What can one fan do?
Can one man make a difference?
Yes, but let’s first correct the sentence there. Can one man or woman make a difference? Yes, indeed, P V Sindhu and Sakshi Malik have given us, if not pride, at least a refuge from shame. Even more, a man can, if he is P. Gopichand, determined to produce Olympian talent out of whatever raw material he gets, willing to mortgage his house for 3 crore to procure funding for his academy. Yes, indeed, if he is Nimmagadda Prasad, who puts in 5 crore to top up the money, on the sole condition that Gopichand produce an Olympic medal.
But you are just a fan. It annoys you that the talent pool of your country that the world loves for its economic growth, corporate leadership and entrepreneurship, is unable to produce even a moderately defensible haul of Olympic medals. You care, and in your caring, you exult at the One Tight Slap this feels like on the face of a has-been socialite who was certain that we’d return with nothing.
But focus. Pay attention. To where you pay attention. Yoga tells you to focus on your breath. The breath is just a proxy. What Yoga wants you to focus on is your attention.
Attention is currency. It is the reason that Facebook and Google between them make $100 billion in annual revenue. To put that in context, these 70,000 employees make the same amount of revenue as Karnataka with a thousand times as many people. And that includes the Silicon Valley of India. What is the difference?
The world pays Google and Facebook with its attention.
Don’t fritter your attention on socialites and muckrakers and Twitter and tittering. All those things are fine. But also pay Indian sports. Not with outrage. Not with petitions to government to increase sports spending. Just attention.
Pay attention to the athletes. Follow the ones who perform at their sport, even if they aren’t good-looking or smart or articulate. Where all the brands are equally good, buy the one endorsed by a high-performing sportsperson. When you learn about the Asiad medalist who sold his medal, or the old glory who cannot afford to educate his children or just pay his medical bills, find a friend in their city to run a Kickstarter and buy the medal back for them, pay his medical bills and pay the tuition for his kids. Take selfies and spam all your friends on social media to glory. They will burn up with envy and go find other sportsmen to help themselves. Make an Ace Racquet challenge out of it.
Let me illustrate the giving and the effect of attention. Those of you who are younger than 35 think that Indian cricket came of age when Tendulkar replied to Abdul Qadir’s taunt with a six. The foundation for the insane obsession of India with cricket had already been laid almost a decade earlier. The slightly older ones remember that it really happened in the World Cup in 1983. When another soft-spoken powerhouse came in to bat with India at 10 for 6 and smashed 175 himself in an innings that is not recorded even on bad video because the BBC camermen were on strike that day.
We started to pay attention.
And in the final of the same tournament, when his side was all out for 183 against the ever-reigning champions who had always, every single time, always won the Cricket World Cup, the dreaded Windies, he told his morose boys in the dressing room very plainly, “हम ने बना लिए हैं| उनको अभी बनाने हैं|” and then went on to take a catch that actually got India thinking that there may be more reasons to rejoice about a final than simply having arrived at it. And that’s when we paid full attention. Indian cricket has flourished since then. We are at one of those moments for the rest of Indian sports now, having won a good medal in a 100% physical sport where we were nowhere a decade ago.
Pay attention to the coaches. Learn about people like P Gopichand. Learn about their academies. See if you can go volunteer at one in your city. See if you can take your young children, siblings and cousins there to help and learn and steal a glance at the hero(ine). Nothing helps ignite the hunger more than realizing that the objects of worship look at least a little bit like you.
Pay attention to those who put down money. Learn about Nimmagadda Prasad. They do this for legacy and respect. Give it.
Pay attention to those who give incentives to sportsmen. Railways, SBI, other banks have a tradition of giving jobs for medals. Haryana govt now awarding 10s of lakhs to crores for wrestling medals. Applaud them on social media. Find out who came up with the measures. Vote for them and campaign for them.
Swap the attention we give to Bollywood and cricket (yes, we have paid enough!) to the promising sports of wrestling, badminton, gymnastics,
Play more and get your children playing more.
Media and dollars follow attention.
Pay attention to sports.
That’s what one man can do.