Aug 23, 2008

Columnists - Khushwant Singh

India’s first gold ever won by Abhinav Bindra should be seen alongside its failure to even qualify for the Olympic Games in hockey in which we were once world champions. Our record in the arena of international sports makes for sorry reading. We are not a sporting nation. We are mere spectators of others’ achievements. A nation of a billion people is outdone by countries with populations less than any of our metropolitan cities.
Don’t we have it in us to do better? I am sure we have and could do a lot better if we went about it the right way. We have to face the unpleasant fact that we can never hope to match people who have more muscle power than us — Americans, Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders, Japanese and the Chinese. They are physically stronger because they eat better, live better, train better to outrun us, outbox us, lift heavier weights, jump higher and longer, throw iron balls and javelins across longer distances. But there is no excuse for us not to be able to get the better of them in games that require more skill than stamina: shooting, archery, table-tennis, badminton and others. Initially, we should concentrate on these to achieve world-class status before we take on others.
I have a few half-baked notions on how to go about doing so. You may or may not agree with me, but spare a few minutes considering them.
First, keep politicians out of sports bodies.
They are more interested in self-promotion and publicity than in games. A simple way is to disqualify MPs, MLAs and office-bearers of political parties from holding any office in sports administration. The likes of Sharad Pawar, Suresh Kalmadi and Vijay Kumar Malhotra should stick to their chief pre-occupation. Sports bodies should be administered by civil servants who are dedicated to sports.
Second, take sports consciousness down to the village and school level.
Every village should have annual sports meets where boys and girls race, jump, shot putt, wrestle etc, and award winners with momentos. Every school should have provisions for indoor as well as outdoor competitive games such as table tennis, rifle shooting, archery, judo and jumping, rewarded with trophies on school annual days. This should go on through college with greater emphasis on individual competitive games rather than team games.
By then, it would be evident which of the boys and girls have it in them to become world-class. They should be given prolonged and expert coaching till in fact they come close to Olympic levels. And then only pick up likely winners of medals to compete in Olympic games.
Try it out and watch the results.
A left-handed compliment
The first thing I note while watching international tennis tournaments is whether the player is left or right-handed.
I have noticed many of the better players who get past the quarter-finals are left-handed. I thought that the principal factor for their doing better was that right-handed players’ assumed that if they aimed their shots on the opponents back hand, which is usually weaker than the front hand, they would win the rally.
I was wrong. There is more to being left-handed than meets the eye. Lefties or Southpaws, as they are known, have innate qualities that the right-handed do not have. It is not only in ball games that they do well but in other fields of activity they do well.
Both Barack Obama and John McCain running for the presidency of the United States are left-handed. In 1992, all contenders for the US presidency — George Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot were left-handed. So were some other incumbents: Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. Besides politicians, Spanish painter Pablo Picasso as well as American statesman Benjamin Franklin were Southpaws.
It is time we revised our notions that being left-handed is a handicap and stop forcing our children inclined that way to use their right hands. The prejudice has got into our language. Words like ‘adroit’ and ‘dextrous’ are derived from French and Latin: droit (right). French for left is gauche, which also means gross.
Then there’s the use of the word ‘Left’ for those opposed to the government, socialists and communists. It is not surprising that ‘weak’ and ‘awkward’ are synonyms for the Left.

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