Cricket is the only game that Indians seem to be passionate about. While this statement may not be entirely accurate, this is the impression that Indian sports fans make in a broad spectrum.
Cricket is the only sport that commands extremely high attention from Indians. However, contrary to the myth, Indians also show equal fervor for other sports. All Olympic events are a testament to this fact. So, why is this passion not visible at all times?
The answer lies in the exposure to sports, especially at an early age. Children are exposed early on to cricket and to some extent on football in India and the interest carries over to adulthood. Gully cricket and local football matches are largely the reason behind this.
However, for sports like wrestling, ice skating, and gymnastics, specially designed arenas are required before these can be practiced or played. With a distinct lack of specialized arenas, children naturally progress to play and follow games that have a ‘play anywhere’ characteristic. In this case, lack of participation is the key to lack of exposure and thus, to interest in sports other than cricket or football.
The fandom for a particular sport can also be attributed to achievements in the international arena of that particular sport. Excelling in any sport leads to the sportsperson and the sport being highlighted. This is the reason why many Indians can name the best players of Indian men’s cricket team but fail to identify players from the Indian football team apart from oddities like, Baichung Bhutia or Sunil Chhetri.
Carrying on from the above observation, participation will definitely lead to skilled players emerging who can represent India at an international level and thus, giving rise to a legion of fans who follow the sport.
Many sportsperson have however, manages the feat without the exposure and are noticed only when they secure a medal or beat a rival.
With participation being the key to driving following for a sport as well as nurturing talent in that field, the biggest hurdle to development in Indian sports is financial investment in diverse sporting categories. Investment in sports is severely lacking as both the government and the private sector restrict themselves to sports that have the exposure and following to justify investment.
It is a known fact that many Indian sportsperson often turn to crowdfunding to support their international careers.
What is required is a more coherent sports policy from the government that is headed by sportsperson from diverse sports and not just politicians. If the Indian government wishes to host international sporting events such as the Olympics in the near future, it must do more to inculcate participation in just about every sport possible in the country from an early age.
Financial support should also be allocated and publicized to attract the youth to progress in their nascent sporting careers. Infrastructure also needs to be improved significantly to democratize every sport so that every Indian can participate and develop an interest in sports.
India has the talent and skill to win world championships on any day. That talent only needs to be unearthed and nurtured to ensure that in any competitive sport, an Indian can secure the top spot.