“Lockdown brings great opportunity to focus on local talent” – Sunder Iyer

The following column has been written by Mr. Sunder Iyer – Secretary of the Maharashtra Lawn Tennis Association(MSLTA) and Manager of the Indian Davis Cup Team

As Covid-19 strikes the world and the global citizen tries to fight to stay alive and think about the next steps to survive, sports plays an integral role in the survival plan.

Every country fighting this deadly pandemic realises that improving immunity amongst its citizens is the way to fight the deadly virus. Many of the European countries have got their sporting business back on track and started its activities.

One European friend told me that a lot of Europeans came out of this pandemic fast due to high immune systems built over the years playing sports, investments in health care systems, routine testing of themselves and more importantly, the outdoor activity that every person underwent and has now cultivated as a habit.

Indian Sport, which seemed to have found its wings and was ready for a long flight, unfortunately has its wings cut due to this pandemic. The machine that was racing has suddenly found its speed halted on spot.

As Indians, Cricket is our religion and every one is keen that it should resume immediately. Various stakeholders, including influential factors like media and television, are angling and batting to ensure that the activity starts at the earliest and the IPL – the money bag event, takes off. I agree that it is great for India, coffers will fill, money starts flowing and people start making a living.

But no body has cared for resumption of other sports as seriously as Cricket, Though media has written reams and. Columns of our  sportspersons  individually , talked about their struggles and given them some space and made them heroes in this lockdown. 

The webinars, online discussions and the effort of the SAI in association with all federations is laudable and the unlocking of sports by the Sports Minister and SAI was appreciable and made one think that someone was thinking about sports positively.

However, the same keenness and urgency has not been on the priority list of other state governments, as many of the states have not started sports at all. Maharashtra, one of the foremost sporting states, leads this unfortunate decision. 

In an interview to Hindustan Times’ Rutvick Mehta, our country’s sports Icon  Leander Paes said – “Tennis is like riding a bike for me. The muscle memory that I have is far superior to any young one coming up. It takes 10,000 hours and three million repetitions to create muscle memory on each stroke.”

That means that any professional sportsperson, to achieve greatness globally, has to spend minimum 10,000 hours on the ground, pool, range and three million repetitions to create muscle memory. The pandemic has put a brake on the aspirations of young sportspersons and halted their progress. 

One positive that lockdown has brought is that it has given a breather to exhausted sportspersons, helping them regroup, recoup and recover their sore bodies and tired minds, that were exhausted from the travel and performance pressure.

Resumption of sports will initiate some push to the entire sporting community which has been a sort of a coma for the last 3 months. I read with great interest an article by journalist and good friend Shivani Naik at the Indian Express – “Unlocking sport: The Deal is in the Duel.” With big-ticket events too risky, one-on-one sporting contests at a secure venue may be the best option for sport to survive.

This prompted me to pen my thoughts.  I also advocate that we ,as per the new term of our beloved Prime Minister Narendra Modi, become “Aatm Nirbhar” in the sporting field too. The time is right to focus on sports locally and harness the local talent within the nation.

The duels between top Indian players she mentions – Saina vs Sindhu, K Srikanth vs Lakshya Sen in Badminton, Anshu Malik vs Pooja Dhanda, Sushil vs Narsingh in Wrestling, Apurvi Chandela vs Elavenil Valarivan vs Anjum Moudgil n the 10m air rifle, Vikas Krishan vs Duryodhan Negi, Mary Kom  vs Nikhat Zareen in Boxing, 
Neeraj Chopra vs Shivpal Singh in Javelin, tennis duels between Sumit Nagal v/s Yuki Bhambri V/s Ramkumar Ramanathan v/s Prajnesh Gunneswaran could be the right  contests to ensure that local talent could flourish and the sports starved domestic TV audience to broadcast.

The biggest challenge for Indian sports has been lack of television time for sports events, showing La Liga, NBA, Premier League, ATP / WTA events have created international heroes and helped to gain international audience, but the lack of televising national events except on DD sports (which was doing yeoman service to sports in our country until they decided to go commercial and make profits) has not given our local stars the stardom they deserve.

But the lockdown and pandemic can be the start point of a big change for Indian Sport, we need to give the right push in the right direction, every stakeholder – right from the Government, to Federations, Media, television, and even the sports person needs to ensure that the focus is on our local talent and creating a way forward will propel sports in our country to a new direction.

So why not take the opportunity as everyone today irrespective of sport is standing on the starting line ready to take off in the race for creating future Indian stars.

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