The recent impasse between the Indian hockey players and the federation that finally caught the attention of the nation, might have been resolved till the hockey world cup next month. During this impasse, the media highlighted some disturbing questions like "Why other sports are meted step-motherly treatment?" and "Why is cricket so popular in India?".
The latter question is very disturbing because we are a country of more than a billion and have varied interests but when it comes to cricket our obsession is unanimous. Certain disturbing trends like PT Usha (our golden girl) breaking down on seeing the dismal accommodation provided to her by a state government, Dhanraj Pillay (a hockey legend) breaking down during a TV interview when asked if he would encourage his son to take up the sport or the emerging extravagance of cricket do not seem to even make a difference. Cricket players are earning crores of rupees for a handful IPL matches while some sports players live off paltry wages (as less as Rs.200/- a day) to make both ends meet, sometimes selling their trophies and medals off.
This post is my take on why cricket is popular and more importantly, how it can save our sports.
Cricket in India is promoted and commercialized by a private monopolistic company called the BCCI. Most key people in this organization are businessmen or politicians linking their commercial interests with the sport.
On the other hand, other sports are promoted by the respective state sports federation which comes under the national sports federation. The government babus administer these organizations and most have never played any sport in their life, cannot even relate to it but control the lives of hundreds of hard working sportsmen. Since the government at the helm it controls the administration, the budget and how it is used. No politician ever cares to even question the policies of the federations because there is no economic incentive for them here. These sports federations don't even have the means to look after the welfare of our sportsmen leave alone identify, hone and retain talent. There are no incentives for performers, not even appreciation from the head of the federation. No money or appreciation...but we expect medals!
So how can cricket save other sports?
I believe that by replicating the BCCI model, the other sports too can benefit. First, the government can start by kicking out these babus and replacing them with former sports persons. Pay them a decent salary to keep out corruption and give them the autonomy to take decisions because they are aware of the problems. Conduct regular elections to elect the governing body for a term of 4 years (because most major tournaments like the Olympics are conducted every 4 years). The government can raise money for the federation by levying a tax on every cricket related transaction (like from sale of cricket gear, tickets, player earnings, sponsorships etc). Even if the tax is as low as 0.5% the federation can easily raise upto 50 crores. Apart from this, donations should be made tax exemptible so that corporates can support the cause. With so much money available, independent auditors must be appointed to overlook the accounts. The performance of the federation and sports persons should be reviewed by external consultants.
The federation should make use of the money to promote sports in schools, building hostels, training and covering the costs of sports persons.
Hopefully through these changes, India might be able to improve it's medal tally at the 2016 olympics. All this without sacrificing our love for the pseudo-national sport. The more cricket flourishes, so will the other sports!