These are unprecedented times. The country is in the grip of a public health crisis, the likes of which have rarely been experienced before. Jobs have been lost, the economy has been crippled, businesses and establishments have closed as a hydra-headed monster, the mother of all viruses, continues to prey on lives and livelihoods.
So, at a time when people are being advised to stay in the safe confines of their homes and all outdoor activities have virtually come to a standstill, where does it leave those who wish to take up active sports?
In a country like ours, sports as a career is often frowned upon. A father would much rather have his child follow in his footsteps and find a 10-5, white collar job than see him grab his kit and rush to a nearby training centre for a warm-up session or head into a tournament.
Now, faced with lay-offs and pay cuts, fathers would want their wards to choose a profession that guarantees a job with a steady income more than ever than one where success is the only ticket to fame and wealth.
While ours has never been a sporting nation, where boys, especially in the hinterland, are brought up with the belief that they would, some day, have to find regular jobs and take the mantle of being the breadwinner and girls are pushed into household chores. Even in urban scapes, children, while more at liberty to choose what they want to be, are rarely encouraged to take up sports.
However, things appeared to change after the emergence of more sports stars on the horizon. While the likes of Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu got more mothers to push their daughters into sports, inspiring stories of a Mahendra Singh Dhoni or a Geeta Phogat charting successful journeys from a small town and village to sporting greatness saw many setting off on the road less travelled.
Incredible stories of boxers and wrestlers coming up from rundown villages and small towns emerging as supply lines of Indian cricket started to hog news spaces, in an affirmation that the sporting culture of an aspirational country was finally beginning to change.
However, with the dreaded coronavirus now forcing many to barely hold on to their jobs and still more jobless, there’s a fear that a pandemic may have set us back to ‘unsporting’ times.
Asked if he would support his daughter if she wished to make a career in sports, Anshuman Ray, a journalist, shared an interesting sports trivia to present his case. “We (as Indians) have come a long way since that (alleged) incident in the 1982 Asian Games when Chand Ram, was made to fall at the feet of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi after winning gold in the 20km road walk event. While I’ll support my daughter’s choice of taking up sports as a career, I won’t be entirely happy with it. The pandemic has left parents with barely enough resources to support such career choices of their children.”
Sonali Roy, a homemaker, echoed the refrain. “While I would have gladly supported my son if he wanted to take up sports, I’m happy he is studying medicine. There’s no guarantee of success in sports and having a regular job makes more sense,” she opined.
Manasij Bhattacharjee, a journalist, said he wouldn’t mind his children taking up sports. “Sports, as a field, opens up many career options these days. While I don’t see them growing up as sports stars, my children could very well chart a career in sports science or as support staff if they so desire. They need not be in sports as long as they can be a part of the sporting ecosystem,” he said.
Sanjoy Chakrabarty, a top ranking official at Tata Hitachi, said he would watch his wallet before considering putting his elder son back at a tennis club. “My son left his tennis classes when he was in class 7 as we felt it might affect his studies in senior school. Considering that the current economic climate has forced us to spend wisely, I, perhaps, wouldn’t consider sending him back to a tennis club. Getting him into a tennis tutorial was a lot cheaper in Jamshedpur, where we lived earlier, than Kolkata. My younger son, too, learned Taekwondo in Jamshedpur but I wouldn’t put him back into martial arts as it might be too much to afford.”
Mani Shankar Mondal, who wheels a vegetable cart for a living, said he would support his son’s dream of turning a professional cricketer come what may. “My son has set sights on being a cricketer someday and I want to help him reach his goal. Though we are under extreme financial stress, which has been made worse because of the lockdown, me and my wife have decided to support his dream with every penny we have.”
To surmise, let’s say that while we are sporting enough to let our children choose where they want to be, even if it means years of toil and no immediate guarantee of success, the pandemic may force our hand and make us do otherwise.