Ashwini Nachappa en Wed Nov 02 11:21:23 IST 2022 an-open-letter-to-the-sports-minister <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i><b>Dear Shri Rathore,</b></i></p> <p>Congratulations for a successful showing at the Commonwealth Games! In the near future, it augurs well for Indian sport that exciting young talent has come to the fore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For continued success, however, there will be a need to find talent consistently at the grassroots, starting with our schools. While the Khelo India School Games (KISG) is a step in the right direction, there are several steps that need to be executed with clarity and integrity for the Khelo India movement to gain momentum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The KISG needs to be far more inclusive:</b> While the idea is right, and the beginning was well-executed, the number of schools participating in it was miniscule. The KISG was open only to CBSE schools. There are 17,093 listed CBSE schools, and only a fraction of them participated, making the overall participation less than one per cent of the 1.3 million schools in our country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the total number of schools, a million are state and central government schools, while there are around three lakh private aided and unaided schools. Why was KISG open only to CBSE schools when the mandate of the Khelo India scheme is to include all schools? I have been told that for the next edition of KISG, Kendriya Vidyalayas will be included. That is a step in the right direction. But there are only 1,125 KVs in the country! What about the rest of the schools that follow other curricula like the state board, ICSE and IGCSE? Surely, it is not Khelo ‘India’ if less than one per cent of the schools are represented at national-level games. How will you make Khelo India a true representation of India? This brings me to the second step. Who will bring in the schools?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The role of School Games Federation of India (SGFI):</b> Around 3,000 children participated in the KISG. Given the number of children in our schools, this figure is a nano drop in the ocean! Over the years, SGFI, like many other federations, has remained a highly ineffective organisation. They have not developed a strong network with schools, other federations, state-level local bodies and district-level organisations—so critical to reach out to children in the remotest areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They have not created sustainable competitive framework for schools to participate in. It is no wonder then that parents prefer their children to pursue academics rather than waste their time on pursuing sport, which is, at best, a very long shot towards building a stable future. By now, SGFI should have had a multi-tiered framework that covered district, zone, state and national level competitions. Is SGFI the right organisation to partner with for conducting such an ambitious programme? On paper, they are the ones who should be doing this, but unless there is a drastic overhaul of their organisation capabilities, KISG will continue to scratch only the surface of the massive potential that exists in our country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Executing the 12 verticals of Khelo India:</b> While going through the Khelo India website, I saw the overall vision broken down into 12 verticals. They are exhaustive, and the coverage is wide. The scope of work is humungous, and while most of these verticals have been addressed, albeit in a disorganised way thus far, a professional structure of effective execution must be in place. At the same time, I realise the challenge of trying to include all our schools in the country and the effort required under each of the verticals. Perhaps, what is needed is a nodal agency that can coordinate this effort. I have already shared the ‘Sport India’ presentation with you, which makes the case for such an agency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KISG is a cherished scheme of our honourable prime minister, and you being an Olympian and the sports minister of our country, we have, perhaps, the best opportunity since independence to bring about a much-needed turnaround for sport. Indian sport is counting on you!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Ashwini Nachappa is a former athlete.</b></p> Fri May 18 11:45:44 IST 2018 salute-the-surge <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Picture this. A young girl in lane six at the start of the semifinals of the 400m race of the recently held Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. Golden streaked hair. Utterly confident. Not a trace of nerves. The introductions are on. She looks into the camera as if she owns the place, rhythmically waves with the peace symbol, almost Usain Bolt-like. The race starts, and she finishes third with a personal best time. She gets into the final and finishes sixth with yet another personal best. She is Hima Das, 18, one of India’s brightest athletics prospects. The Assamese girl burst on to the national scene at the recent Federation Cup. With two consecutive personal bests at the CWG, Das is part of the emerging face of Indian sport.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there was the striking 22-year-old Manika Batra, who won three medals in table tennis. Sporting tri-colour nails, and oozing confidence, she won the gold in the women’s singles, beating top-ranked Singaporean Yu Mengyu in straight games.