Lost in cricket fever, have we also lost our right to complain?

It is no longer even worth mentioning that cricket is India’s favourite child, while other sports and athletes seem to live on its scraps

Part of the crowd at the T20 World Cup victory parade in Mumbai (photo: @BCCI/X)
Part of the crowd at the T20 World Cup victory parade in Mumbai (photo: @BCCI/X)

Akanksha Biradar

Barely two weeks ago, the Indian compound women’s archery team of Jyothi Surekha Vennam, Aditi Swami and Parneet Kaur continued its imperious form this season, bagging a hat-trick of World Cup gold medals with a win over Estonia.

Chances are, you have never even heard of these ladies. Most of you have probably also not heard of Manpreet Singh, the man who led India to a bronze medal in Tokyo 2020 after a 41-year drought in hockey, and who is likely to play a key role in India’s medal hunt at Paris 2024, though he is no longer captain.

And yet, whether you want to or not, you know that on 6 July, during a felicitation event at the Maharashtra Assembly, chief minister Eknath Shinde announced a reward of Rs 11 crore for Team India, winners of the T20 cricket World Cup 2024. This, from a state government burdened by a debt of Rs 7.82 lakh crore. And this, over and above the staggering Rs 125 crore dispensed among the team, selectors, and support staff by the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India).

It is no longer even worth mentioning that cricket is India’s favourite child, while other sports and athletes seem to live on the scraps of their star sibling.

Badminton star Chirag Shetty, the world’s no. 1 doubles player along with Satwiksairaj Rankireddy — both Olympics medal hopefuls — has come down hard on his state’s largesse, pointing out how there was not even a felicitation, forget a cash reward, from the same government when he was a key member of India’s historic Thomas Cup triumph in 2022. 

Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of badminton knows that the Thomas Cup is the equivalent of a World Cup in any other sport, but the enormity of Shetty’s achievement has hardly caused a blip on India’s sporting radar.

Of course, it isn’t cricket’s fault that Indians can’t seem to do without it, but that is not the point. Given this lack of enthusiasm for other sports, despite the occasional brief brouhaha over a Neeraj Chopra or an R. Praggnanandhaa, do Indians really have the right to complain about the nation’s lack of Olympic-standard athletes, or our modest medals tally at the ‘greatest show on Earth’?

Among the teeming millions who turned up at the victory parade on Mumbai’s Marine Drive for the victorious cricket team, how many would be able to hold sensible conversations about the women’s cricket team, the kabaddi team, either the men’s or women’s hockey team, the Commonwealth Games, or the Olympics?

And yet, many of them would unhesitatingly mock India’s poor position on the Olympic medals tally, ignoring the neglect, lack of funding, and absence of moral support, attention, and interest from the average Indian. 

The BCCI’s annual profit in 2023-24 stood at approximately Rs 16,875 crore. The International Cricket Council (ICC) shares the major chunk of its revenues with the BCCI, while the T-20 Indian Premier League (IPL) run by the BCCI is one of the wealthiest sports leagues in the world.

Needless to say, non-cricket sports struggle to attract even a tenth of that revenue, not to mention investment and sponsorship. Under the purview of the National Sports Federation of India, these sports receive grants from the ministry of youth affairs and sports. Athletes are dependent on government amenities, political interference, and ministers who neither understand sport nor care about it.

The 2023-24 Union Budget allocation for sports was roughly Rs 2,400 crore, against the 2022-23 allocation of Rs 2,254 crore. Enough said.

The truth is, if our athletes win, they do so despite the government. And despite monumental public apathy. Want an example? Look no further than the wrestlers’ protest of 2023, when some of India’s finest in the discipline, Olympic medal-winners too, took to the streets alleging sexual harassment by Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, BJP leader and chief of the Wrestling Federation of India.

While Singh was subsequently removed as WFI chief and denied an election ticket by the BJP, his son took his place on the list of party candidates, and court proceedings against him came to practically nothing. What did happen was that Olympic silver medallist Sakshi Mallik bid a tearful adieu to wrestling in the absence of any action against Singh. Now imagine a cricketer in her shoes, and the resultant public outrage.

The T20 victory parade left behind record amounts of garbage for BMC (BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation) workers to clean. We’re sure stars like Gagan Narang (four gold medals at the 2010 Popular Wealth Games in shooting), or the Indian men's kabaddi team which won the first World Kabaddi World Cup, or India first ever FIH Women's Nations Cup winners in 2022, wouldn’t mind a similar parade. Trouble is, not many would show up for them.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines