In the year 2012, a shocking revelation came in the form of an official response to a query submitted to The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports by 12-year-old Aishwarya Parashar. The inquisitive child from Lucknow filed a Right To Information (RTI) application to the Prime Minister’s office for official copies of the declaration of the National Anthem, bird, animal, flower and sport- enduring symbols of the culture and diversity of our nation. The answer she received from the then Secretary of Sports Ministry, Shiv Pratap Singh Tomar, came in the form of an unexpected blow to the nation as a whole.
“The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has not declared any particular game as the ‘National Sport of India’” the Secretary stated, shattering long-held childhood beliefs all over the country.
The national sport of a country is considered an important, intrinsic part of a nation’s culture, and is meant to be a source of pride to citizens. Any school-going Indian child will tell you that our national animal is the mighty tiger. They are taught that the colourful peacock is our national bird. Our national anthem, Jana Gana Mana, is played over the PA system as part of our enforced morning routine. A common question on our General Knowledge examinations asks ‘What is the national sport of India?’ to which every clever child, surpassing the expected ‘Cricket’, proudly scribbles ‘Hockey’ onto their blank answer sheets.
Contrary to what we are taught at school, however, hockey is not India’s national sport. If you were one of those clever school kids with impressive grades in General Knowledge, you might wonder, when did this change?
The answer? It never did. India does not recognize hockey as their national sport and never has. In fact, India does not recognize any sport as their national game. This declaration further posits the question, where then, does this belief stem from? Are we to believe that the institutions that moulded us, and nurtured our intellect, were built on a foundation of lies?
Myth and History
The national sport of a nation is conventionally decided on the basis of a deep-rooted historical connect, or widespread popularity of the game amongst the population. Some are of the opinion that this common misconception was born from the international success of the sport since its Olympic debut in 1928. The Indian Hockey Team secured an outstanding total of six Olympic gold wins from 1928 to 1956, turning the sport into a household name amongst appreciative, prideful citizens. However, our performance in the sport today is disappointing, to say the least.
Success in sporting events is not set in stone and is a poor criterion by which to decide which sports make the cut for the title of National Sport. This is, in all probability, why hockey does not meet the qualifying standards. A close second, cricket, was not popular in the country before 1983, when India secured its very first World Cup Win.
Cultural significance is the only remaining factor by which a national sport may be decided. India is famously regarded as a melting pot of different cultures, with a plethora of differences concerning the habits and histories of each. While sports like Kabaddi are popular amongst northern peoples, activities like boat racing dominate the cultures of the south. This disconnect between the innumerable cultural mindsets of our nation makes it difficult to pick one sport to act as a symbol of pride for the whole country.
While India may not have a national sport to call our own, hockey and cricket will forever hold a special place in the hearts and minds of the Indian population. With one metaphorical bubble popped, let’s explore some of the lesser-known national sports of other countries and their cultural and historical significance as cherished symbols of national integrity.
1. Argentina – Pato
Pato, a word derived from the Spanish juega del pato, meaning “Duck Game”, is a sport played on horseback, and is a combination of elements of both polo and basketball. Declared as the national sport of Argentina in the year 1953, early versions of the game employed the use of a live duck inside the basket instead of a ball. With a playing field that usually covered the distance between neighbouring ranches, the objective of the sport used to be to reach one’s own casco (ranch house) with the duck in tow. Thankfully, modern renditions of the game have traded in the duck for a ball with six conveniently-sized handles and is played on grassy fields.
2.Turkey – Oil Wrestling
Oil wrestling, or grease wrestling, is the national sport of Turkey, so named due to the practice of wresters dousing themselves in olive oil before matches. The wrestlers, also known as pehlivans, meaning hero or champion, don a type of hand-stitched leather trouser known as a kisbet, traditionally made from water buffalo hide or calfskin. The objective of the sport is for the pehlivan to take control of their opponent by putting their arm through their opponent’s kisbet. Historically, the game had no set duration and would go on for days at a time, until one of the contestants had successfully established authority over the other. However, modern wrestling matches are usually capped off at the 30-40-minute mark.
3.Japan – Sumo Wrestling
Sumo, derived from a Japanese term meaning “striking one another” is considered to be the national sport of Japan. A form of competitive, full-contact wrestling, the objective of Sumo is for a wrestler, known as a rikishi, to force their opponent out of a circular ring, known as a dohyō. Alternatively, matches can also be won by one’s opponent making any form of physical contact with the ground, besides the soles of their feet. The sport originated in Japan, and follows a rigorous regiment for participants, with professional sumo wrestlers living in communal stables known as heya, wherein every aspect of their daily lives, from meals to clothing, are dictated by traditional custom.
4.Ireland – Gaelic Football
Gaelic Football, commonly referred to as Caid or Gaelic, is played between two teams consisting of 15 players each, in a rectangular grassy pitch. Contrary to the version of football common in European countries, Gaelic football is a combination of both soccer and volleyball, meaning players may punch, carry, bounce, hand-pass and kick the ball on their way to victory. Players may score in the form of both points and goals, with points being awarded for kicking or hand-passing the ball over the crossbar, and goals being when the ball is kicked under the crossbar into a net.
5.Chile – Chilean Rodeo