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What about the stunning performances of 16-year-old Manu Bhaker and 15-year-old Anish Bhanwala, who won the 10m pistol and 25m rapid fire pistol golds respectively? Our young guns were firing on all cylinders in Gold Coast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We won the mixed team badminton gold beating Malaysia, which was a stupendous achievement, given that Malaysia had won the last four editions. We even won the table tennis team gold, another unbelievable performance, beating Singapore in the finals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a gold fest for us in Gold Coast. We won 11 more gold medals than Glasgow 2014. And, we won them in style. Neeraj Chopra, 20, whose javelin travelled 86.47m, was at least 4m ahead of the competition! In a thrilling all-India final in women’s badminton, Saina beat the fancied Sindhu, showing that the older players still had that fire in them. Tejaswini Sawant, Heena Sidhu and Shreyasi Singh—all won gold in their shooting events, as did Mary Kom in boxing. They showed that time had not dented their desire to win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were many performances that left me with hope that Indian sport is now starting to blossom beyond cricket. Yet, our men’s hockey team left me scratching my head in disbelief. Prior to these games, Roelant Oltmans, a Dutch, was replaced by Sjoerd Marijne, another Dutchman. Marijne was the coach of our women’s team, and it was surprising to many as to why he was put in charge of the men’s team. Oltmans was able to build a cohesive unit that was performing consistently. His approach to team building was what set him apart. He was insistent on players being together beyond the field. Apparently, he collected a fine of Rs 500 if anyone came late for training, including himself. No wonder we are sixth ranked in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In contrast, our women’s team outdid themselves under Indian coach Harendra Singh. They beat England, ranked two in the world. They gave Australia a run for their money, losing 1-0 in a tight match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Clearly, Gold Coast 2018 belonged to our young champions. And, I see a fundamental shift in their approach to competition. Gone is the diffidence and the inferiority, and decades of closed-door policies post-independence. Our earlier generation was brought up on a scarcity mentality. Today, we live in a time of plenty.</p> <p>The walls between us and the world have collapsed, and the younger generation has adapted well to this new reality. Everything from the Indian Premier League to Indian geeks have given us the confidence that we are as good, if not better, than many other nations. The journey from the fear of losing to the self-belief in winning is the real revolution taking place in Indian sport. All that is required now is efficient and clean sports governance to make India a world power in sport.</p> Sat May 05 15:11:13 IST 2018 unmasking-our-real-nature <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In school, we had moral science as a subject. Right and wrong, good and bad, ethics and values, everything was either woven into stories or just plainly preached by teachers. It was a boring class that one was forced to attend. There was really nothing to ‘learn’ from it. I mean, what was there to learn in being ‘good’, or having ‘right’ values, unlike the knowledge one gains in algebra (yikes!), English or science?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In retrospect, that focus on morality in school and the constant reinforcement by our parents was far more important than math or biology. It ensured that there was the ‘right’ grounding necessary to lead a relatively sound life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, any semblance of outward morality is all but gone in today’s world of extremes. The cheating by Australian cricketers Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft has yet again brought to focus the immorality in sport. Given the relatively small act of transgression, were these three dealt more harshly than they deserved to be? I remember one of India’s most revered yesteryear cricketers telling my husband how the entire Pakistani team, comprising an enviable array of fast bowlers, carried soda bottle caps in their pockets. These were used to scrape the ball on one side so that it reversed very early in the innings, making it unplayable for the batsmen. In that context, what is a wee bit of sandpaper? It seems the foundation of the so-called greatness of these legendary bowlers was built on the immoral use of soda bottle caps! If that is so, then their performances must be struck from the record books, like what happened with cyclist Lance Armstrong. All his Tour de France titles were taken away. Armstrong doped to stay on top, and he was so remorseless that it was sickening. Some will also recall sprinter Ben Johnson and his cheating. His medals were also taken away. Both Armstrong and Johnson claimed that most others in the competition were cheating, as well. Thus, morally justifying their cheating.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, there is immorality in politics, public administration and in business, which makes cheating in sport look like child’s play! Swindling lakhs of crores of rupees and stashing them in Swiss bank accounts, money laundering, sex scandals, lying and cheating are commonplace occurrences.