Got this morning with a news headline on WhatsApp from my sports enthusiast cousin that India jumped to 100th place in FIFA World Cup ranking. Then his emotions spilled out in next message. He wrote “socha na tha aisa din aayega”.
One would wonder that what so great deal being 100th in the world. Then please juxtapose this with India’s FIFA ranking of 173 just around a couple of years back, and you will feel the importance of the news.
Still, it may not be big enough to brag for but it truly manifests India’s continual improvement overall in sports over the past decade and a half, which is so much gratifying for sports freak like us.
Our generation was brought up during the decade of the eighties and nineties. Those who followed Indian sports during those two decades can truly appreciate where we are at this point in time.
For me as a kid, there was a serious heartbreak when PT Usha missed an Olympic medal in 1984 Los Angeles Olympic. We thought that India would excel in days come but it plummeted further and plummeted miserably. So much so that Usha’s missed a medal in 1984 remained the biggest success story for years to come. In 1986 Asian Games, India bagged just five gold medals (four of them four were from PT Usha, so there were just two gold medallists). In comparison, China won 94 and South Korea 93 gold medals in the same mega event.
So while country likes the USA and erstwhile USSR was amassing gold medals at Olympics, the second most populous country India was rejoicing Milkha Singh’s and PT Usha’s 4th position in their respective events. This very fact depicts the whole narrative of the status of India sports during that time.
In 1986 World Cup Hockey, eight times Olympic gold medallist India finished humiliating 12th out of as many teams. Contingent in 1988 Seoul and 1992 Barcelona Olympic games were simply reduced to tourists. Leave behind a medal, there was not even a single performance to boast for.
India hit an unprecedented low in 1990 Asian Games. Only one gold came in the kitty and that too in newly introduced Kabaddi.
Leander Paes’ bronze at Atlanta Olympic salvaged some pride but first real moment was Malleswari’s medal at Sydney Olympic in 2000.
So with onset of new millennium, things started moving step by step. If it was an individual bronze medal at Sydney in 2000; India bagged an individual silver medal at Athens in 2004. Abhinav Bindra further raised the bar by claiming first ever individual gold medal for India in Beijing during 2008 Olympic.
Sushil Kumar became first Indian to claim two successive individual medals at Olympics in 2008 and 2012.
Then came arguably one of the brightest points of India’s sporting history, when PV Sindhu appeared in the summit clash for Badminton gold at Rio Olympic last year. This was a defining moment. It was unthinkable until a couple of decades back that an Indian girl would contest for the top spot in individual racquet sports.
India started thriving in sports which can be primarily attributed to youth power from small towns and hinterlands. Sports no longer remained the fiefdom of riches and upper class from metros. Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, Boxer Vijender Singh, Phogat sisters, star cricketer M S Dhoni, Sakshi Malik signifies this so immaculately.
Take the case of Cricket. Indian cricket in the new millennium is notches above then the decade of the nineties. Once dominated by the player from Mumbai, current Test side has no representation from Mumbai. Now stars are coming from small towns of Jharkhand, Gujarat & UP.
Various leagues in sports like Cricket, Badminton, Kabaddi, Hockey and Wrestling have provided desired impetus to the whole sports ecosystem in the country and took things at whole new level altogether.
India is making its presence felt now. So while earlier cricketers from across the world used to vie for a stint at county Cricket in England; now they queue up for Indian Premier Leauge. It so satisfying watching best of international Badminton players toiling on Indian courts under the banner of Premier Badminton League.
In fact, overall it can be accredited to India’s progression as a nation and society, which triggered post economic reforms in the early nineties.
Notwithstanding Sindhu & Malik, Rio 2016 was little disappointing but still, the momentum is good as a whole and as sports freak, we can have our wish list for the future from our sportspersons.
For the current generation, India is way behind in sports in comparison of other countries. True, but then for people like us currently it is no less than a roller coaster side. After all, we have witnessed India not winning a single Olympic medal for 16 years and no individual medal at Olympics for 44 years.