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Why are champions of non-Olympic sports not treated equally?

That's what champions of non-Olympic sports seem to be regarded as, with the Indian government support, funding and focus only concentrated on Olympic sports, writes Michael Ferreira

Is there an unwarranted discrimination between Olympic and non-Olympic sports? Well, multiple world champion Pankaj Advani certainly seems to think so and it is not too difficult to see why.

Pankaj Advani recently said that India can improve in the world of sports only if all disciplines are treated at par
Pankaj Advani recently said that India can improve in the world of sports only if all disciplines are treated at par

Government support, funding and focus are today concentrated on Olympic sports and it tends to dish out treatment which, while not exactly step-motherly, falls short of the ideal to sports which do not figure in the Olympics.

There is little doubt that the four-year extravaganza carries huge prestige and honour to the athletes who win a medal of whatever hue. This is because they prove to the world that they can run faster, jump higher or are stronger than the best in the world. Over time, the Olympic motto of citius, altius and fortius, has been extended to sports that bear scant relation to those three words.

I mean, come on, rhythmic dancing to take one example! Or table tennis or even tennis. Don't get me wrong. I have great regard to all these sports, and admire the exponents thereof, but they are clearly out of the reckoning in terms of why the Olympic Games were originally conceived.

If therefore honour, prestige and rewards are given to successful athletes who compete in disciplines which do not fall within the meaning of the Olympic motto, it is because it is the world's way of appreciating the blood, sweat and tears that the champions shed on their way to the top. If that makes sense, why then should the labours of champions of non-Olympic sports be regarded as children of a lesser God?

Unplanned
What is the Government looking for? The promotion of the reputation and prestige of the country is surely top of the list. Do not champions of non-Olympic sports do exactly that? Any sports policy framed by the Government with regard to support and rewards for any recognised sport must, I submit, be consistent and under no circumstances be ad hoc.

Saina Nehwal during the singles tie against South Korea’s Bae Yeon-ju at the Sudirman Cup in Dongguan, China on Thursday. Pic/AFP
Saina Nehwal during the singles tie against South Korea’s Bae Yeon-ju at the Sudirman Cup in Dongguan, China on Thursday. Pic/AFP 

But from the time when I was at the top of my sports career, which is further away than I care to remember, to the present day, ad hocism seems endemic to the Indian system. Take the example of Saina Nehwal being given R25 lakhs for reaching — not winning — the final of the All-England championship.

Again, don't get me wrong. I admire the spunky lass immensely and ardently hope that she wins the title the next time around. But under what provision of the sports policy was she granted that amount? Is there a policy at all for such grants? Or does ad hocism reign supreme? Under the present dispensation, perhaps the mot juste would be Bhagwanjaane!

To conclude — let there be a clear policy with regard to support, funding and rewards to all recognised sports, Olympic or non-Olympic. The non-Olympic champions deserve at least that much.

Michael Ferreira is a former world billiards champion

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