“My situation was like a lost dog in a temple precinct. [on the day of a festival]I didn’t know the language, so I didn’t have any friends. All the coaches were speaking Hindi… it was very difficult to adjust. Hockey goalie is an individual sport. I never had to coordinate with or understand anyone else. It’s the only reason I survived! Otherwise I would have packed up and gone home long ago! ” – PR Sreejesh, Indian hockey team.
Sreejesh is one of only three players from Kerala to make it to the Indian hockey team in the Olympics, and the only one to have competed in multiple Olympics. It emerged as he struggled hard during his first few years in the state camp, where both the language (Hindi) and food were foreign to him. He had no friends, no one talked to him, and he couldn’t understand what the coach was telling him. He now holds himself accountable to make sure his teammates don’t have to face what he’s done.
But Sreejesh’s personal experience of alienation raises uncomfortable questions about India’s National Sports Day (August 29). From hockey to football, from wrestling to boxing, are Indian sports really national, with the exception of giant cricket? Almost all sports federations in India have their headquarters in Delhi, far north for most countries.? Does it lead to a distorted perspective?
Are our sports really diverse and inclusive? The numbers suggest that there is a way to go.
Consider wrestling, for example. Of his twelve wrestlers for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, ten were from Haryana, one from Delhi and one from Uttar his Pradesh. Of the seven who represented India at the Tokyo Olympics, all seven were from Haryana. Since the early 90s, no athlete outside of those states (and Punjab) has represented India in his Olympic freestyle wrestling.
It does not disparage the athletes or their achievements or question the strength of the wrestling culture in these regions or what responsible federations have done for the sport in these regions, but it does not mean that wrestling accepts Imagine a region that has not been that attention.
There is always an argument that certain regions should focus on sports that they are historically or culturally inclined to and should prioritize them.
There is also no real debate about which genotypes fit a particular sport. As boxing and weightlifting have proven, sports of different weight categories cater to athletes of all shapes and sizes.
India’s badminton hubs, meanwhile, are further south in Hyderabad and Bangalore, spanning two institutes run by two of those cities’ former greats, P Gopichand and Prakash Padukone. India’s top players of the last decade – such as Saina Newal, PV Sindhu, Srikantkidambi and now Lakshasen – come from either of these two centers of his. This is a sport played by everyone all over the country, even as an evening pastime. The potential to expand beyond these two centers, beyond the Metro, is immense. Although the highest level of geographical representation has increased, as shown by Treesa Jolly of Kerala and Aakarshi Kashyap of Chhattisgarh, training is still very centralized.
Hockey’s power center has moved from the northwest to the east, with more representation from the region (Odisha), but the international spread of India’s most (historically) successful sport , logically should have been much more than it is now. And it is shrinking in traditional power centers like Mumbai and Karnataka.
Even sports with more or less centralization removed have problems. silly stuff. In football, for example, Dadra and Nagar Haveli’s winning of the national junior women’s championship seemed to be a testament to the prevalence of football. There is one small problem though. The team consisted only of players from Haryana and Delhi. I didn’t break any rules, but what’s the point of the whole exercise?
In athletics, it’s pretty predictable where athletes in a particular discipline come from. long jumper? Think Kerala. Sprinter? Orissa. pitcher? Please, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh. There are exceptions, but they seem to remain.
There are Indian Sports Authority facilities across the country, including 10 regional centers (one of which is located in South India) and two academies (Punjab and Kerala), through which most of India’s best athletes pass ( (Because we also hold national camps.) here), the number of highest-level stars breaking out of these centers is probably beneficial.
Neeraj Chopra started at the local SAI center but soon found himself in a Haryana government facility and was mostly self-taught at the beginning of his career due to the lack of professional javelin coaches. The Avinash Sable was introduced to steeplechase by the Army. Bajran Punia, Ravi Dahiya and all the wrestlers who make it big come from their local Akara and move to bigger facilities like Chhatrasar Stadium in Delhi and SAI Center in Sonepat, Haryana.Vinesh Phogat was trained by his uncle along with cousins. The badminton star is all from his two private centers in Bangalore and Hyderabad. Sreeshankar Murali has been trained by his father since day one. Jeremy Lalrinnunga, like his best friend Achinta Sheuli, started out at a local gym before moving to the Army’s sports facility. Amit Pangal also transferred from his local boxing academy to his ASI.
SAI and other government agencies are geographically dispersed, and many serve athletes in the states in which they are located (Mirabai Chanu, Mary Kom, Nikhat Zareen are notable examples of their success). is). But for all Jeremy and Three Jesh found outside traditional power centers. How many have you lost? Proximity is still important.
Focusing the sport on one (or a few) power centers like this makes sense at first. And definitely necessary to build a solid platform for the sport. But are we only at the beginning of our journey? If we are already successful in this way, can we go beyond this? Most sports in India are on an upward curve but imagine how much more could be possible if all parts were utilized.?
Now, even if they were dispersed, it is quite possible that the regional representatives of the majority of national contingents will remain the same, at least for the foreseeable future. It should not remove the need to provide a level platform to compete and challenge.
Of course, there is the language barrier that Sreejesh faced in this endeavor. But India’s greatest strength is its diversity. All challenges arising from integration are incidental and must be overcome. And that’s usually when the effort is put in. Aren’t athletes all over the country training overseas? Isn’t there a foreign top coach enrolled here? So why should Indians allow language to be a barrier in training Indians?
Of course, this is part of a larger battle that society must fight, but it’s entirely possible that sport will lead the way. Shah Rukh Khan’s iconic Kabir Khan shouted on the big screen, “India! You all represent India!” … Is it really too much (or too naive) to ask for equal opportunity for everyone in this country to represent India in real life?