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Cricket and India's Olympic Sports

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Olympics_logoAs with most major sporting events, India’s road to the 2016 Rio Olympics began with a furore. Not that it was unwarranted, what with actor Salman Khan being chosen as the goodwill ambassador for the Olympics, but it was nonetheless a continuation of an unnecessary pattern. Fortunately though, thanks to the overwhelming protests about Khan’s selection, Abinav Bindra and Sachin Tendulkar went on to be appointed as co-ambassadors for the Indian Olympic representation.

Of the three decisions, while the first is completely separate, the latter two are quite deeply inter-related. Khan’s selection may have been prompted as a way to promote his upcoming movie that talks about wrestling and as such doesn’t need much perspective beyond the present. It’s however the eventual choosing of two excellent par sportspersons that highlights the upside and flipside of the sporting scenario in the country.

 

India has participated in 23 Olympics, starting in 1900. In these 23 Games, India’s only managed to win a paltry 37 medals. Its most successful haul of medals came in the previously held London Olympics in 2012, where it won six medals – two silver and four bronze.

Stark as this tally is, especially when compared to the likes of other smaller countries that rake in medal-after-medal in the quadrennial event, it’s also an emphasis on how and where our country’s sporting infrastructure has fallen short. And here’s where, in the upside, Sachin Tendulkar being selected as India’s goodwill ambassador will work in the country’s favour.

For, somewhere Tendulkar has been responsible for changing the perception about India that was once known as the underdog in cricketing circles. Tournaments had been won on the back of this one man, who seemed unparalleled in his style, hard-work and determination. As a senior cricketer in the latter part of his career, and now after retirement, youngsters greatly benefited from his encouragement and motivation. As such, his being the goodwill ambassador for Indian athletes participating in the Rio Olympics will be a pivotal factor in potentially helping India to try and rake in more medals. In his letter to the Indian Olympic Committee (IOA) accepting their proposal, Tendulkar had mentioned the same.

Sachin_Tendulkar_Indian_Olympic_Association_IOA_letter

 

But here’s where the scenario starts to get muddled. In spite of how inspiring Tendulkar would be to the Indian Olympic contingent, the downside of his selection boils down to that that cricket yet again overshadows other sports and that other sportsmen, regardless of the extent of their successes, aren’t at par with the statuses that cricketers enjoy. Like with Bindra now, who’s almost been side-stepped. Despite being included as the goodwill ambassador and having the experience of participating – and winning a gold medal – in the Olympics.

This aspect of cricket crowding in on other sports gains more leverage in the face of the argument that it has not been a part of the Olympics since 1900.

And somewhere, it’s our existing sporting system that’s to blame for this imbalance rather than cricket itself. Cricket is one of the easiest and most convenient sports to be picked up. But at the same time, regardless of the administrative problems clouding the BCCI, there’s also a relatively better infrastructure in place for cricket as compared to the other sporting bodies. Thus, while this has allowed a better spotting of talent at the grassroots for promising cricketing talent, it has also helped provide better leeway to the youngsters themselves, who are keen to take up cricket. Even the IPL, irrespective of all its faults, has been a hotbed of activity in bringing lesser-known Indian cricketing names to the forefront. Whereas when it comes to other sports, specifically the ones played at the Olympics, youngsters struggle dually. Such difficulty is present both, in garnering necessary infrastructural support and also in gaining popularity and acceptance among widespread audiences, across the country.

There’s however a possibility that things could change. While within India, the scenario for other sports is starting to improve – which brought about the higher inflow of medals in 2012 in the first place – cricket too could stand to benefit if certain developments take place.  

As recently as last year, the ICC had been planning to hold talks with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) about the re-inclusion of cricket into the Olympics’ fold in the 2020 Tokyo Games. If cricket were to be brought back to the Olympics, it would not only help widen the sport globally, but would also ensure certainty to India’s chances of doing well in the Olympics alongside the other existing categories.



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