Festering rot: If Serbia can produce Novak Djokovic, why India cannot?

Abhijit Sen Gupta
Abhijit Sen Gupta

The continuing success of Novak Djokovic and his recent outstanding victory in the French Open tennis championship has once again brought up the question that when small countries like Serbia can produce champions like him, why cannot India do so?

Despite the fact that India has substantial resources and a large talent pool in sport, the country’s record has been shockingly poor. Serbia is a country of 7 million people which is less than that of greater Hyderabad. The population of India at last count was 1360 million.

Yet Serbia has produced the world’s top ranked tennis players such as Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic in addition to Djokovic. Serbia is now ranked 5th in world basketball and it has produced numerous Olympic medalists including Djokovic who won the bronze in 2008. At the last Olympic Games in Brazil, Serbia was placed 32nd in the medal table with 8 medals. India was 67th with a poor two medals. Even Fiji, Mexico, Algeria, Tajikistan and Puerto Rico were all higher placed than India.

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Poor record at Olympics

Since it began participating in the Olympic Games, India has bagged only 28 medals in total, out of which only nine are gold. Ace swimmer Michael Phelps alone has got 28 medals in total, out of which 23 are gold. So just one top athlete has won as many medals in his individual career as India has won in it’s entire Olympic history. And what is more, Phelps has won more than double the number of gold medals than India has.

These shocking statistics raise the question – what is holding India back? The answer is not difficult to find. Many facts are well known to all followers of sport. Politics, favouritism, mismanagement at the top level, deep rooted corruption and heartless wastage of public money, all nullify the efforts of talented sportsmen and women. Enormous sums of money amounting to hundreds of crores have been spent in trying to uplift sports. But where are the results?

Why have opposition parties not raised a hue and cry about the wastage of money without any results? It is amazing to see how many modern stadiums have been constructed even in far flung corners of India. But later many of these stadiums without any activity have been allowed to rot.

Let us take just one small example. A few years ago, a news report came out from Manipur which stated that after large scale discrepancies were detected in the construction of mini stadiums at Thoubal, Ukhrul, Chandel, Senapati and Jiribam districts, a high power committee was constituted by the government for a thorough investigation. The stadiums were constructed in 2005 at a cost of Rs. 16 crores each. The construction was done with monetary assistance from the Government of India. So, taxes paid by the citizens of India went down the drain.

This is just one example of the dozens of haphazard schemes undertaken without foresight or planning. There are many such cases throughout the country. The total wastage of precious funds across India will amount to hundreds of crores.

Why was so much money spent? Were there kickbacks involved? Knowing how things function in India, it is easy to guess that money must have exchanged hands for awarding of building contracts. The avowed goal of improving sports was far from the minds of the politicians and bureaucrats who handed out these contracts.

The results are there for everyone to see. While we have no dearth of stadiums now, our performance records have been steadily going downhill. In football, India was the best in Asia at one time. In the 1951 Asian Games, India won the gold medal. Iran was second and Japan was third. In the 1962 Asian Games India again won the gold medal beating South Korea in the final. India had again beaten Japan in the group stage.

Back then the Indian players had a coach to guide them and nobody else. But now we have a foreign coach by the name of Igor Stimac who is well paid, we have a team of support staff like assistant coach, doctor, dietician, physio and what not. But where results are concerned, we feel satisfied if we can beat Bangladesh. We cannot dream of beating Japan, which took part in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil in 2018.

There is no talent hunt or development at the grassroots level. We have been overtaken by small Asian countries. Even Vietnam has a higher ranking in world football than India.

So it is high time to take a relook at the maladies that are plaguing Indian sport. We have to root out nepotism and corruption. Money must be spent directly for the progress of genuinely talented players and athletes from a very young age.

As long as the development of sport is left to self centered politicians who have no understanding or love for sport and are only interested in lining their own pockets, our standard will never improve. In fact it will go down further and we will become the laughing stock of the whole world. It is ridiculous that the world’s second largest nation in terms of population cannot match tiny nations like Serbia, or Ireland or even Jamaica which has earned an enviable record at the Olympics.

Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.

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