With no sports university in the country, the mesh between sports and education is a far cry
Barcelona 1992 and the now famous story of Limba Ram. One of India’s finest archers, Ram had not even realised that he had been knocked out of Olympic competition. He had, the story goes, asked his coach to set up a rematch and was confident he would beat his opponent. Coming up the ranks from where he had, Ram had hardly ever come face to face with the term ‘expectations’. He had no idea of the big stage and missed out as a result.
Twenty five years down the line and the story has not fully changed. Only a handful of Indian athletes making it to the Olympics are a product of the University system with college degrees and formal academic training. With no sports university in the country, the mesh between sports and education is still a far cry. Men and women good in sport can have a career independent of academia is the accepted notion and that the two can co-exist is still considered alien by most. The American, Canadian a nd British systems, however, a re pr o fou nd ly d i f f e r e nt . Olympic athletes come out o f t he Univer sit y system i n t hese count r ie s a nd D1 s c hol a r - ships continue to grow in demand in the United States. Loughborough University is the most well equipped training ground for British athletes and sports science at Loughborough is well acknowledged the world over. In India, however, the HRD and Sports ministries hardly talk. Despite having a sports scientist as the Secretary of the UGC, we don’t see much happening in the academic realm to ignite hope. We send just one Indian representative in Annesha Ghosh to the FISU Games as a journalist and are happy that the ministries have their own independent fiefdoms.
As a result of this apathy, which isn’t a new thing in India, sports scholarships in schools and colleges continue to be misused and abused. While in some cities they are now confined to being party quotas, in others these are mostly filled by recommendations.
The sports-academia disconnect was integral to my growing up years as a student in Presidency College (now University), Calcutta. The elected Games secretary, who incidentally was a good friend, was once asked how many bails there are in cricket. In full confidence he had answered three wickets and hence three bails. And went on to say with a bluster what a silly question he had been asked!
Tickets to international matches at Eden Gardens were used to win votes at the college election, a practice no different to what happens in the BCCI with state association heads offered junkets as managers to keep the flock together. Colonial India, however, presented a very different story. University cricket was particularly well developed and the first athletes from India to the Paris Olympics in 1924 (not to mention Norman Pritchard in 1900) were members of St Xavier’s College, Calcutta. Jaipal Singh, the first captain of the Indian hockey team at the 1928 Amsterdam Games had a degree from St John’s College, Oxford and some of his papers continue to be there at the College library.
If we wish to transform ourselves into a sporting nation in the next decade and want to win Olympic medals by the dozen, we need to marry sports with education.
We keep talking of systems and structures and the only way a system can be put in place is if the British and American realities are appreciated and implemented in India. Vijay Goel needs to talk to Prakash Javdekar at the cost of sounding flippant and only then can a sporting revolution be underway. We keep hearing of the need for sports science. All we need to do is ask where are we to look out for our future sports scientists? If it is somewhere beyond the University sector....I really need to rest my case.
Colonial India presented a very different story. University cricket was particularly well developed and the first athletes from India to the Paris Olympics in 1924 were members of St Xavier’s College, Calcutta