How Cricket ruined sports in India

How Cricket ruined sports in India

India's obsession with a colonial sport stunted the growth of other Athletic pursuits.


6 min read

India, a nation with a rich sporting heritage, has found itself trapped in the clutches of a singular obsession: cricket. This fixation, rooted in the intense rivalry between India and its neighbor, Pakistan, has overshadowed the development and appreciation of other sports in the country. As a result, the future of athletics in India has been inadvertently sabotaged by the very game that once united the nation.

The origins of cricket's popularity in India can be traced back to the long-standing animosity between India and Pakistan. In the absence of direct military confrontation, the cricket pitch became the battleground where these two nations could settle their differences. Indians derived immense satisfaction from defeating Pakistan in the only sport where they excelled. The 1979 victory in the Test series against Pakistan, followed by the 1983 Cricket World Cup triumph, cemented cricket's place in the hearts of Indians. However, this narrow focus on cricket has come at a steep cost.

India, a nation with far greater economic and social development compared to Pakistan, has neglected its rich sporting heritage in pursuit of cricket supremacy. Sports like football, wrestling, swimming, kabaddi, hockey, and boxing, where India once shone on the international stage, have been relegated to the sidelines. The 1962 Asian Games serve as a poignant reminder of India's footballing prowess, where the nation clinched the gold medal. However, in the 64 years since that triumph, India has failed to qualify for a single football event at the Olympics. This alarming decline has gone largely unnoticed, as the nation remains enthralled by the bat and ball.

India's hockey team, once a dominant force with eight Olympic gold medals between 1928 and 1980, has struggled to maintain its position at the top. The last Olympic gold medal for Indian hockey came in Moscow in 1980. Similarly, in wrestling, India boasts of a rich tradition, with names like KD Jadhav, who won independent India's first individual Olympic medal in 1952. However, the sport has been overshadowed by cricket's glamour, leaving wrestlers grappling for recognition and support.

The financial disparity between cricket and other sports in India is staggering. While cricketers are showered with millions of rupees through events like the Indian Premier League (IPL), athletes from other disciplines often struggle to make ends meet. The IPL, a tournament devoid of logical team formation, has become a playground for billionaires to flaunt their wealth by bidding on the most expensive players. The teams, supposedly representing different states, are filled with players from across the country and even overseas. It is a competition of deep pockets rather than cricketing prowess. In the 2021 IPL auction, South African all-rounder Chris Morris was sold for a record-breaking 16.25 crore rupees (approximately $2.2 million), while many Indian athletes from other sports barely earn a fraction of that amount in their entire careers.

The lopsided financial landscape has instilled a sense of fear among aspiring athletes in India. The lack of monetary support and recognition for sports other than cricket has deterred young talent from pursuing their passions professionally. Parents, who once encouraged their children to excel in academics, now turn a blind eye when their sons and daughters prioritize cricket over their studies and career prospects. The nation's unhealthy obsession with cricket has created a generation of individuals who are willing to sacrifice their futures for a chance to be part of the cricketing frenzy.

India's cricketing obsession has not only hindered the growth of other sports but has also deprived the nation of potential Olympic glory. While countries like the United States, China, and Great Britain consistently top the medal tallies, India's performances have been underwhelming. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, India sent its largest-ever contingent of 117 athletes but returned with a meager two medals. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics saw a slight improvement, with India winning seven medals, but the nation still lags far behind its potential. The lack of investment in infrastructure, coaching, and grassroots development for non-cricketing sports has left India struggling to make its mark on the global stage.

The disparity in media coverage and sponsorship between cricket and other sports is glaring. Cricket dominates the sports pages of newspapers and the prime-time slots on television channels. Brands and advertisers flock to cricket, leaving other sports starved for attention and financial backing. This skewed media landscape perpetuates the notion that cricket is the only sport worth pursuing, further discouraging talent from exploring other avenues.

It is time for India to wake up from its cricketing slumber and recognize the untapped potential in other sports. The government, sports authorities, and the public must come together to create a more balanced and inclusive sporting ecosystem. Adequate funding, infrastructure development, and media coverage should be extended to all sports, not just cricket. Grassroots programs should be initiated to identify and nurture talent from a young age, providing them with the necessary support to excel in their chosen disciplines.

Moreover, the education system in India needs to place greater emphasis on sports and physical education. Schools and colleges should encourage students to participate in a variety of sports, fostering a well-rounded development of mind and body. The glorification of cricket at the expense of other sports in educational institutions needs to be addressed, creating a level playing field for all aspiring athletes.

India's sporting legends from non-cricketing disciplines should be celebrated and given the recognition they deserve. The likes of Dhyan Chand (hockey), Milkha Singh (athletics), and Dara Singh (wrestling) should be household names, inspiring the next generation to pursue excellence in diverse sports. Their stories of triumph and dedication should be woven into the fabric of India's sporting narrative, challenging the notion that cricket is the only path to success.

Furthermore, the Indian government should actively seek to host international sporting events across various disciplines. Hosting multi-sport events like the Olympics or the Asian Games would not only showcase India's organizational capabilities but also provide a platform for athletes from different sports to shine. Such events would also attract investment in infrastructure and generate public interest in sports beyond cricket.

India's blind pursuit of cricketing glory has inadvertently ruined the future of other sports in the country. The nation's obsession, fueled by the India-Pakistan rivalry, has created a myopic sporting landscape where cricket reigns supreme. It is time for India to break free from the shackles of this colonial sport and embrace the diversity of its athletic heritage. By nurturing and supporting all sports equally, India can pave the way for a brighter future where its athletes can shine on the global stage, beyond the boundaries of the cricket field. It is time for India to reclaim its position as a true sporting powerhouse, celebrating the achievements of its athletes across all disciplines and inspiring future generations to pursue their sporting dreams without fear or prejudice.