‘Manipur is a sport powerhouse’ is an oft-repeated statement. With a long list of names that have made it to medal winning hall of fame for the state, there is indeed cause for us to feel pride for the sportspersons who have made a name for themselves and for the small state they belong to. Apart from sportspersons making their presence at the finishing podium and being decorated with medals, there are numerous football players in the various professional teams spread across the country. At the ongoing Commonwealth Games in Glassgow, sportspersons of Manipur are making their mark in various disciplines in continuance of earlier sporting events at national and international levels where they have performed well. The performance of our sportspersons at various levels of competition is what has given the tag of ‘power house in sports’ and ‘sports loving state’. But a little bit of deeper analysis is needed to ascertain whether sports is indeed a mass scale and popular choice that is being nurtured.
While there are no real studies in this regard, it would not be wrong to say that along with a talent and aptitude for sports, many take it up as an entry ticket to a better life, a Government job placement or such. A majority of sportspersons from the state in fact is from less privileged backgrounds and become the main income earners for their families once they make a mark on the sports scene and rewards pour in. The lack of infrastructural support for sports disciplines can be seen in the narratives of the lives of football players who make do with bare feet while practicing with pomello fruits (nobab) and hockey players who make do with hockey sticks and balls fashioned out of cane or bamboo while there are no swimming pools to speak off apart from natural ponds and lakes. It is in this spirit of making a mark in sports despite the lack of support that there has been a train of thought on the level that sportspersons can reach with a little bit of backing.
The financial allocation for a Sports University in Manipur in the Union budget 2014 in fact, comes with the mention of the state being deserving of the aid while also making a mention of sports being a medium to bring youths to the mainstream. On another track, the mention of the word ‘mainstream’ is sheer irony as sports in India is still mostly about cricket and little else. We all know for a fact that cricket is played by less than twenty countries at the international level and despite there being a ‘world cup’ for the game, it is yet to be included as an Olympic sport discipline. Despite this lack of an international following, it is cricket that has all the financial backing and support in the country. The allocation for the Sports University is welcome news but one would do well to see that things are strategically planned, executed in a transparent manner and quality maintained. When Manipur organized an edition of the National Games in 1999, we got a range of sports related infrastructure but facts and history stand witness to the fact that a lot of contractors were the ones who benefited the most. And who can forget the heady rush that was on public display regarding who took off electric fittings, furniture and even flower-pots?
But apart from the all too important financial backing, aided by transparent overseeing and quality control for sports related ventures in the state, there has to be long term strategies to inculcate a love for sports on a large scale and not just let it be confined among lower income families. Another area that needs to be looked when it comes to supporting sportspersons is in their pursuit of academics. Many are often unable to be regular attendees in their places of study given their participation at various levels of competition and it’s only fair that educational institutions makes concessions for sportspersons by either instituting extra classes for those competing at state, national and international levels and going the extra mile of scheduling examinations as per their sports schedules. No amount of funding input can help the cause of sports if there is a shortfall in terms of holistic approaches.
Leader Writer: Chitra Ahanthem