The last year has been an eventful one for Indian sports. While it has seen a number of positives and successes, its progress has been marred by a few acts of misappropriation and deceit.
However, with the cricket-crazy India embracing other sports, and better opportunities for the nation’s talented athletes, there is a lot to look forward to in the near future.
Here are the top 5 things worth watching out for in Indian sports in the upcoming year:
1. Franchise-based leagues and money in other sports
After years of step-motherly treatment meted out to Indian sports outside of cricket, many have started to see a potential for growth in other sports as well, both fiscally and in terms of talent.
After the success of the Indian Premier League, the likes of badminton and hockey have followed suit with similar models, with a good degree of success as well.
The Hockey India League, which saw international stars don the same colours as their Indian counterparts in a five-team event, played host to strong audiences and rave reviews, while the Indian Badminton League also picked up on the franchise-based structure to great effect.
Improved television distribution and broadcasting, along with the advent of social media have given these sports a much-needed fillip, allowing the burgeoning Indian middle class to gain easier access to sports that were hardly under the public eye previously. The athletes themselves have started earning amounts previously unheard of, with advertisers and investors flocking to win a slice of the pie.
With a similar football league around the corner, and more sports expected to cash-in on the format, India is slowly doing its best to dispel the misnomer about its ignorance towards anything not cricket.
2. A better showing at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games
While the Delhi Commonwealth Games had more than its fair share of administrative troubles, the silver lining came in the form of India’s performances in the event itself. Amassing its highest ever medals tally in the competition, India finished at the second place behind Australia in the final standings in its home Games.
Many believe that the total of 101 medals will only swell in the coming editions due to better training and facilities, with a long-standing belief that a career in sports in India outside of cricket not being financially viable slowly being dispelled. This has led to more of the nation’s youngsters diversifying their tastes and looking beyond cricket’s riches.
India saw its highest-ever medals tally in the Summer Olympics during the 2012 event in London, finishing with 2 silver and 4 bronze medals. They also saw a best-ever performance at an Asian Games event in 2010, where they picked up 65 medals and finished in sixth place in the overall standings.
While India’s bungling administration has, on occasion, marred the chances of its young athletes, impressive performances in international events from a number of its athletes suggest that the only way is up for Indian athletics.
3. A cleaner administration
While the International Olympic Committee’s decision to ban India came across as one that could potentially hurt the country’s chances at future international events, it brought with it a hope that a thorough cleansing of the Indian sports administration is in the offing.
Despite the farcical handling of funds for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, chargesheeted officials like Lalit Bhanot and VK Verma have for long insisted on being eligible to contest elections for sports federations and associations. Given their clout in the upper echelons of Indian sports administration, power has been taken out of the hands of the deserving and into those of the corrupt.
With the IOC’s tough stance on this issue, and major events like the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games on the horizon, India is facing a race against time to come clean, failing which the country’s athletes will not be allowed to participate under the national flag.
And while such a stance is only detrimental to the country’s progress, there is a hope that India will eventually give in and fall into line with the world’s apex Olympics body, thus exiling men like Bhanot, who have been plaguing Indian sports for far too long.
Power, instead, should be put in the hands of those who have played the sport before and understand it. It is a hope for a future where sports administration in the country will become transparent.
4. More investment, better infrastructure and opportunities
For a long time now, many have placed the blame for India’s incompetence at the international level on the appalling nature of the country’s infrastructure, as Indian athletes have been shortchanged in terms of equipment, coaching and facilities in comparison to their foreign counterparts.
However, over the years, there has been a visible change in focus towards aiding opportunities for sports and athletics in India, thanks in no small measure to the investment made in the country from within as well as abroad.
European football clubs, having seen India’s massive market and growing interest in the sport, have started camps and schools in order to build a fanbase and possibly, unearth a hidden gem that is bound to be lying in a country of more than a billion.
Tennis is another sport that has benefited from the Indian public’s new spending power, while the NBA also has been repetitively probing the country as a market for its league, with big names from the sport travelling to India to help it gain visibility among the masses.
Thanks to the establishment of India as one of the world’s premier racing locations with the advent of the Indian F1 Grand Prix, motorsports have become a sport popular with the affluent, while the success of Saina Nehwal, Parupalli Kashyap and PV Sindhu have elevated badminton’s status once again.
Due to all these opportunities, grassroots-level infrastructure has slowly seen improvement, with the country’s dust bowls making way for artificial turfs and modern techniques.
More investment only bodes well for the country, opening more doors in terms of coaching and infrastructure, which will in turn allow Indian youngsters to stand at par with the rest of the world.
5. Better sports laws (doping, match-fixing)
Among India’s biggest controversies in the year 2013 was the spot-fixing scandal that rocked the IPL, as Indian players were found to have accepted large sums of money to under-perform in certain matches.
While it was good foresight to be able to spot the offenders, not much action has been taken thereafter, as a drawn-out court battle has not come to a verdict yet. Additionally, there are suggestions that many more such events have gone unnoticed and unpunished, for which Indian authorities need to take a tougher stance.
Another thorn in the flesh of Indian athletics has been the regular occurrence of doping scandals that have tainted the country’s image over the years.
According to reports, more than 250 athletes have failed dope tests carried out by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) in the last two years, while the International Association of Athletics Federations recently revealed that India was just behind leaders Russia on the doping list, with 43 athletes currently serving suspension.
While Sports Minister Jitender Singh suggested that NADA had conducted close to 10,000 tests on athletes in the last three years, the need of the hour is the crack down harder on dope offenders, so as to inhibit the usage of banned substances.
Indians have been caught overage on multiple occasions as well, as officials have taken not enough precautions to check with the rules, portraying a lack of professionalism at the highest level.
In a country not known for its athletics glories, the massive number of offenders is embarrassing, to say the least, and better law enforcement and stricter probing will prove to be a deterrent to athletes looking to gain an unfair advantage, and will eventually help India from being shamed again at international events.