We describe an initiative to encourage sportsmanship
Sometime in the 1980s, two girls paid for their sleeper-class train tickets from Karnataka to Delhi to participate in an athletics meet. This was to avoid travelling unreserved because of the government's poor planning. The two girls were Olympian Vandana Rao and Reeth Abraham. Since they were employed in a bank, they were able to pay their way through. The situation remains the same even today. Paying for their own reservations is only one of the travails of an Indian athlete; the amenities and living conditions are equally pathetic.
Three decades later, Ms Rao and Ms Abraham joined BVP Rao and other top athletes to set up a non-governmental body called Clean Sports India (CSI), to do something about the sad state of Indian sports. Although CSI was conceptualised five years ago by Mr Rao, a national equestrian player, it was launched just two months ago. Mr Rao realised that the only way to change the system was to get sportsmen involved in administration, instead of giving them honorary positions on sports bodies. He has plenty of administrative experience working with a United Nations Mission to help develop self-governing institutions in Kosovo after the war. Interestingly, when Mr Rao called friends from the sporting fraternity, they were apprehensive about a possible conflict with powerful politicians. But, by 23 June 2010, he managed to get the support of 10 sportspersons and CSI was launched on International Olympic Day.
The controversy and corruption allegations regarding the CWG, which are to start on 3 October 2010, have given impetus to CSI's activities. It hopes to participate in the governance and management of various sports federations in the country to create an environment for clean, corruption-free sports in the country and hold seminars and meetings to increase awareness on issues pertaining to Indian sports. This, CSI believes, will happen when former athletes are in charge of Olympic sports federations, associations and clubs. "We want sportsmen to be part of the federation as they understand the difficulties sportsmen face," says Reeth Abraham, CSI's joint convener.
Another major objective is to help reduce the use of steroids by sportspersons.
CSI's conveners realise they have a tough job attracting public interest. After all, India is a cricket-crazy nation, where cricketers alone are treated like demigods. Cricket's dominance leads to jealousy among other sportspersons and also results in lack of encouragement for other sports, absence of a sporting culture and shortage of infrastructure and resources at the grassroots level. "We are not a sporting nation. Champions have emerged and will continue to emerge more by chance and not out of choice," says Ashwini Nachappa, a former runner and CSI's vice president.
CSI has made a start by holding awareness meetings at Bengaluru and Mumbai. In September, a public discussion on various sports-related issues is planned. It is currently asking sportspersons to become members of CSI by paying a fee of Rs100. If you wish to support their activities, you can join CSI by paying an annual fee of Rs500; companies that share its objectives can become associate members by paying a Rs5,000 annual fee.
All of us lament about India's poor performance in international sporting events that requires government support in the form of training and infrastructure. Well, here is your chance to help change the environment for sports. CSI desperately needs funds to take its activities forward. At the moment, its members have invested their own funds to get it going. But, as ace athlete Ashwini Nachappa says, "An absolute necessity for challenging the present order are conviction and funding. For now, we sportspersons have been putting in our resources but we seek corporate and institutional support to carry this movement forward." CSI doesn't even have office space or administrative support and infrastructure. All they have is a post-box address and could do with your support to grow.
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