Universities and colleges are the cradles of Indian swimming.
The four southern States, especially Karnataka, where this discipline is flourishing, have given equal importance to both studies and sport. Universities in Maharashtra, Punjab and Delhi too have done a lot to popularise aquatic sport. A lot of high-calibre sportspersons have emerged from this region to serve Indian sport with great distinction.
The other day, when football legend P.K. Banerjee praised the inter-University swimmers, divers and water polo players for pursuing one of the best, strenuous and complete physical exercises , he was only reiterating a valid point that every parent must appreciate.
In a country where studies get priority over sport in career building, swimming, like other sporting disciplines, has given the collegians an avenue to express their sporting prowess. With the end of college life, the talented prefer to concentrate on a professional career rather than take up sport full-time and make a living out of it.
Unlike India, the system that produces talented sportspersons in the US is college sport. All the American sporting legends are products of this system. Be it athletics, aquatics or tennis; World and Olympic records are bettered in such environments. The US has perfected the system that has been producing World and Olympic champions.
The story in India is different; it is always professional career first and sport, thereafter. As experts point out, eight to ten years of sustained training and high-class competition help produce high calibre sportspersons worthy of winning World, Olympic and Asian Games honours. School and college life in India does not guarantee this kind of dedication. The set up is still amateur.
Once the boys and girls complete graduation, engineering or medical courses their priority changes. Thus, India has lost so many talented swimmers who promised so much but delivered little in the international arena.
The country’s latest Olympian from swimming, Gagan A.P., says: “There is talent in India but not sufficient money to take to swimming as a career.” Gagan represents Jain University of Bangalore.
Whatever little success the Indian swimming has achieved is owing to the contribution of colleges and universities. In the light of this when one views the decision to organise the National aquatics meet and the all-India inter-University aquatics championship almost at the same period, it is clear that the first death knell to the discipline has been sounded, at least at the University level.
Gagan was most pained to note this aberration. “For any swimmer, the National meet gets precedence over any other championship. If one wants to represent India he has to participate at the National meet and perform. The Association of Indian Universities (AIU) should be careful in deciding the dates of its championship keeping the interest of the protagonist in mind,” he reasons.
One hopes the Olympian’s words of concern are taken seriously by the AIU.