The hype and expectation circling the still elusive 100th international century for Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar, is a clear indication of the pathetic state of sports, in general, in India. Further evidence of the earlier statement may lie in the fact of promoting, to extremes, individual achievement in a team sport, pointing the way to a sort of shameless star worship we involve ourselves in.
Calls to award the Bharat Ratna - India's highest civilian honor - may have gained intensity following India' World Cup triumph. It must be said that it is easy to understand why politicians and social crusaders like Anna Hazare demand the recognition for Tendulkar; he is something of a living God for a number of young men and women in the country, who, incidentally, comprise immensely large vote banks for the politicians to play with.
A coveted award like the Bharat Ratna should really only be given to an individual whose achievements have benefitted the society at large, rather than an individual whose claim to fame is of a far more personal nature... the scoring of, say, 99 or 100 centuries.
Of course, it cannot be denied that Tendulkar is a fine batsman and his achievements do make the country proud. However, it must also be said that his career coincided with the years marking his country's entry into the whole idea of a global consumer culture and represented the success of the Indian middle class. His personal achievements, therefore, were billed as a triumph for India, as a whole.
Cricket is not a game of personal accomplishments; it is fundamentally a team sport. Tendulkar's failure to carry the team to victory when his presence was most needed and the ability to translate transient leads into triumphant results suggest that the act of labeling him a cricketing God is perhaps not quite right. One particular example of that inability was back in 1999, when India lost a test to Pakistan (in Chennai), despite Tendulkar scoring a century. Most recently, the inability of the player to come to his team's resuce during the disastrous tour of England, highlights, perhaps, his flaw. Unfortunately, however, we have a culture where the unashamed worship of heroes is a characteristic feature.
At the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Indians should have realized that they had a number of talented athletes, across a number of sporting disciplines, including those capable of creating their own legacies. How many does the country remember today?
For example, India last won the hockey World Cup in 1975. Since then it has not placed in the top four of any edition; its best was an eight-place finish at the 2010 World Cup. The country's men's national soccer team is ranked 145 in the world; 50 in basketball and 37 in volleyball. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, India won three medals - a gold in shooting and a bronze each in wrestling and boxing. In contrast, the hosts, China, won 100 medals (51 gold) and Brazil 15 (3 gold).
While the cricket World Cup win was impressive and deserves to be celebrated, India has to figure out ways to improve its performances in other sports. A major reason why the sport is so successful in the country is because it represents big business to the nation's corporate czars. In fact, India is, by some distance, one of the most popular and lucrative markets for the game.
The popularity of the sport and the nation's tendency to hero worship, especially among the younger generation, seems to be preventing the growth of other sporting activities.