Indian Decade

An India Beyond Cricket?

India’s obsession with cricket may be preventing it from excelling internationally in other sports. What’s the alternative?

At the risk of sounding anti-national and blasphemous, I say that cricket is a decadent sport and one of the main stumbling blocks to the emergence of India as an international frontrunner in sports. This so-called ‘gentlemen’s game’ takes us back to a past we want to leave behind, by binding us to the same old opponents year after year. It’s in a sense made us a regional prisoner, stopping us from looking beyond our own sub-continental boundaries. It is also becoming increasingly profit-driven, something that’s taking away from the true essence and integrity of the game.

The euphoria, enthusiasm, and all-pervasive celebratory mood that followed in the immediate wake of the recent 2011 World Cup victory in Mumbai were undeniable. However, this was the reflection of a nation that yearns for recognition and wants to look beyond its past failings and come out of its historical slumber. A new India doesn’t want to play second fiddle to any nation; it wants its say in the international arena.

If we want to compete on the world stage, we have to play with the big guns. The developed nations we emulate and aspire to become have a strong presence in competitions like the Olympics—they fight against the rest of the world to qualify, and then they win medals. Russia for instance has long been recognized as a world power, but not recently in terms of military might or scientific advancement; rather, as a nation consistently near the top of the Olympic medal table. And it remains a dominant player across all sports. China, too, is now not only an economic giant but a sporting superpower also—despite not playing cricket.

In the United States and across large parts of Europe cricket is simply not a popular sport. A World Cup soccer victory, or a rich haul of Olympic gold are real feats of success for them, as such competitions involve almost all nations of the world.

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For India, a country of 1.21 billion people, being the champion of cricket limits us to the status of a regional player confined to the boundaries of South Asia. Cricket remains a regional game, utterly foreign even to most of Asia. England is the only serious player from Europe, and Australia the only other notable country with loyalty to the game.

The current corruption and profit involved in cricket mania in India is not adding to the game’s reputation. For instance, major media outlets, supposedly neutral, have become increasingly

nationalistic in tone when reporting on games, and are even being suspected of financially benefiting from their slanted story-telling. This comes as no surprise, considering just how commercial the sport become, and is likely that the powerful business lobby and corporate world will continue to use all means and mediums available to keep cricket going no matter whether other sport continues to flourish or not. In fact, an example of the sheer selfishness surrounding the motivation to keep cricket going came out in a recent cabinet meeting, when it was decided that profits going to the International Cricket Council from the World Cup matches would be tax exempted. It’s a move that is highly discouraging for other sports in India, which need to fight for each and every penny to keep themselves afloat.

So what would be the next best alternative for India to make an international mark in sports? Despite the continued popularity of cricket in India, football is gaining wider reach today. Whether it’s Chennai in Tamil Nadu or Churchandpur in Manipur, the passion for football far surpasses the penchant fo

r cricket these days. And the northeastern states of India seem to have an inherent talent for it: players from the region occupy prime positions in every soccer league team in India. Sadly, however, no serious attempt is being made by the government or the corporate world to hone this home-grown talent and bring the nation to the forefront of the sporting arena.

Treating cricketers as gods weans away or discourages youngsters from playing other sports. The amount of money being showered on the top cricketers and the gifts being doled out to the ‘men in blue’ by the government and big businesses serve as psychological discouragement for youngsters and their families, who want to pursue hockey, football, or any other sports.

In the chase for cricket money, we’re forgetting to build a national sports culture with character. Cricket isn’t our national game, but it’s been made a symbol of our nationalism. It’s a sad commentary and reflection on our still limited worldview.