When India starts producing dominating athletes – someone who dominates like LeBron James in basketball or Tiger Woods earlier in golf, that will inspire and take the Indian sporting eco system to the next level.
It is heartening to observe that attitudes in India are changing with regards to sports. Results post the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics have indicated that we are in contention and winning medals across more disciplines than ever before. However, there is much work remaining before we can call ourselves a sporting nation.
At the top level, now that medals are being won in international competition regularly, the focus of Indian sportsmen and women and coaches and the entire support ecosystem in the new-year should be on dominating a particular event or discipline. When India starts producing dominating athletes – someone who dominates like LeBron James in basketball or Tiger Woods earlier in golf, that will inspire and take the Indian sporting eco system to the next level and unleash a tsunami of new talent and aspirations into the system, critical to take Indian sporting participation at the grassroots level to the next level.
There is no doubt that we have come a long way from the 80s and the 90s when Indian sports did not inspire much hope, bar the odd flickering candlelight of individual achievers, amongst a vast dark room of below par performers.
If the results of the highly competitive Asian Games are anything to go by, then the India of today is certainly far more competitive across a much more wide-ranging array of sporting disciplines than it ever was.
However, most international teams are still content with qualifying for the finals or just getting into the world cup instead of going in with a “win big” mentality. When a sportsperson trains with the “win big” mentality, then they know they have to train harder, smarter and longer than anyone else on the planet and not just "enough" to make the national squad or hope for a podium finish.
The entire support staff like coaches, sports authority of India who arranges pre event international tours, physiotherapists etc. bring a sharper focus and dedication to their decisions. The prospect of producing a dominating sportsperson (someone say like a Virat Kohli) can galvanise even the most apathetic babus into action.
The other effect of aiming to produce dominating athletes is that the system becomes more productive and starts churning out many more prospects so we don’t have to be dependent on the odd success by path-breaking individuals. An efficient system, should produce ‘products’ who will deliver high performance so that we don’t put all the pressure on just one or two individuals. A full stable of potential world champions will all feed off each other and relieve each other of the pressure of carrying a billion hopes.
Such systems are prevalent in truly sporting nations such as Australia, China, Germany, USA and so on. They have created systems so that it is not just sheer luck that an odd world beater pops up out of the blue, such has been the case in India.
A small case study could be Haryana, in the way the whole state has taken to sports once their athletes started 'winning big' consistently, at least in relative terms to their socio-economic system.
Athletes of today have fewer excuses. National level athletes across many sports are today completely financed and adequately supported through various government schemes and policies like Sports quota admissions, jobs, the TOP scheme and initiatives like the Khelo Indian School Games, which is now in its new avatar as the Khelo India Youth Games.
We have had the recent instance of a Jakarta Asian Games shooting champion, who resurrected her career after being able to hire a quality and decorated former foreign athlete as coach, thanks to support from the Government through such schemes and policies.
Access to quality sporting infrastructure is also much less of an issue today with a multitude of open community gyms supplementing various sports complexes in urban areas as well as Sports Authority of India (SAI) centres in rural locations.
What will help us win big are the sportsmen and women of yesteryears, who have performed and won at the highest levels, who are today available in plenty as coaches and mentors. This is a welcome development as past champions are willing to give back much more than used to be the case previously.
Thanks to a government policy allowing investment in Olympic sports to be included as part of CSR spends, more and more companies are also more than willing to associate with sport. The advent of various leagues is testament to this growing involvement of the corporate world.
So a change in attitude from being just occasional winners to "winning big" can catalyse India's youthful population to strive towards greater athletes. Self-belief is the most powerful winning tool any sportsperson can possess. One athlete "winning big" will give rise to million more hopefuls.
Here's to wishing that 2019 sees a new attitude in Indian sport.(The author is former professional Indian golfer and heads RishiNarain Sports Marketing (RNSM), a sports marketing company. Views are personal)