‘Champion. Conundrum. Compromise. Confusion. Choice. Circumstance. Career. Crossroads.’
Surely, these must be a random set of words that have nothing else in common apart from the obvious fact that they start with the letter C. Or do they when meaningfully put together, address one of the most under-discussed issues in Indian sport?
Through this article, I aim to shed light on the conundrums faced by those sportspersons that compete at a fairly high level of professional sport and yet constantly find themselves sitting on the fence as to whether to make a career out of sport or look elsewhere to forge a different career path.
As encouraging as it may be that we come across great success stories in Indian sport with increasing regularity, we also need to address the plight of thousands of athletes who don’t make it to the pinnacle and gradually fade away into oblivion. Across all sports in India (barring cricket), the themes are quite similar when it comes to a career in sport. The top 5-10 ranked athletes at best, are able to make a living solely playing sport.
It’s absolutely ridiculous that in a sport-crazy country with a population of almost 1.4 billion, only an average of 7-8 players per sport are able to sustain their playing careers without having to worry about paying their bills or earning their daily bread.
There are various reasons as to why this sad state of affairs prevails over the sport in our country but I will refrain from exploring each one in detail to avoid turning this article into a boring piece of academic literature. Rather, as the title of this article suggests, the aim is to explore the different possibilities faced by a sportsperson who is unsure of whether to try and make a career from primarily playing sport.
As a former national-level table tennis player myself, I was a ‘champion’ in my own right, one of the top 8 ranked players in the country. I still faced a ‘conundrum’ of having to choose between a career as a sportsperson or a career in another educational field. I ended up making my ‘choice’ and ‘compromised’ on the sport I love for a career in the sports business.
My ‘circumstances’ were such that I couldn’t pursue a career through the education route while at the same time continuing to compete at the topmost level of the sport. I was at a ‘crossroads’ and made my ‘career’ choice based on all the above-mentioned factors.
At the end of the day, I had to give up playing the sport I love, a sport that I have been playing for the last 18 years of my life, simply because it was not financially viable to make a living from it, considering the level I was playing at.
I can state with certainty that I’m far from being the only person who has had to take this gut-wrenching decision. There are millions of Indians who face such similar issues on a daily basis.
Sport loses out on talented individuals and prospective stars while each individual goes through the heartbreak of not being able to forge a career playing the sport they love. There are clearly no winners in this scenario. Something's got to give; radical change must happen!
There are umpteen number of takeaways from such a situation. Here’s some food for thought:
Is it viable to pursue a career in sport if you’re not the crème de la crème?
If not yet possible, are steps being taken towards making this more viable in the near future?
Is this very relevant issue being discussed and researched enough?
Are we as a country well equipped to start providing opportunities for more sportspersons to make a career from playing sport?
The answer, at this point in time, to most of these questions and a lot of other similar ones will probably be a big fat resounding “NO”, but one hopes that things change for the better in the near future.
We can each do our bit by starting a dialogue and discussion on such topics in the sport that we feel passionately about. If we get a million heads together working towards a similar set of goals, the ‘C’ of possibilities might just expand for the better.
About the author:
Abhishek is a former national level table tennis player, currently studying a Masters in Sport Management at Loughborough University, UK. He has been a massive fan of Chelsea F.C. from 2005 and the Indian Test Cricket Team from 2003.