Monday, August 25, 2008

A sporting revelation for India - Beijing 2008

Reams and reams of paper have been used to eugolise the achievements of the 1983 World Cup cricket team from India. Over the last 25 years', Kapil's Devils have reaped the rewards of a phenomenal and well-deserved life, for their miraculous deeds at Lords' on June 25, 1983. This date is etched in any Indian's memory ever since he/she was old enough to understand dates/history et al.

What Kapil & his team did on that sunny summer afternoon in London is nothing short of legend. That famous win against the mighty West Indies has often been ranked as the most unparalleled and supreme achievement by Indians in any sporting arena. And this praise, is well-deserved, and has further context to it i.e. India was not the liberalized economy that it is now; in those days, anything foreign or imported was considered superior to anything created within the country;anybody owning a cellphone or even importing a car made a headline;one had to wait for a few months to get hold of a landline connection;studying abroad was nothing more than wishful thinking;there was political turmoil in the country what with the terrorist-hit state of Punjab and the turmoil of a tough political environment. There were many such more complicated situations during the early 80s' in India.

But, Kapil & his team believed in themselves. Their victory tasted sweet, indeed, victory in itself always tasted sweet - but the situation that the country found itself in at that time, only made this victory supremely tasty. And has since been the first course, main course and the dessert on any diary that captures India's sporting ethos. Hats off to Kapil's devils for giving us such a unique, rare and incredibly fulfilling moment in our lives! They made us believe that India can be a world-beater; they made us believe that self-belief is the greatest virtue - we never had infrastructure and capital pumped into any sport during that time(unlike the conditions now!).

It was an achievement in severely adverse conditions- and to this date, the strands of hair on both my elbows, simply straighten as soon as I recall/see/visualise that moment when Kapil ran back 25 yards to take the rare catch that Viv Richard's offered that afternoon in London. For me, it is the moment of that World Cup - passion, desire to win, going after it, killer instinct, a mindset of winning, going against all ods, you name it. And of course, that image of Kapil holding the Prudential World Cup of Cricket on the famous Lord's balcony is part of Indian folklore now. Wow, what a moment!

I want to pause for a moment here and bring in Abhinav Bindra. Here is a man - who is perhaps 2 years older than what Kapil was in 1983, and has single-handedly brought the Indian sporting hopes alive after nearly 2.5 decades. Yes, the conditions are vastly different now in India - we get the latest gizmos in the corner marketplace in any city; we are a liberalized nation;we are able to take on the world;we have a say in corporate policy making;we have a presence in many facets of world affairs; we are counted as one of the most aggressively growing regions of the world; the average Indian owns vehicles of his own now; we are more global than we ever were in our entire lineage. And, we have our very own Olympics Gold Medal this year! Wow, what a moment!

Abhinav Bindra is a phenomenon no less than what we had of our legendary cricket team in 1983. While the win in 1983 opened the floodgates of talent in cricket across the country, Abhinav's Olympic gold has the potential to open innumerable opportunities in various other sports. We have people talking of the potential and talent that subsists many sportspersons in different parts of the country, who are otherwise unable to make progress. Abhinav's achievement has the potential to tap into that talent base, nurture them, train them, provide them the right form of training and build the long-term vision for sporting excellence. What happened in cricket was a natural phenomenon i.e. it was the most televised sport and got all the attention. Nothing wrong with that - the 1983 team were champions, make no mistake about it! But the growth in cricket was not necessarily structured till the various zones, Ranji Trophy and other regional cups got some form or shape to them.

But, Abhinav's victory here has the potential for India to look ahead in a structured format. This victory should alert the officialdom in the Sports Authority of India, the Indian Olympic Committee and numerous other regional, state and national authorities related to various other sports, to take up Sports Policy Making & Vision. Something like a corporate vision & mission. Abhinav's gold medal winning effort has the potential for us to go about our future plans for Olympics gold in an incredibly systematic manner. For that to happen, we need to first chart out what the goals are i.e. which games do we have the greatest talent in right now? How is their current situation?What sort of gaps are crippling the system from progressing?Where is the funding going to come from?How does corporate sponsorship tie in with India's Olympics' dreams for the future?And so on...we need to use this opportunity to be incisive, analytical, critical and incredibly ambitious(with a world-beating levels of killer-instinct), if we are going to reach anywhere close to future gold medals on the world stage for India.

Abhinav has given us the impetus. He will alone not be able to do it. We need a collective effort from various stakeholders.

There are many other people who can be included in this effort - and they are world beaters in their own right. Infact, World Champions! The unassuming Prakash Padukone who came back home in 1979, with the All England Club title under his belt - this is nothing short of sporting excellence on a world stage; Viswanathan Anand, a man who has single-handedly put Indian chess on the world map- again, a World Champion, that too twice! Geet Sethi - an unbelievable 8 world titles in snooker and billiards. These are legends - alive and still available with concrete ideas for India's sporting development. And they are people who came into their own in a generation when there was no sporting ethos in the country. Let's use their expertise and world-beating abilities/insights to drive home the advantage for the country in the future.

I hope that Abhinav Bindra's incredible victory spawns a dedicated Olympian culture in India. Hope we have many more such iconic moments in the future!! Cheers, Abhinav and to all the other champions that I have mentioned in this piece - simply admirable and inspiring human beings!Makes me proud to be an Indian - yet again!