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Being a sport?


I am quite certain that once in four years, many of us Indians have little pondering sessions that last at least for a month. There is this one more topic that we are bound to add to our list of general discussion items. Evidently, we get pretty passionate about it during this brief period because we are not going to think of it for the next four years! If you are thinking like me, you have guessed what I am talking about, Olympics and Us! Well, I would rather like to put it as ‘Sports and Us’.

Thanks to my pressing need to blog every week, today, in light of the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing, I gave the topic a lot more thought than usual. This year’s Olympics can teach us many more lessons, simply because it is hosted by China.

India’s participation in the Olympics is undoubtedly pathetic. But in this piece, I don’t want to elaborate on things we already know or have been debating about time and again, like our lack of societal and parental patronage or government backing, an average Indian’s physical and mental toughness, whether we were ordered to be an unathletic nation by God and so on.
In earlier attempts to argue and counter argue with myself, I had always concluded that we have the potential but not the infrastructure or financial backing. A little bit of research about China has convinced me that we lack the most vital factor – Passion. No matter what other reasons we debate and come up with, unless there is soul-backing, there is no point.

So instead of looking at our failings, lets for a change look at how we can reflect from China’s experience. After all China is a developing country too. They have a 1 billion plus population. They export goods just like we export our services; they have a growing middle class similar to us. They have corrupt politicians too, who are not even Democratic! And both China and India have been competing fiercely for the tag of “next super power” or “emerging economy” or whatever you like to name it.
Then what is different? The Chinese are relentlessly passionate! They are working their souls out to emerge a super power in every sense of the word and the entire nation thinks sports and games is an inevitable part. In their country, every soul is backing.

In Indian cities, how many people do we see walking, jogging or working out unless they have a health problem, want to reduce weight or feel they are getting old? A recent study in China showed that 60% of their urban population is fitness conscious.
The Chinese Government has been working on a 15 year long program to promote fitness, sports and games among their people. In 1995, they adopted a Physical Health Law. A survey conducted 10 years later showed that about 40% of their population exercise regularly and almost all of their students meet their National Physical Exercise Standard.
There are more than 6 lakh gymnasiums and stadiums across the country, which are open to the public. All schools have excellent trainers and infrastructure is not only confined to schools and colleges but also to every neighborhood and community.

So where does all the money come from?

Since 2001, China has been conducting what are called sports lotteries. All the proceeds from the lottery participation go to building public sport facilities. Since the prize money is attractive and the cost of each ticket is very less, the people’s interest in betting is high. And given the population of China, the total money earned in proceeds is phenomenally high!

It would be amazing to note that all the spending doesn’t go to one sport or game like cricket but is distributed among a wide range of them. Lot of new sports that are mostly followed by Western countries is being taken up in China.
The life expectancy of an average Chinese has gone up in the past few years and people have been channeling their household spending to health related activities. Even the decision of hosting the Olympics has totally worked in favour of the Chinese in spite of the enormous spending because for the last seven years it has united people for a common cause and brought in a lot of team spirit. The Government has directed a lot of spending for infrastructure build up, which will not only please its visitors for now but will create a lot of brand image for their economy in the long run.

A very determined nation indeed!