Thursday, April 26, 2007

India Shining....

"India Shining" has been the slogan on all our lips for a while now and guess what the words out.... and everyone from different corners of the world are coming here to see if they can get a slice of the pie. I will only talk about the sports world since i am no authority on anything else.
The last couple of years has had everyone who is anyone in the sporting world head to India to check out what initiatives we have and how they can get their foot in the door to a country with deep pockets. We had people here from the NBA last year (who obviously didn't do much research because the avg. Indian has a height of 5' 5") so not sure how many Shaq's they were trying to target. Then recently we have had Sepp Blatter in town for setting up football ventures. The president of the IOC Jacques Rogge (not sure i got the spelling right) is headed into town for reasons unknown to me but hey they are all coming....
Oh how much i would pay to be a little fly on the wall in the plane on their way back to know what they are really thinking....
The truth is for all the hype we are not ready for sport as entertainment yet. Yes there is cricket and it is very entertaining but the truth is in the West they used various sports as a platform for various other entertaining activities going on. The game being played is sometimes not even the main focus, I myself have gone to numerous baseball games just to enjoy the hot dogs, peanuts, beer and basic atmosphere of a beautiful ball park. I sometimes couldn't even have told you who won.... and no that is not because of the beer :)
So my point is that India has no such infrastructure that the masses can enjoy. Our stadia are dilapidated and so under maintained that even the players don't feel like entering sometimes. So really where are these guys planning to set all these ventures up??? Plus everyone is talking about how the sports industry is the fastest growing industry in the country and lots of management companies are looking to cash in but where are the players???
Our own sports minister came out by saying that he didn't want us to get the Asian Games because it would have been a "waste of 5000" crores, well maybe but at least we would have had some nice facilities (I hope) with which we could have molded to having various leagues and using them as entertainment platforms. It might be wishful thinking but at least there was a slim chance of that happening. If he really wanted he could have forced the national associations to set up various leagues and training facilities where the stadia could have been put to use and not just sat there. But hey by the time 2014 rolls around he isn't even going to be sports minister....
There were world class facilities built in hyderabad for the National Games in 2002 and they are truly awesome but because of the change in govt and bureaucratic red tape no one is allowed to use them. So here are some of the nicest facilities in the country but because this present chief minister didn't agree with the last chief minister the stadia are all collecting dust. So why are the authorities so hesitant relinquish control and let someone else use them?
So the way i see it we are really never going to be able to make any steps in the sports world unless we separate sports with national politics and have people other than politicians running sport. I read a quote some time ago saying how "our country makes most progress at night when the politicians are asleep" and that is pretty accurate even in the sporting world.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

3rd Set High???

Back to tennis parlance, a friend and I began talking about the this thing called "the 3rd set high" the other day over lunch. What i guess he meant it was that in a tennis match when you have gotten to the third set and are on the brink of both defeat and victory your mental state is somewhat in a zone....
That got me thinking really since i have never consciously felt this high but every athlete has a craving for some intangible competitive feeling that we keep going back for more. All professional athletes will refute the theory of exercise endorphins making you feel on top of the world. We have all questioned our abilities after losing a long 4hr battle, or even in some cases sworn that we will never pick up the racket again but of course that never happens. As an athlete of any level we all crave the feeling of being at the edge, of having our hands shake before we are about to serve, or getting to the point of no return.
That is also the point that separates the champions from the rest. The champions crave the opportunity of being able to produce their best with their backs against the walls whereas the others crumble with fear or self doubt. No matter what it is we all still stand back up and go back for more. That is the beauty of sport is that no matter what the outcome and even when the losses feel like the worst possible thing we still head right back down that path because the feeling of being victorious is the best possible feeling that no amount of words can describe.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Close But No Cigar

Just returned yesterday from Kuwait which everyone knows was a disappointment to many since India lost out to Korea to host the 2014 Asian Games.
It was the first time that i have ever been to such an event and it was interesting how the bidding process works. The atmosphere at arrival was jubilant and upbeat, the Indian camp seemed to be exuding with confidence. Everyone spoke of how the bid was pretty much in the bag and were almost on the verge of planning how they were going to run the games.
Well ofcourse there is the usual stuff like presentations which is supposed to convince the voters but it is the stuff behind the scenes that is more interesting. Sports which in acutality is so pure and is a test at overcoming adversity and fear is a really dirty business. The people from all over the world are there just to grab as much as they can get their hands on.
I don't have any idea as to how this all exactly works but over and above the promises that are made in the "official" presentation there are a lot of dealings. It canrange anywhere from a drink at the bar to being offered a Samsung dealership and all the stuff that may fall in between just to get a vote. I can't tell you how this is done or who is busy formulating a strategy to get this done because i don't know but these are all the whisperings that one hears while just hanging around.
India had a contingent there of about 200 strong (you know how our officials would never miss out on a free trip). What role everyone had there is ambiguous at best but for most of us were there just for support.
Going in I was indifferent as to whether we got the bid or not. I actually felt that deep down they would do a better job than us since they have a lot more experience. However while sitting there watching they presentation and how they talked about our great country and people I could feel the patriotism creeping in. By the end of it we were all nervous and when the decision did finally arrive i would be lying if i said i wasn't disappointed.
Every athlete dreams about achieving big goals and to have the opportunity to realize those dreams on home turf make it that much sweeter. However the one thing that is common between sports and its business side is that there is no guarantee to victory.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Accountability is the name of the game

