NEW DELHI (TIP): When five-time world chess champion Viswanathan Anand speaks about the health of sport in India, you are naturally compelled to pay attention. During the course of his nearly 25-year professional career, the 46-year-old has seen up close the state of sport in the country and witnessed the differences overseas.
Disappointed. But we seemed to have created a pool of new disciplines and sportspersons who could be medal winners in 2020.
I think a sportsperson who prepared and lost narrowly would feel the most pain. You almost know by how much you lost, yet its not something tangible. I would say the most positive takeout is we missed narrowly in a few events and we found a lot of new talent. Gymnastics would never be considered a medal prospect for India but we could easily be one in 2020.
I think we get very excited every four years. We get euphoric about a medal. But two years after an Olympics is where all the attention should be. That’s when sportspersons are competing in World Championships or qualifiers to make it to the Olympics. I think we need to feel the spirit then when the training begins.
Winning is all about timing. At that moment you have to be your best. In this Olympics a lot of our medal prospects lost out narrowly. Some even put in their best performance. So we were very close but the medals don’t take into account near misses. I can tell you that for some of the matches I lost, I prepared the hardest but sometimes it just doesn’t click at that second when it matters most.
I think almost every sportsperson will have dealt with officialdom at some level. You can’t just solve it by throwing it away. We need a framework. It’s a very complex mechanism. On one hand it’s needed so as to reach out to talent, but on the other hand it also stalls growth.
Every four years we go through this rhetoric, but I agree with Abhinav that it has to go beyond the Olympics and start at the grassroots level. If you see talent, how do you ensure they move up very quickly? That is the key.
We need parents to look at sports as something essential and natural. The government should definitely help in identifying talent and sustaining talent. But it shouldn’t compete with private organisations that may be better equipped at providing training or a support system.
The Olympic Gold Quest, for instance, spends a lot of resource in identifying talent. But where they excel is in getting the right training for each athlete. This includes physical fitness and physiotherapy. General fitness is an area where we need to work on. To keep our fitness and endurance at top level requires a lot of specialised training. The government should be a partner. Federations should be more accountable to the players they represent. Again they should partner player rather than police them. Or use the sport as a PR prop.
I remember a federation official calling embassy officials demanding a three-course Indian meals in Tehran along with a chauffeur car service. The ambassador assumed it was for me. Little did they know it was for the official to shop for souvenirs. The official even asked Aruna before my last game at the World Championships if she could organise the arrival in India. So a federation has to respect its players and at least emotionally connect with them.
I think sports in those days was more difficult. We had FERA regulations on foreign currency, so getting trainers was difficult. Each event meant getting sanctions from three ministries, so you packed your suitcase and went to Delhi. If you got all the papers in time, you would board your flight or just returned back to school. My dad, being in the Railways, would try to speak to someone who knew someone and always someone would oblige. But they were never easy.
When I became World Junior champion, I started making enough money to cover my travel expenses. Some tournament invitations started coming and I never had to depend on the federation to cover my expenses. I think if you have a talent, getting the right breaks is very important. When the break comes, you should be able to do well. Luckily, I did well in key events that helped me get noticed internationally.
I seemed to just take to it naturally. We had limited or no training resources but we did the best under those circumstances. My blitz playing skill came from my Tal chess club days. So you have to take infrastructure as a given and think how best can we do it. I was attracted to chess in an almost obsessive manner. I would read every chess book. Play over every game. I had a talent for playing very fast but I broke out from being a national to international player quickly. That made a lot of difference.