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier, there was fear of a tarnished image—be it at a mass level or within the confines of one’s own circle of family and friends—that kept people in check from being overtly immoral. Today, it matters little. Image can be managed to our liking in this digital era. So, all caution has been thrown to the winds as people act as they please, without any moral restraint. Especially our supposed role models—sportsmen, film stars, leaders in politics and business—who impact our society at large, thus legitimising immoral behaviour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Are we becoming an increasingly immoral society? On the face of it, it seems so. Perhaps we see and hear more of it, thanks to the omnipresence of technology. But, as a race, lying, cheating, corruption and immorality have always been a part of our culture from the dawn of civilisation. It is nothing new. The standards of morality have undergone change, but that we are basically immoral has not changed. I say this because there would not be codes of morality, such as those guided by our religious texts, if we were not immoral. These helped build a veneer to counter our baser, self-centred instincts. Unfortunately, the veneer has all but disappeared. There is not even lip-service to it any more. Our real nature has been unmasked. It is immorality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Ashwini Nachappa is a former athlete.</b></p> Sat Apr 07 16:21:28 IST 2018 the-waning-of-nationalism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I was brought up with a deep feeling of being Indian, as were many in my generation and the ones before mine. It is a feeling that is beyond doubt. The remnants of our freedom struggle were still strong in my time and I still carry that fervour of being an Indian. To represent India at the world stage was a privilege that I worked very hard for. It was of great value then to receive an Arjuna Award for excellence in my sport.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An award given by the country is to be cherished. Or, so I thought. Today, awards are bought and sold, even as national pride is swept under the carpet. There is a very different world emerging today. A world where nationality is fast eroding as a pillar of one’s identity. And, one can see that clearly in sports. There was a time when playing for the country was considered by most to be the ultimate feather in one’s cap. But, today, it is the private leagues that players and spectators identify with more. Football is a case in point. Players do not feel the same fervour playing for their country, as they do for their clubs. Messi is more FC Barcelona and less Argentinian. Ronaldo, more Real Madrid than Portuguese. It is only a matter of time before an IPL team becomes the pinnacle of a player’s identity, whether he be from the West Indies or Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An identity has value only when it provides the individual with a sense of security. That is why we identify with the country, our family, an organisation or with a religion. These are some of the main pillars we rely on to build stability in our lives. But, when experiences go contrary to what we desire, and, when there is instability, we start questioning that identity. Especially, when that identity starts getting diffused and has no common, shared understanding. Nationalism is proving to be one such primary means of identity that is losing its relevance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the heart of keeping the idea of India alive is a shared understanding of what it stands for. But, that shared idea is getting diffused. Each of us has our own agenda to fulfil. A few people in power make hay while the sun shines, to the detriment of those who elect them. The chosen few in power, the bureaucracy and the rich and famous play by different rules, while most of the citizens struggle through a totally separate set of rules. We bribe and get our work done.</p> <p><br> We pay taxes, and there is little development to show for it. For 60 years, there was one kind of idea of India. Today, another idea of India is being pushed. There is no common understanding left anymore, of what the idea of India is. And, so, the value of our national identity is fast eroding.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is happening not just here, but around the world. The US, with a demagogue for a president, is deeply divided on several fronts. As are many European nations. Brexit has shown how fractured the UK is. The large outflow of refugees from areas of strife and poverty add to the complexity of bringing about a common identity in nations where they settle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why is this happening? Technology has played a major role in rapidly spreading alternative ideas of the same identity. Man-made borders have also ceased to make sense in the virtual world. In this information age, there is an overload of views and counter-views that each must contend with. In this charged and volatile environment, keeping an idea stable is virtually impossible. Especially, the idea of a nation. Perhaps, nationalism is still secure in some of our villages, till, of course, the virtual world engulfs them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Ashwini Nachappa is a former athlete.