Dreaming of a revolution
- A new book of essays takes a look at India’s changing sporting landscape
- The book covers stories of individual sportsmen as well as that of India’s sports ecosystem
When it comes to India’s sporting landscape, there is a palpable change in the air. The narrative of “trying to compete" is slowly being replaced by that of “trying to win". Whether it is the explosive emergence of Hima Das last year, or the inspiring grace and determination of Dutee Chand, the continuing excellence of Saina Nehwal, or the elegance of Harmanpreet Kaur, the realm of the possible for Indian sportspersons has never been this bright.
In public perception at least, this sense of euphoria and optimism can be traced back to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Vijender Singh and Sushil Kumar picked up a bronze medal apiece for boxing and wrestling, respectively. And shooter Abhinav Bindra became the first Indian to win an individual gold in the history of the tournament. Alongside the international successes of Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza in tennis and Mary Kom in boxing at around the same time, the end of the previous decade marked something of a watershed in the self-perception of Indian sport.
It was also the year one of India’s first not-for-profit sports foundations, the GoSports Foundation (GSF), was launched. Go! India’s Sporting Transformation, a collection of essays edited by Nandan Kamath and Aparna Ravichandran, is an attempt to take a long view of how far Indian sport, and the ecosystem that the GSF is a part of, have come in the past decade, and what remains to be done. Writing in Lounge in August last year, Kamath, a managing trustee of the GSF, had said: “Sport in India is growing but it is an increasingly hybrid beast. Fed equally by social agendas and private profit-motives, it is simultaneously a national development project and an industry." The book’s essays try to come to grips with this hybrid beast, looking at Indian sports through the prisms of representation, brand value, policy and other parameters.
What emerges is a well-rounded view of Indian sport. Among the stand-out essays are those by Lounge columnist Rohit Brijnath, on the catalytic effect of Bindra’s gold, journalist Sharda Ugra’s essay on athletes’ struggles for dignity and self-representation, and ad-man Santosh Desai’s piece on the evolving business of sport. Elsewhere, broadcast and sports management professional Joy Bhattacharjya takes a wide-ranging view of sports in the post-liberalization era, including sports coverage and administration.
The overarching sense of the 13 essays, bookended by pieces by Bindra and cricketer Rahul Dravid, is that Indian sport is entering a brave new world of growth and success, and much depends on the right policies and structures to help jump-start the next phase.