What is common between an old priest our village church had and the World Cup footballers? You wouldn’t know, of course. Well, the answer is ‘shoes’.
Years ago, I found the priest saying mass wearing a brown shoe on one foot and black on the other. Back home from church I made a joke of it. My mother was angry with me and explained that the old man probably couldn’t see properly and had made a mistake.
Watching the World Cup Football on TV recently, I found several players wearing different colored shoes on each foot – say, green on one and yellow on the other. It was surprising, till my grandson who was with me explained that it is a new style which is catching on. Can we give the credit for this trend to the old priest?
Incidentally, for some time now, footwear has not been allowed inside several churches in Kerala. I was under the impression that this was due to ‘Indianization’. Then a priest explained that it was a Biblical instruction. Exodus 3:5 of the Old Testament reads: “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
Back to football. The game was introduced in India by British soldiers. The country’s first significant achievement was in 1911 when Mohun Bagan beat East Yorkshire Regiment 2-1 to win the IFA Shield in Calcutta. That was a great event.
The barefooted Indian players plodded on. In 1950 India qualified for the World Cup thanks to a series of walkovers from the opponents. But no team was sent to participate in the tournament. Lack of funds was the reason given. In the 1956 Melbourne Olympics India reached the semi finals and was placed fourth. Since then it has been a downward slide. Today the country’s world ranking is near the foot of the list.
Now, the recent Commonwealth Games. Funding was not an issue for the Indian contingent, but the Games started with a controversy about the country’s flag being shown upside down. Worse, a TV channel wrongly showed Ghana’s flag instead of India’s in the list of contestants/winners. Not many people seemed to have noticed it. See the images of the flags below:
India was placed fifth in the Games with a tally of 64 medals. Not too bad, though we lagged behind in track and field events. I was shocked at Tintu Luka’s performance. She seemed to run 800m (which she had earlier done under 2 minutes) like a 400m race. It appeared to be the classic mistake of becoming a pace setter – shooting off the blocks, staying ahead for some time and then falling back to finish 7th among 8 contestants. She should have remained with the pack and spurted for the last 200m or so.
An interesting aspect of the Games is that Indian contestants were in 45 finals, but could bag only 15 gold medals. Why this low percentage? Lack of determination at the last mile to victory? Absence of the will to win? In my opinion, every one of these last stretch losses should be analyzed on technical, physical and mental aspects.
The end of the Commonwealth Games 2014 was a curtain of shame for India. The Glasgow Police picked up two Indian officials – one for misbehaving with a lady and the other for drunken driving. It was claimed that they were not part of the official Indian contingent. The police finally let them off stating that there was no proof. But with the world media picking up the story the damage was already done.
Worse was to follow. The cleaning staff found drug syringes where the Indian contingent was staying. Not once, but thrice. Each time the Indians were warned and tendered apologies. Reminiscent in a way of the sad case of Anju Bobby George.
At the 2005 World Athletics Championships at Monte Carlo, Anju was placed second to Tatyana Kotova of Russia in the women’s long jump. Re-test of the Russian’s blood sample taken that year resulted in her disqualification. Last week the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) declared Anju the gold medalist. No podium finish, after nine years. But Anju, we are proud of you.
Boxing, despite the rise of home-grown talent has also suffered from the current state of disarray. Mary Kom, the icon of Indian women’s boxing and five times World Champion was not informed by the authorities about the selection trials for the upcoming Asian Games.
Salvation for Indian sports seems possible only if incompetent officials and family control of sports bodies are removed from the scene.
God bless Indian sports.