With competitive sport in limbo, it's an opportunity for those in charge to rethink how their sports could change. Over the next few weeks we'll look at some of the most popular sports in India and speak to stakeholders -- players, administrators, former players, fans -- on what change they wish to see in their sport (and also what they would not change). First up, though, India's only solo gold medallist at the Olympics gives us an overview of what can be done -- and why it's necessary.
The forced break and delayed Olympics that the pandemic has brought upon us present sport stakeholders with the unexpected gift of time. Best to use it to introspect where our sport is going and where it is projected to be in the future. The priority now, as we wait for action to resume around the world, should be to come up with strategies to catch the attention of the youth, break free from our moulds and reimagine how we want our sport to be played, viewed and followed.
Here are my five suggestions:
Both in terms of formats and the way sport is showcased. I was reading an article in The Economist which held that E-sports such as 'Fortnite' should be included in the Olympics. The argument was that these games are vastly more popular than mainstream sports (only 28% of British boys aged 16-19 watch any traditional live sports; 57% play video games). I think sport administrators and leaders in the community have to continuously evolve their respective sports to remain relevant to the youth of the world.
Form think-tanks to discuss what can be done to innovate your sport. Think deep and look at various technologies that are coming into the world of sport and broadcasting and try and innovate for the future. It is absolutely critical that sports in the Olympic programme are aware of the changing times.
Shooting, for instance, could bring its broadcast audience closer to the experience by showing the trace of the point of aim, rifle movement, displaying the heart rate of shooters and, much like in F1, perhaps even allowing them to listen in to athlete-coach conversations. All of these will allow people to feel the tension and adrenaline in every shot and relate with what the shooter is seeing and how he/she is reacting to it.
Take your sport to people
Rather than expecting people to come to it. The Olympic movement has made a conscious attempt to make sports and disciplines urban in nature. If you look at it, the new sports that have been introduced into the Olympic programme, such as sport climbing and breaking, are very urban sports, practised really in city centres.
Sustainability is a huge issue in sport today. Look at cycling. The Tour de France is going virtual for the first time. Now you can compete for the same championship race from the comfort of your home. Sailing too has an e-sport version and an e-Sailing world championship. Shooting of course has certain challenges, especially in terms of safety aspects to be sorted and venues are far away from the scene of action. But it can still look at newer ideas to reach out to people.
There has to be universality to your sport. India has a large number of those who take up the sport of shooting. But it's not enough to be content with the hotspots. Every sport has to set itself up for long-term growth and unless you engage with a wider audience and have numbers coming into your sport globally, you're not quite there.
The current fan base of most sports is made up of purists who prefer that their sport remains unchanged. But you have to ask yourself the hard question as to whether the current fan base is going to be big enough to lead your sport into the next 10 to 20 years, into the next couple of decades. There may be some tough decisions to make because you are trying to balance tradition with change and that's always hard.
(As told to Sharda Ugra)