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Strategic Failure

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India’s failure to leverage its diverse ethnicities, geographical variety and huge population to advance its cause in sports is due, very largely, to poor leadership at the strategic level in most of the associations and federations. It is only in Cricket and, to some extent, in disciplines like Boxing, Wrestling, Shooting, etc., that an impact is being made on the world level. Initiatives like ‘Khelo India Youth Games’, while hopefully increasing the interest of the Indian public in participating rather than just watching, also reveal the large gap that exists between potential and practice. The failure of a major state like Bihar to obtain even a single a medal, thus far, at the ongoing games, and the relatively poor performance by former leading state Punjab, only shows how things are not moving fast enough.
The ‘professionalisation’ of sports provides an essential boost, but other factors such as general quality of health, outreach and availability of coaches at the right age are also important. These are the joint responsibility of state governments and the various sports bodies. In the end, from start to finish, there needs to be clever planning.
The lack of a strategy and anticipation, for instance, can lead to disappointments such as that faced in the Asia Football Cup 2019, where despite its robust performance, the Indian team could not make it into the second round. The fact that the football team is drawn from a small pool of players from a few states meant that it comprised mostly not very tall players. Despite their skills and effort, they were undone by much taller players belonging to the UAE and Bahrain. The Indians had to put in extra effort to just keep up. It took greater energy to try and reach the aerial ball. When they did so, they were often penalised for ‘elbowing’ their opponents, who – on their part – merely had to lean in to achieve the same objective. Strategy requires that India take advantage of those among its population who are taller, and tactics require that the shorter players focus on Maradona like dribbling, positioning and passing brilliance. The necessary lessons were not learned from the game against UAE, and the price was paid in the one against Bahrain.
It is important that India’s states promote not just the disciplines their people have an inclination for, but also develop their own particular styles, particularly in team sports. A good mix of this should then be available to the national teams, depending on who they are playing against and where. All of these elements can be seen to have developed in Cricket and others can learn their lessons from that. It is also important to win, because that is what attracts younger generations to take interest in sports. And, as an aspiring state, Uttarakhand, too, should develop a strategy along the above-mentioned lines.