Back on a serious note the main headlines lately are all about the cricketers losing endorsements. Its again all about the Benjamin's!!!! I know i have touched on this before but why is it that the general perception is that it is money that makes or breaks an athlete.
If you ask all in charge of all the various sports why we are not successful they will say its because of the lack of funds, if you ask the BCCI why we aren't successful they say its because the players have an excess of funds.... when is the sports world going to figure out that it might not be because of money.
The reason why Indian sport is languishing at the bottom of all tables is because the people taking decisions are not accountable. The players are constantly blamed, coaches on the hiring and firing merry go-round but the people making the decisions sit pretty. It is a unique scenario we presently function in, either we have amateurs who sit in high positions in most federations and can't be fired because it is all vote based and not performance based, or we have professionals who absolutely have no idea. Again these professionals have got their designations through government office and has nothing to do with their criteria.
The biggest factor is that all the above can "afford to lose" so there can never be any headway. It doesn't matter if we are successful or not the officials will still free load their way to all the best events in the world and continue to churn out years and years of non performance.
Until the day the top brass have to earn their positions we can go no where as a country.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

It takes all sorts to make the world go 'round.

Sitting on my patio on a sultry sunday afternoon looking out onto the beach (yes i live on the beach!!!) something feels odd, for the longest time i can't put my finger on exactly what but it just doesn't feel right.... then it all of a sudden it strikes me.... hey its sunday and i am actually home. That usually doesn't happen since i travel most weekends (for a reason that i rather not say). At first, seat 2A on jet airways was my second home but now over the past year and a half that has moved up to numero uno. My parents refer to me at home as a "fleeting glimpse" and i think if i got a new hair cut or something they wouldn't recognize me :) but hey it has been a good year and i wouldn't change my situation for the world. I love being in sports and even people with the slightest connection to the sporting world become my friend instantly.
So since i am in this pensive mood and i start thinking of my life and all the people i have known over the years and i begin musing how athletes and semi athletes (people who are retired athletes or think of themselves as athletes) are such a different species. We are so much more complex and have the strangest of habits and traits that defy all logic. The most common stereotype is that athletes are stupid but that is the most flawed theory ever. Just as they say genius' are on a different wavelength so are we and most regular Joe's just don't get us but hey, they still love us. We live on a different planet and are the kings of our own world.
In the beginning all my interactions used to be with tennis players and others deeply ensconced in the tennis world. However, thanks to my present job my world has really opened up. I have had the pleasure of learning all about the different sports and had a lot of interaction with athletes from a wide array of different disciplines. That is the beauty of sport that no matter how different we are there are some things that are still the same.
I will try and keep names out(which is hard because people who know me don't tell me any secrets) of this since i don't want to embarass anyone although it is hard to embarass and athlete it is the "semi athletes" (definition above) i would like to protect. We do the oddest things and of course there is that whole "superstition factor" but i will talk about that another day. It might be noted that all the athletes (not semi athletes) i refer to are world class athletes and would be great research bodies for the next author of "the DNA of a Champion." I have this one "friend" whose hair straightening iron is her American Express card (for those who don't know their slogan its "never leave home without it"). She can survive without her passport (which she has forgotten many a time), her rackets, clothes anything but if she doesn't have her iron she is like a fish out of water. Her dependence on this appliance is even funnier because she never leaves her hair loose, but even before she brushes her teeth she will have to straighten the two strands of hair on either side of her ponytail.
Then there is this other "friend" who has a penchant for mascara and eye liner. I don't know what the affinity is but she puts it on even before she goes for a swim. Even if she has to go for a run at 5am (which most of us athletes do regularly) she has to put it on. We have tried to explain to her that it is dark at 5am and also that by the time it is daylight her peers are so tired that they are not checking out the highlighted contours of her almond shaped eyes, but she isn't buying it.
Then there is that other character who came to the tennis court they other day dressed like a cross between rafael nadal and ricky carmicheal (dirt bike racing champion... don't know how i knew that). He was wearing this tight long sleeve body hugger under his t-shirt in 32 C(that 110 F for my american readers) and went on the argue that it was actually making him feel cool, which would have been impossible even if he had an a/c under that thing.
Then there is my other friend who no matter what the scientists said believed that Bacardi and coke was the best pre match hydration, pepperoni pizza was the breakfast of champions and KFC chicken was the ideal pre match lunch. Hey scientists if you are reading this.... he was number one in the world.
No matter how different we all are there are somethings that all athletes do... we just never sightsee. We may travel 40 weeks in the year and be platinum in every frequent flyer program but have never seen anything. We may see the Eiffel Tower on our 4th visit to paris and maybe check out the statue of liberty on our 3rd time in NY but that is about it. The only sightseeing we do is on our way to the hotel from the airport and usually if we have lost we are too pre occupied to be looking out on the way back. However, i would like to add that we are the last word on airports. We can tell you which airport has the best couches for long layovers (my vote goes to Changi) and which airline has the best blankets (BMI wins my vote there).
You might be wondering why we are like this and what causes these idiosyncrasies? No one knows whether our parents genes mysteriously mutate before being passed on to us or whether an overdose of endorphines causes us to behave differently. The truth is we are blessed to be the way we are and no athlete would trade their world for anything.
We may march to a different beat or dance to a different tune but frankly.... it is our world and you guys just live in it.