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October 27, 2000
The bitter half of the story
There are lies, damned lies and Indian sporting officials with their mouths open in front of microphone.
They are the Caliphs of the Cliché, the Princes of Platitudes, the Viceroys of Vacillation. Personally though I prefer the Barons of Bullshit.
The world's finished parading their Olympic athletes, completed their introspection, and begun playing sport again. Indian officials are waffling on about India's performance at the Olympics, keeping the truth concealed under the table.
In Australia, cyclists are breaking world records. In America, marathons are being run. In Dubai, a triathlon gets under way. In Morocco, caravans ready themselves for trips into the heartland, remote places where young boys with athletic potential are picked out, tested and then embraced if they possess the right stuff. In India, we're still wondering if the Sports Minister was playing blackjack at Gold Coast, and sent a double to sit for him while Malleswari lifted bronze?
We'll win more medals at the 2004 Olympics trumpets the Righteous, Suresh Kalmadi, head of the Indian Olympic Association. No Sir, we will not.
Kalmadi's been battling with former Minister of Sports for State, Shahnawaz Hussain, making his first mistake by taking any Minister for Sport seriously.
Then he made his second.
Kalmadi says Shahnawaz took his wife to Sydney, and his personal secretary, and his wife. Tut-tut. And that the IOA, poor boys, had to take care of him. Tsk, tsk.
Shocking? Well yes. And no. Earlier this year, the IOA took a delegation to Rio (Brazil, chaps), to lobby for the Asian Games and the Afro-Asian Games. It comprised, so I'm told: Kalmadi and his wife; Randhir Singh, IOA secretary and the best of the blokes, but with his wife and daughter; Digvijay Singh, Minister of State for Railways and president of the Shooting Federation plus his Officer on Special Duty; Vijay Kumar Malhotra, the head of the archery association and his wife; Raj Chopra the IOA treasurer; Tarlochan Singh, vice chairman Minorities Commission and PRO for the IOA and his wife; Kirti Azad, MP; ASV Prasad of the IOA; and two sports management group reps to make the presentation.
a) what's with the wives. Don't tell me the story I hear about one business class ticket being converted to two economy fares, is true?
b) Was Digvijay Singh's Officer on Special Duty there to make polite conversation over schnapps with Juan Antonio Samaranch?
c) What's a Minorities Commission fellow doing with the IOA? Ensuring equal opportunity, as in all delegates, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Christian, get a suite with a view of the Rio beach.
d) Which brings me to V.K.Malhotra, who's been boss of the archery federation even before there was an archery federation. Every Olympics I go to there's VKM; every Asian Games there's VKM. Question: Pardon my rudeness Your Eminence, what do you do there, have you ever written a report, ventured to research something? No Your Holiness, being a good sport is not a qualification for these trips.
e) Kalmadi says the government is answerable, there's no money, that "There is not a penny for the Olympics Association". He's right, it's all in Rio.
f) Please tell me someone gave me the wrong list. Oh I get it, they all had frequent flyer points collected from previous sporting trips.
Which brings me to Kalmadi's third mistake (there are more, but I'm tired, and surely you are too).
He says the officials in Sydney were there, separately, to lobby for the Asian Games, and enlist more teams for the Afro-Asian Games. First he must tell his officials that lobby has nothing to do with hotels; secondly, that at cocktail parties, that stuff they're spreading on toast in not black currant jam but fish eggs.
But actually they were all business in Sydney, lobbying relentlessly. So committed that, I hear, the first batch of 20 or so officials refused to vacate their rooms when the second batch arrived, causing much chaos. Sir, what to say, Harvey Norman discount sale only starting tomorrow?
Why doesn't Mr. Kalmadi tell us how the IOA has spent its money this year, rupee for rupee, explain the presence of delegates, show us their reports? Which, of course, is like asking him to commit officialdom's version of hara-kiri?
Why do we ask why India remains a third-class sporting nation? Do we expect a reply from VKM?
But this endless bickering over the Olympics telegraphs another significant message: as a nation we don't much care for sports, we enjoy events.
Come the Olympics, an Asian Games, World Cup football, a cricket Test series, and only then does interest ignite and posturing begin. Let's not just blame Kalmadi, let's put our palms up for the ruler too.
In Australia, basketball players are on TV talks-shows inciting people to come and watch their league; in cricket, state-level cricket (our Ranji Trophy) elicits front-page news and stadiums boiling over with spectators; when a world short-course swimming championships was held just after the Games in Melbourne, every stroke was charted and cheered.
In India, Ranji Trophy matches attract three fathers, five spectators, two maalis, and a lost dog; in hockey, when Indian Airlines plays Mahindra for instance, you can be chief guest if you want; basketball, Western Railway vs PSEB, forget; in archery name someone apart from Limba Ram and the federation will employ you. It makes you wonder, what do the millions in the city, do for leisure. Pull out guns in bars!
If Australians romance sport year long, India hibernates. Sydney over, wake me up next year when the Afro-Asian Games begin. If we're not consistent, it's going to reflect on our sport. Go see the weightlifters, cheer the swimmers, take a look at Dhanraj Pillay. Form rivalries, start fan clubs, wear team colours, and you never know what could be kick-started.
People laugh when America calls their baseball league finals the World Series. So what, for them America is they're world. The passions aroused this past week, as the Mets and Yankees face-off for the Subway Series in New York reminds me of football's AC Milan vs Inter Milan, New South Wales vs Victoria in cricket. Go through American basketball, Brazilian football, English rugby, and you'll find similar examples. In India, we can't even keep Mohun Bagan-East Bengal alive anymore.
We need to fall in love with our sportspeople, to follow them every day, every year. We can't just awaken every four years, say, shit man, they're useless, and go back to sleep. Sportsmen will tell you that only before every Olympics and Asian Games will people ask them about diet, training, equipment, living conditions, favouritism, problems.
Which is when they turn around and reply, "Where were you during the last two years, where were you when we needed help?"
There is no answer, only silence. Win medals? Who are we kidding.
Mail Rohit Brijnath
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