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Manipur has produced 19 Olympians, including five for the Tokyo Olympics

Sports Rewards Must be Standardised and Not Allowed to be Determined Arbitrarily by Whims of Powers That be

Last fortnight has been eventful. In quick succession, a star was born and a superstar made a graceful exit but not before etching her name in gold in the book of legends. On the earlier occasion, Saikhom Mirabai Chanu became the first to open the medal accounts for India winning a silver medal in women weightlifting (49kg class) in the ongoing Olympics 2020 at Tokyo, overnight making her a household name in the country and becoming a hero in her home state Manipur. Not long after, six-time world women boxing champion (51kg class), Mary Mangte Chungneijang Kom, though losing her bout by a very narrowly split decision in the round of 16 to a younger Columbian rival, charmed everybody by the graceful manner she took the defeat. Later of course she did express unhappiness at the standard of judging causing some hiccups, but that was off the ring. The glamour of these events apart, as the euphoria recedes in the days ahead, as it surely would, what Manipur must sit back and reflect on is the future of sports in the state. It is not a mean achievement that the state has so far produced 19 Olympians, five of them participating in the ongoing Tokyo Olympics, making it deserve the reputation of being one of the sporting powerhouses of the county. This is commendable, but what we must also realise is that the state has hardly achieved its full potential in sports, and arguably, given the opportunity and facilities, many other hidden talents can be tapped and groomed to be of Olympics medal winning standard. Much of this preparation would have to be in the area of sports administration.

Much has been written on why and how Manipur is good in sports in the wake of Mirabai’s stupendous achievement. It is apparent that commentators from outside the state were impressed by the culture of sports children grow up in, making it relatively easy for them to adapt to any sporting discipline later. Indeed, the reach and spread of Manipur’s sporting talent is evident from the fact that it has seen sportspersons not just in any single sporting discipline, but in a multiple of them – archery, boxing, football, field hockey, judo, weightlifting, cycling and more. This being so, let all come to terms with the reality that while our current achievers are great and deserve all the accolades and rewards showered upon them, they are there because of the props they have had from this culture of sporting competitiveness continually ingrained into everyone from very young age. Rome as they were was not built in a day, likewise, the state’s 19 Olympians were geniuses in their own rights, but this does not cancel out the fact that they also did not evolve out of a vacuum. They too were the culminating pinnacles of this widespread, inbuilt and systemic culture of sporting competitiveness in our society such as the Leikai level sports clubs which are responsible for annual sporting carnivals such as Yaoshang Sports. These local bodies have been virtually the nurseries for future champions.

There is another thing sports commentators have noted about Manipur’s immense sporting reserve – killer instinct. This is a very Freudian assessment where sports as well as the arts are considered sublimated manifestations of libidinal energy, and without this unconscious reservoir or inner energy, no worthwhile achievements in these fields would have been possible. In the raw, this killer instinct is about the primal need for aggression, dominance, war and violence, all conditioned in the humans from the time they had to survive in the wild, a reality defined so aptly by the catch phrase “eat or be eaten”. When sublimated, this instinctual energy transforms into the driving forces behind the best of sporting performances, art, cinema etc. So many have said this before and despite protests at the very idea of libido by many vociferous self-ordained feminists and their camp followers, the reality is the term “libido” does not necessarily have an overtly sexual meaning. Indeed, for Freud, it represented all psychic energy emanating from what he called the primitive, instinctual Id. The degree of success of any society in harnessing this energy to channelise them towards social expressions they consider productive is what defines the character of their civilisation. It is therefore a tribute that Manipur is seen as possessing an abundance of this killer instinct. It means it has the raw material to fashion its sporting prowess as well as other creative enterprises.

How best can Manipur harness and get the best of this reserve of energy. And since we are talking sports here, how can it use this to ensure it is able to give wings to its younger generation of sport persons, so that we are blessed with more of the calibre of the likes of all the 19 Olympians and other sporting greats we have seen. For a start, Manipur needs to upgrade its sports policy. We have seen how generously it rewarded its sports stars in the past, and now Mirabai. This is great, but so far, these have been more sporadic and knee-jerk responses. They have also been portrayed as spectacular shows of generosity of those who happen to be in power at such times. This must end. Let the rewards remain substantial. Mirabai for instance received Rs. 1 crore for her Olympic silver as well as a respectable government job as Additional Superintendent of Police in the Manipur Police. This must not appear like a one-time favour, but an institutionalised sports reward norm so that younger aspiring sports persons can with confidence know Rs. 1 crore and a similar job awaits them too if they manage an Olympics silver. In other words, these rewards must be made part of a statutory norm and not left to dependent on monarchic whims of those who happen to be in power. Let the government, in consultation with authoritative bodies controlling these sporting disciplines, chart out a fixed and institutionalised reward standard.

