Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bring Home the Gold, Take Home the Message

Abhinav Bindra is attracting all sorts of attention - deserved praise, and some not-quite-deserved chunks of cash (see here). Anyways, once the last "congrats" has been said or posted, there are some key points to note here.

Firstly, this whole "billion people" stuff. To say a billion people are uplifted by one Indian's achievement, or to ask him how he felt carrying the aspirations of a billion people and so on and so forth, is the sort of dangerous crap that swung the other way when we got trounced at the World Cup. What was the outcome then? A billion people bayed for the blood of 12 men and a coach. A billion people went about making crude jokes about the team's performance. A billion people went stoning the houses of Indian team-members and beating up professional look-alikes of them. It's time we recognized this for what it is - rank bullshit. A billion people, half of whom don't get to eat enough every day and a good deal of whom lack access to radio or television, ought to have other things to worry about than a dude's performance in a sport. Similarly, nobody can not stink when weighed down with a billion aspirations. Sportsmen do what they do for themselves and for love of the game. I'm not saying they don't look forward to the happy faces of family, friends and fans and so forth, but please, no more billion people references. Change channels or beat up whoever you see or hear using that damned term.

Equally bullshitious is the notion that a nation of a billion people should produce a ton of gold medalists. That's like 6th standard unitary method taken to the extreme - if 20 men can finish building a house in 30 days, a billion men should be able to do it in a fraction of a second. Right?

Anyway, a from "showing an Indian can do it" (like we all thought Indians were born with osteogenesis imperfecta or something), Abhinav Bindra has shown the way forward for Indians in sporting events now.

For starters, he's of the upper class, the kind that does not require:
  • the Government to put good food on their table
  • the Government to take care of post-retirement careers
  • the Government to provide intensive, extensive and expensive training
  • the Government to supply equipment
  • the Government to send him to places like Germany for training and tournaments
The keener-eyed would have noticed the common running thread amidst all the requirements. Unlike all the unfortunates to this point who have required life-support from the Sports Ministry to prepare, Abhinav Bindra's been able to take the training into his own hands to an extent. His limitations were, in my opinion for the first time in Indian sporting history, himself. And that is the situation where a sportsperson has a fighting chance. Not when his/her training depends on the whims of Secretary-ji as regards food, housing and equipment, and when he/she has no idea as to the condition of counterparts from China, America, UK etc.

Second, the event itself - shooting, the sort of thing you associate with Army men or burra sahibs of the old times. Again, this is an event that allows you to take a lot of training into your own hands, unlike say running, wrestling, swimming etc. when you have to wonder if the Government will provide an adequate training facility. It helps when you can practice this at your own farmhouse. It's not a coincidence, IMO that India's other world champion in a sport other than cricket is a chess player - Vishwanathan Anand (whose only endorsement offer has come from Memory Plus (I think) and Aptech). His training has similarly required access to chess books, a chess set and a clock, freeing him from the whims of the babus at the Ministry.

This is the pattern Indians have to emulate in the future. Let's face it, hell will freeze over before the mandarins of the Sports Ministry establish a program worth a damn for picking promising young athletes and training them to be fighting fit for the Olympics. There are people nationwide with the aptitude and ability to win the gold. But it's the ones who can afford the time and money by themselves to train, who will win. With the expansion of the middle class as is happening now, it's likely if not hopeful that more people will rise in this manner in various events. Here's hoping for the rise of 10 Abhinav Bindras at London in 2012. And as before, kudos to the man.