportspersons have to perform. Indeed, so apathetic is the situation (barring in cricket) that it is a wonder that some Indians have gone on to become world-beaters.’
Early last year, just weeks before the Hockey World Cup, India’s players openly revolted against their federation to protest against non-payment of dues and to demand a salary hike. Memon wrote at the time that it was ‘not just daft, but diabolical’ to offer hockey players a measly daily allowance of less than $20. That hockey, one of the country’s national games, is forced to fight such demons highlights the underlying malaise Indian sport is in.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
In India, each sport is ‘managed’ by an independent federation, with these federations recognised by the central Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and receiving funds from central government. However, the federations—almost without exception—have become more like the personal fiefdoms of administrators. Their convoluted, non-transparent governing structures have helped politicians like Suresh Kalmadi and Vijay Kumar Malhotra (the latter having held his post as president of the Archery Association of India uninterrupted since 1973) perpetuate their stranglehold over their domains.
But while the media’s glare might have made for some uncomfortable viewing for Indians in the run up to the Commonwealth Games last year, it did steer some long missing attention on the way sports is administrated in India. Indeed, in November, the Delhi High Court directed the central government to implement rules that would introduce an upper age limit of 70 and a maximum tenure of 12 years, or three terms, for national sports federation chiefs.
Even before that, in June, a group of former Indian Olympians and sports enthusiasts, including former hockey team captain Pargat Singh and track and field stars like Ashwini Nachappa and Reeth Abraham, launched the Clean Sports India movement, demanding more transparency in sport.
GoSports’ Kamath says he’s ‘guardedly optimistic’ that real change is imminent. ‘Nothing breeds like success,’ he says. ‘Federations have had a sea change in attitude. The swimming federation is now extremely supportive. The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports is spending a lot of money. And more players are being supported.’