The second responsibility is for the established sports bodies which control the administration of various disciplines of sports to handle. Like the informal Leikai level sporting clubs which have been responsible for inculcating the spirit of sporting competition in children generation after generation, they too must begin thinking of ways to create such a competitive atmosphere at the higher levels. Very often the reason cited for our sportspersons not performing up to mark is lack of exposure to national and international level sporting events and getting to measure strength and skills with the best in the fields. This problem would not have been as acute if we had national or international standard sporting competitions at home. To at least to some extent, the exposure our sportspersons can get on national and international arenas, would have been the environment normal for them at home. We should therefore be encouraging school, college and university level competitive sporting events besides open professional ones. Few or none of these are seen today and this is unfortunate. While scientific training is vital, equally if not more vital is the thirst for competition with peers in the various disciplines. Once upon a time the state did have some great sporting events such as the CC Meet in football in which even teams like East Bengal participated. Why have this culture been allowed to wither away.

The third important component in this drive to groom future Olympians of course are state of the art training facilities. Since we cannot possibly be thinking of excelling in all Olympic disciplines, it is also important to identify sports which are suitable to the temperament as well as physique of the place. It is already established that people of this region are good in sporting events that depended on quick reflex and explosive strength such as boxing and weightlifting in the lighter weight categories. These qualities should also fit well with games like badminton and table tennis, judo etc. Sportspersons here have also been good in disciplines which places a premium on concentration and distance assessment such as archery and probably, given the equipment, rifle and pistol events. Team games like football and hockey too have been our forte. It will therefore be good for the government and authorities of established sport institutions to form a task force to discover events which best suit the natural genius of the place, and then strive to acquire the best available training facilities for them.

Another thing many observers have noted is the quality of Manipur’s staple, which essentially are its peculiar sticky rice, organic grown vegetables, herbs both wild and cultivated, fresh water fish and meat. Indeed, by and large the ordinary folks in Manipur may be monetarily poor, but few, especially in the rural areas, are nutritionally so. Very broadly, poverty line is defined in India as someone who cannot spend more than Rs. 27.2 in rural areas and Rs. 33.3 in urban areas in a day, and in terms of nutritional intake, somebody who cannot afford 1,999 calories in rural areas and 1,776 calories in urban areas in a day as per UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation, standard. ‘The Indian Council for Medical Research has a more nuanced calorie index for maintaining health and body weight: 2,425 calories for men doing sedentary work to 3,800 calories for those doing heavy work; for women the figures are 1,875 and 2,925.’ (quoted in the reputed journal Down to Earth).

4 thoughts on “Sports Rewards Must be Standardised and Not Allowed to be Determined Arbitrarily by Whims of Powers That be”

  1. Rabindra Nath

    One thing that I feel is not dominant in Manipur people that the sports are not dominated by Political people having different affiliation and people’s inclination not to get associated with Politicians in their village discipline. Sports is one aspect of society that Politicians know is very useful in enhancing their popularity through their influences that they inherit through their involvement in politics. Manipurians have declined to accept that. And that saves the day for them. Thanks Pradip for your details

  2. Sanjoy Hazarika

    brilliant assessment, Pradi0. shud be compulsory reading and practice fir sports babus, policy makers and the politicians who try and run sports and push it into a deeper hole with their stupid slogans and comments..politicians should stay away from sports. then will sports bloom. just look around the world and the achievers among countries and competitors

  3. Lalit Pukhrambam

    I suggest that India spend half of their sports money (Olympic investment) in Manipur and North East India, then India can be assure of more medals, particularly in individual events, like in boxing, weightlifting, Judo, fencing, badmintor, table tennis, archery, and team sports in hockey, soccer and others. Out of 8 players from NE India (5 from Manipur) 2 medals are assured (1 weightlifing, Mirabai Chanu and 1 boxing, Lovlina) for 1.33 billion Indians. Investing in Manipur (concentrated talent and less population) and NE India will save money and high on ROI (Return of Investment) in Olympic medal tally, then investing in other larger Indian states. Just a thought.

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