By Vijay Darda
A small country with a long coastline between Central and Southeast Europe on the Adriatic Sea, Croatia though lost the title clash, astonished the whole world by reaching the FIFA World Cup final. It was natural for everyone to be amazed when this small country, with a population of just 40 lakh, zapped every other football team and reached the FIFA World Cup final.
Significantly, this country came into existence only 27 years ago. Earlier, this country was a part of Yugoslavia and its area is only 56,000 square kilometres. That is, in Maharashtra (area 3,07,713 square kilometres), half a dozen Croatias can be accommodated. Population-wise, it is like Nagpur and Kamptee. How come such a small country does such a spectacular thing? At least this question is popping up in the minds of us Indians because we are 312 times more populous than Croatia!
On the day the FIFA World Cup was inaugurated in Moscow, I was in Moscow by coincidence. Lakhs of football fans from Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Russia, Croatia, France, Italy, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and other countries were walking in processions holding their country’s flags and celebrating on the roads. They were shouting slogans for the victory of their countries.
About 30,000 fans from India too had reached Moscow. I was watching it all. I always carry India’s flag with me. So, I took out my flag too and stood along the roadside with my friend. Someone asked me, “Is your country’s team playing too? I smiled and replied: My country’s team is not playing here but I have come to see if this stadium is fit enough for our team to play? Though I replied, I felt heavy inside. I wish our team was also there!
Frankly, that day I did not feel that Croatia would outplay the likes of Ronaldo and Messi and move on to play the finals! In fact, Croatia has got this passionate attitude towards sports only from Yugoslavia’s education system, which it has further improved upon. School children are trained in football in such a way that they become fully devoted to the game. The government policy there does not only promote sports but the overall development of the country too.
This is why Croatia is included in the world’s top 20 travel destinations. By contrast, there are policies in the name of sports in our country but there is a lack of ethics about those policies. In the Olympics, even the smallest country in the world wins more medals than us. The simple reason for this is that our sports policy is not strong. Noted actor Aamir Khan has also voiced his concern over lack of promotion of sports in his film Dangal.
Indira Gandhi had long realised that if the country had to move ahead in sports, it would have to form a holistic policy. She did a lot of work on this and in 1984 the National Sports Policy was announced. It was further detailed in 1992. This National Sports Policy contained a special mention of Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung, who would always say ‘health first, academics later’.
Well, let me tell you that Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak also considered health supreme. He had taken one-year break from education so that he could improve his health and invigorate fight for freedom. There is no doubt that health is directly related to sports. Earlier, parents understood this very well, so the children were sent to play in the mohalla plains especially in the evening. Now that the grounds have disappeared, where will the children go to play? Parents these days prefer tuition classes to sports.
In December 2011, the Government of India adopted the new format of National Sports Policy which envisaged participation of corporate sector to promote sports. It also stressed on promoting sports in the tribal areas and villages. But no significant success has been achieved so far in this direction. In fact, politics has cast its shadow on the development of sports.
If you look at any sports body, you will find some leader or the other at the helm. Politicians have captured every association and federation. You would be surprised to know that the FIFA World Cup was being hosted in Moscow, but not a single photo, hoarding or banner of Putin, one of the world’s most powerful leaders, was seen on the roads of Moscow or inside the stadium. For them, the game is important, not the leader!
In our country sports has been neglected. The result is that Dhyanchand’s hockey is panting in our country with population of more than 125 crore. At the last Olympics we had only reached knockout stage whereas we have a golden history in hockey. I raised the issue of sports several times in the Parliament and said that a country is known by its economic success, technology or its players but unfortunately we do not attach importance to the sports here.
Sports should begin at school and village. I had proposed that the Prime Minister should hold the sports ministry himself. It is very important for the development of sports. In this FIFA World Cup the world saw how the French president Emanuel Macron, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium came to support their players. Croatia’s president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic flew to Russia in an economy class and hugged each one of the players in the dressing room. Do or can our people meet so easily? We will have to understand that such an ease is essential for development of sports.
I had gone to China along with P V Narasimha Rao. I requested that we should visit the Sports Authority of China because we have heard that children are admitted there at the age of 6. Based on the interest of children and their physical fitness, they are prepared for the game of their choice. They are taught and trained there. Although for some reason we could not visit the Sports Authority of China, I have always wished that some concerted efforts should be made at the government level for the promotion of sports among children of our country.
I feel we should learn from countries like Croatia how to scale the summit with limited resources. What we require is spiritedness, clear policy, dedication and passion to win. Let the players take care of sports and success will be there for all to see! When our youth can elevate our country in the fields of information technology, management, science and arts, they can very well make India numero uno in the field of sports as well!
Before I conclude
Hima Das who hails from a small village in Assam fulfilled the dream of India which had remained unfulfilled till date. She won the gold medal in the World Under-20 Athletic Championship. Hima hails from a middle class family, but she has never let deprivations dominate her thinking and pulled off this miracle. She is the real star of this country and an inspiration for the present and future generations. Many congratulations, Hima!
Vijay Darda has been the chief visionary and driving force behind Lokmat, a leading multi-platform media company. He is a recipient of several prestigious awards including the Feroze Gandhi Memorial Award for excellence in journalism in 1990-91.
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