Evolving As A Major Sporting Nation

  • The success of hosting international events such as the G20 and the World Cup is sure to have a positive effect on the soft power of a nation and also influences the opinion of people in other nations.
  • However, despite having a population of around 1.4 billion and a favourable demography, India is not a major competitor in important sporting event like the football world cup, Tour de France, Olympics or any other global sports or tournaments.
  • There is a huge financial incentive for the countries hosting sporting events as with the increased number of travellers, the domestic economic activities in the region also increases.
  • India must pick up the momentum as this is the right time for the rise of sports in India and to assume its rightful place on the world stage.

Indian cricket fans were left heartbroken with the ending of the World Cup. The defeat of the Indian team in the finals was a bitter pill for the fans to swallow as the team had won all their matches in the tournament till then. In a country of a billion hardcore followers, it is redundant to analyse the gaming aspect instead of observing the geo-political angle which is largely unnoticed and is within the realm of possibility.

Hosting International Sporting Events

Following the grand success of the year-long G20 presidency, this World Cup was hosted by India. Events like the World Cup are a big deal to any nation no matter which sport. Even the people who aren’t ardent followers of the sport, at least take daily updates of the tournament if their country is participating. India for its part whether it’s G20 or World Cup has shown the world it unapologetically makes use of such a platform to introduce the world to its history and culture.

This edition of the Cricket World Cup was spectacular in the sense that India not only has completed its duty but has gone out of its way to celebrate the event. Be it the laser show or the air show, the finals were a true spectacle.

With the hosting of the World Cup, there will be a slew of tourists from different parts of the world. They would be the flag bearers with their experience when they return to their homeland. With such a grand spectacle and the success of international events such as the G20 and World Cup, it sure has a positive effect on the soft power of a nation. It also influences the general opinion of people in other nations.

It is for the same reason, that Qatar was so eager to host the recent football World Cup. It was even ready to relax many of its stringent Islamic laws to accommodate FIFA obligations and visitors from abroad. The sketchy financial dealings behind the bidding and selection process are a different matter altogether.

Along with all these, there is also a huge financial incentive for the countries to show interest in hosting sporting events. The increased number of travellers also increases the domestic economic activities in the region. The World Cup organisers in India had so intelligently distributed the venue schedule across the nation that it maximised the exposure to foreign tourists regarding the culture of this land. The tourism-related service industry like hotels has been a major beneficiary of this.

Traditional Rivalries

It must be noted how India has leveraged its cricketing clout to the maximum when it comes to its dealings with Pakistan. The cricketing board of Pakistan, not unlike its country, is reeling with instability and economic distress. The direct effect of this on the field performance of the team where the lack of preparation was evident to all.

India used its position in the cricketing world, initially by refusing to fly to Pakistan for the Asia Cup citing security reasons and cross-border terrorism. Pakistan knew that the India-Pakistan match in its country was a gold mine. More revenue can be generated by just one match than by playing many tournaments. The historic competition even dwarfs the legendary El Clasico of Barcelona and Real Madrid in terms of its viewership, owing to the huge population in both countries.

When India announced its reluctance to travel to the country, Pakistan initially took the bold stance of declaring it would retaliate by not attending the World Cup in India. After consideration of its position, in what was a major embarrassment, it folded on both terms.

India played its Asia Cup in Sri Lanka and Pakistan attended the World Cup without any untoward incident. This kind of utilisation of every single platform available to raise the issue of cross-border terrorism of its neighbour has been one of the hallmarks of recent Indian diplomacy.

Pakistan, not unlike India is a cricket-crazed nation. These kinds of incidents affect the morale of its citizens. It desperately wants to have a bilateral series with India to boost its revenue. Despite its boastings regarding PSL, it knows that it is peanuts, compared to the revenue that can be generated by an India-Pak series, with around ⅕ th of the whole watching. But the Indian Board has been a major roadblock to this, in line with the official position of the Indian Government.

Limitations & Challenges

Notwithstanding all these points, it must be recognised that the reach of cricket is very limited on the world scale. No other major economic nation even plays cricket as its premium sport. Even in England where the sport originated, football has taken major precedence. Countries such as the US, China and Russia compete against each other to the hilt for a medal in the Olympics. Sports and athletics have been one of the main arenas for major nations to establish their global standing.

Sadly, India is lagging far behind in this regard. With a population of around 1.4 billion and the most favourable demography, it is not a major competitor in important sports like football, Tour de France, Olympics or any other global sports or tournaments. Even with the lush Himalayan terrain, less said the better about India’s record in the Winter Olympics. The tragic part is that it has many advantages to do better in this regard. For example, the geography and weather in the country are favourable to practise numerous sporting disciplines for the most of the year.

The enthusiasm for sports is always a bottom-up approach. People themselves must diversify their interests in the development of other sports. For example, many complained about the team selection of playing eleven in the Cricket final but not many are even aware of the ongoing football World Cup qualifiers. This has created a situation where sporting boards have become a fertile ground for corruption which in turn further deteriorates the sporting culture.

Way forward

All said and done, there is slowly rising hope in the sporting events in the country. The heartbreak of Archery and the celebration of Javelin in the past Olympics is a testament to this. With the Khelo India and Fit India movements, governments in recent years have received positive response from the public.

However, from personal health to geopolitics, sports has been a major unexplored area for India. As the importance of the geopolitics of sports is realised, the churning has begun and India is now recognising the potential advantages of spending its resources on sports. But India must pick up the momentum as this is the right time for the rise of sports in India and to assume its rightful place on the world stage.

(The author has an M.Sc. in Psychology and serves in NIMHANS. He writes regularly on politics, society, international affairs and technology. Views expressed are the author’s own)

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