</b></p> Sat Mar 24 16:25:55 IST 2018 sportsmen-need-a-safety-net <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Kumar (name changed) is a 16-year-old promising hurdler. He has been training at ASF, my sports foundation in Coorg, for the past two years. Now in his 10th grade, he has decided to drop out of sports to focus on pursuing a professional academic degree, even though ASF looks after athletes till they finish college. Kumar’s is the stereotypical story of what is happening in our country, especially in urban areas. Parents are not keen on letting their children pursue sport because it does not ensure a secure future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If sportsmen are not academically inclined, and if they hail from low- to middle-income households, sports could be an opportunity to break their limiting conditions. But, it provides no guarantee of a secure future. So, many from such backgrounds choose to do a BA or BCom, which they see as a safer option. Unfortunately, most of these youngsters give up sports.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those who have the courage to follow their interest, they do so against all odds. And, only a handful succeed. Thankfully, for such top performers, the safety net that our PSUs, governmental bodies and a handful of corporates have provided has been a godsend. Whatever sporting successes that our country has achieved, cricket included, is mainly because of the safety net of employment these organisations provided to top athletes. Who can forget the hockey teams of Indian Airlines and Air India that produced many greats? My husband, Datha, who represented India juniors in hockey, played for Air India. Railways has been one of the most proactive employers supporting sport; its most famous employee being M.S. Dhoni.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for me, I was offered a job by Vijaya Bank right after 12th grade. It was a huge relief for my parents and me, as it meant I could focus on my athletics career and not worry about working to make ends meet. It made an enormous difference, mentally, emotionally and economically. Recently, Harmanpreet Kaur, India’s intrepid women’s T20 captain, was given a job by Punjab Police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, for every Harmanpreet Kaur there are a thousand others waiting to make their mark. What happens to these athletes? What is their safety net? It is largely chance that an athlete of meagre means makes it to the top.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are three distinct phases to an athlete’s career. The first is the struggle phase to establish oneself at a national level. The next phase is training to be an international athlete and the final phase is post-retirement from sports. All these require a safety net relevant to that phase. Much of the support from PSUs, other organisations as well as the emerging competitive super leagues is in the second phase. However, it is in the first phase that one requires clarity about a secure future, to even think of someone wanting to take up sport. Education that provides career options is crucial, should the athlete not make it beyond phase one. Post-retirement, there needs to be a concerted effort to retool the athlete for a secure, stable life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, for-profit organisations define the economy and they must play a decisive role in providing such a safety net. Two per cent of their profits is mandated to be spent on developing their communities, and it is only logical that sports be included in it. They can do so by ensuring that the education needs of athletes are met right through school and college and create programmes for retooling and absorption of athletes post-retirement. These small steps can have a substantial impact in developing our sporting potential.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Ashwini Nachappa is a former athlete</b></p> Sat Mar 10 19:06:17 IST 2018 khelo-india-school-games <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The recently concluded Khelo India School Games threw up some remarkable performances. We found talent from places that never would have got noticed. A boy from Manipur won the badminton gold. Now, who would have expected that a badminton star would rise from the northeast? The sheer magnitude of talent that exists in the country is unfathomable, and, hence, a great source of hope for a sporting revolution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Considering the magnitude of the event, it was remarkable how professionally it was managed. Athletes, coaches and officials were treated with care. I was thrilled that the participants travelled by A/C trains and stayed in three-star accommodation. I still remember travelling unreserved, sometimes two to a single berth, with officials travelling reserved for national events. I even travelled all the way to Patiala, sleeping near toilets, during my early days as a student going for the Indian camp. The National Games of 1985 was a nightmare with mosquito-infested rooms and barely enough food to eat. But, we were pleased to return home with medals to show for the misery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The success of the event can also be attributed to the fact that the involvement of federations was kept to only their area of expertise—on-field technical support—while the rest of the event management was outsourced to those with relevant expertise. This is in stark contrast with similar events managed shoddily by federations, who have no expertise in event management. Then, there was live coverage of six disciplines of the games on Star TV and Hotstar. All in all, a wonderful start. Only a well-seasoned sports person would have understood the importance of all this. Congratulations to our Union Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore for pulling it off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khelo India is an initiative by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bring about a culture of sports at the grassroots. Modi tried this in Gujarat, and it is this model that he hopes to replicate across the country. Some Union government schemes have now been merged into the Khelo India-National Programme for Development of Sports. This includes spending on structured competitions for greater participation of youth, identification of talent, training the talent through governmental and private sports academies and the building of infrastructure in smaller towns. Khelo India programme has been allocated Rs 500 crore. In the coming years, this could rise to Rs 1,500 crore. Given the size of our country and the population, the amount would still be miniscule.