The many cynics who thought Sachin Tendulkar would just be a glittering and inert ornament in the Upper House of Parliament, here is the maestro’s answer: A proposal to improve sports in India by merging it with the education system. Arunabha Sengupta writes why this makes immense sense.
Four months ago, when Sachin Tendulkar took his oath in the Rajya Sabha, he was widely dismissed as yet another of those glittering but inert ornaments that shine through from the Upper House from time to time – adding dazzle, glamour and face value, but little more.
There were several questions about the possible motivation, about the probable amount of time he would be able to spend in his new role and so forth.
Now, in the little period that has elapsed, the great man has pleasantly surprised all and sundry with his plans for developing the culture of sports in India - that too, beyond the world of cricket.
Judging from the limited information available at the moment, Tendulkar is looking at injecting the flavour of sports into the educational system, to make it an inseparable part of the curriculum, to insert a sporting dimension into the developing youth of India.
Sport in the fabric of the nation
If we cast an unbiased look at the developed nations, it is very clear that the master batsman has hit bull’s-eye.
In the United States of America, college sport have immense appeal and is the accepted launch-pad for future sportsmen. The culture of sports in the fabric of the society can be deduced from the background of the most important statesmen. Barack Obama was the top-scorer for Occidental College in the College Basketball League of 1979. Before him, Dwight Eisenhower was a line-backer who hurt his knee tackling Jim Thorpe. George H. Bush was a left-handed first baseman at Yale who led the University side during the College World Series of 1948. Teddy Roosevelt boxed at Harvard, and Woodrow Wilson played centre field for Davison College. Active and serious perusal of sports is seen in the country as an essential element for emulation and esteem. And it does not come with the caveat, “only if you are on television and earning millions through your sporting endeavours”, as has been the vogue in India.
The Oxford-Cambridge sporting traditions and the public school curriculum in Britain provide ample examples of the role sports plays in the development of the individual. David Cameron recently made his views on the matter quite clear with his slightly controversial statement, when he regretted that instead of sports, schools were spending the time doing things like 'Indian dance'.
If we look at other countries known for structured sporting accomplishments, Australia, Sweden, Germany or Netherlands – most EU nations for that matter – the importance of sports as an defining dimension of the individual and society is very conspicuous.
It is clear that Tendulkar wants to address this sphere, where India undeniably lags way, way behind.
There is an unparalleled craze in India for cricket, but the focus on sports is still little more than an apology.
Throughout history, Indian sportsmen – from Milkha Singh to PT Usha to Mary Kom – have had to make their way to the top on their own, without support; often in spite of the society and educational system rather than because of it. A large percentage of the biggest achievers in sports and games in India had to overcome enormous obstacles, to the extent that they had to hide the details of training and competition from their family and friends. Even in the current day, Mary Kom’s family first came to know of her boxing prowess through newspaper reports.
A walk through the open maidans in big cities is revealing. Thousands of hardworking athletes shed their sweat and blood trying to make their way up the steep, difficult terrain towards sporting glory. They have to battle through the lack of infrastructure, so called sporting associations headed by politicians driven by personal agenda, and finally the daily dose of discouraging taunts and cat-calls of the hundreds who pass by.
The mushrooming cricket academies ever since the 1983 World Cup cricket triumph have made Indians a bit more used to seeing people go through the regimes with willow and leather, but that is perhaps because it is subconsciously linked to the massive earnings associated with the game. For dedicated practitioners of other sports, the equation is still loaded in favour of discouragement from the grass-root level all the way right up to the threshold of ultimate excellence. It is of scant wonder then that not too many manage to drag themselves to the top.
Sport as an essential part of life is still very far away in the country. And weaving it to the fabric of the educational system is definitely the way to change the scenario. It is by no means an easy task given the bureaucracy one associates with such systems.
Sport in India is notorious for stagnant apathy, miles and miles of inter-connected red-tape and a shoddy system headed by self-centred politicians.
Will Tendulkar be allowed to proceed and pave the way for a better sporting tomorrow is debatable. There are too many power-mongering political hoodlums who infest the decision making corridors of India.
However, even the longest and most arduous of journeys must start with a single step. And as far as steps go, one could not have asked for a better one. Hopefully, the charisma of Sachin Tendulkar can tear down the ills dogging Indian sports.
Tendulkar definitely needs to be lauded for quickly turning his entry into the Parliament into something this concrete.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)