(Picture courtesy: AFP/ Chandan Khanna)

The same people who tell you that it is all right for India to let go of Kashmir, will in the same breath, write that sports is of no great importance. But they are wrong: a nations’ progress cannot be only measured in terms of economy, politics and reform in society, but also on how well it performs in sports. It goes with power, whether it is capitalistic, as in the case of the USA, or socialist, like in the erstwhile Soviet Union and today’s Russia.

India is on the verge of becoming a great and powerful nation: It is the fastest growing major economy in the world, expanding by 7.3% this year and it emerged on top of the foreign direct investment league table, overtaking China and the United States. Yet, India’s ranking in the world of sports is pathetic: It is 162th in football, in spite of a string of western coaches and is regularly beaten by minnows, such as Vietnam. It is 123rd in basketball, nowhere in track and field, swimming or gymnastics, bar that courageous girl, Dipa Karmakar.

India's Dipa Karmakar reacts after a successful vault during the women's gymnastics vault apparatus final at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
(Picture courtesy: REUTERS/ Phil Noble)

Whose fault is it? Certainly of cricket, a colonial game left behind by the British, which is more suited for cooler climates! Here you have 12 spoilt brats, living like maharajas, earning billions in endorsements (Dhoni, once an innocent boy, today worshipped by million of teens, has no qualms in doing adds for whisky – under the guise of soda), who not only hog all the sporting limelight, but suck-up most of the sponsorship, media attention, while sportsmen and women, who practice disciplines that require more physical efforts such as track and field, or cycling, travel second class an get very little coverage.

What to do then? Look at China: when Nixon went there in 1971 and opened the mad western scramble to invest Chinese, it was nowhere in sports except in table tennis. In 40 years, through hard work, discipline and state sponsorship, Chinese athletes are today some of the best in the world, in sports that were totally alien to them, like swimming or even football. Successive Indian Congress government’s could not care less about sports – the huge revenues, overt and covert, of cricket, were enough for them.

Will the BJP government do better? First, it needs to limit the number of international cricket matches the Indian team can play at home & abroad and increase domestic cricket matches, which will nurture new blood in cricket and give space to other sports. Then, it has to remove ALL politicians from sport bodies (remember Suresh Kalmadi?), as they are a plague and a dead weight. But the government does need to step in BIG, with a lot of funds and introduce sports right from kindergarten onwards. Talent coaches, as it is being done in China, have to spot gifted youth early and these be given scholarships and then economic support in adulthood, for it has also been the bane in Indian sports that parents worry about their children’s future and do not encourage them to pursue a career in sports. Finally, the corporate has to pitch in generously with sponsorship & patience, as results take time, the television channels move way from cricket and give coverage to other sports, as it has started happening in a small way with hockey and football.

Why is sports important Mr Narendra Modi? Because it is a reflection of a nations’s pride, vigour, youth and enthusiasm, it is a barometer of nationalism. Also sir, because a nation’s health is your wealth: more working hours, better minds, less burden on your hospitals costs and higher life expectation.
And finally, if you manage to integrate at the school level, not only yoga that will bring suppleness, but also pranayama, which will provide more endurance and lung capacity and finally meditation which will impart calmness of the mind, India will have a sporting edge on ALL other nations, including China…