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The immediate challenge that Rathore faces is to ensure that selected athletes get consistent nurturing that allows a considerable number to rise to the top. These athletes will be given Rs 5 lakh each as a financial assistance. It is a substantial amount, and a great encouragement for younger talent to take up sports as a career option. But, how are the athletes going to be monitored? What are the facilities and training that would be provided? This will be a challenge in the context of the current condition of the Sports Authority of India (SAI), which manages around 60 sports centres, and the respective state centres. A study in 2015, commissioned by the Sports Ministry, which I helmed, detailed the action that needs to be taken to improve these centres. Perhaps the recommendations of the report could help the new management at SAI to start a fresh course in-line with the vision of Khelo India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next logical step would be to follow-up soon with a Khelo India University Games. It is here that potential athletes for the Olympics could be found. Let’s hope that Khelo India is a game changer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Ashwini Nachappa is a former athlete.</b></p> Sat Feb 24 16:19:06 IST 2018 deconstructing-federer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Spoiler alert! This article is from an unabashed fan of Roger Federer, whose otherworldly performance at the Australian Open won him his 20th Grand Slam title.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am awestruck by the longevity of Federer’s performance level. At 36, and being a touch player with a single-handed backhand, he astonishingly continues to win Grand Slam titles in this era of high-octane, physically powered tennis. To consistently beat players who are 10 to 15 years younger is simply remarkable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what makes for this miracle that is Federer?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the one hand, deconstructing his success, if at all it is possible, would take away the mystery from the miracle. Yet, on the other hand, as a sportsperson who spent the best of her youth training and pursuing her sprinting dreams, I am keen to unravel the factors that have contributed to his longevity at the top. I write this being fully aware that I am not privy to the ‘inside’ happenings in his life, so whatever I gather from the public domain is what I base my analysis on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Factor 1, the body: At the level that Federer has been playing, it is a miracle that his body has been able to bear the brunt of extreme tennis for so long, with very few breakdowns as compared to most other players. It seems that Federer’s body was created for tennis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two, training and skill: Very few come close to Federer in anticipation, shot selection, court coverage and the sheer grace of his game. But, it does not come easy. Recently, I saw a video of Federer’s training and it was incredible to see the care and thought that went into his training methods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three, support staff and family: Federer has been blessed with a supportive family and a dedicated training and support team. It is remarkable that he can continue playing at this level while balancing his roles as a husband and a father (to four young children), not to mention his endorsements and charitable work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Four, mental makeup: They say the hunger to do well arises out of the tough life one has had. But, Federer comes from a wealthy family. His dramatic change from a racket-throwing, emotional teenager to a calm and collected Zen-like statesman on and off the court is well-documented. However, where he showed his mental steel was when Rafael Nadal dominated him. Most would have thrown in the towel and retired, but Federer stuck on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I feel it is because of factor 5—his love for the game. To anyone watching tennis, it is amply clear how much Federer loves the game. It is this love that has been the biggest factor of his longevity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, these factors are not unique to Federer. They form the basis for the potential success of any athlete. I say ‘potential’ because success is not a given, no matter how hard the athlete works to bring about those factors in their favour. Life is forever changing, and the complexity of this constant movement makes it difficult to control the factors in its entirety.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To me, there is an X factor at work that brings all these factors together at the right time and the right place. It is beyond the individual to make it happen. Federer is the outcome of a universe conspiring for its own pleasure. There is no other way to explain the Federer phenomenon.</p> Fri Feb 16 15:01:12 IST 2018