The Thane Mayor Swimming Championships is a big draw for swimming enthusiasts living in the district of Thane & Navi Mumbai. At the recently held Thane Mayor Swimming Championships, there were scores of swimmers from Under 6 to Under 17, competing with enthusiasm and spirit. One big factor for this zeal was the cash prize that was given to each of the three medalists in all the swimming events. A gold medal would get you ₹3,000; silver would come with ₹2000, and a bronze medal would be accompanied by a cheque of ₹1500. In total, there were 59 events organized over two days at the 50-meter Thane Club swimming pool. The total money pot spent by Thane Municipal Council as prize money was around ₹3,80,000.
The impact was there to be seen. The kids were eager to compete; the parents were all charged up; the coaches were anxious and exuberant. While a lot of schools are in the midst of their annual examinations cycle, but this did not bother kids, as they were here not just to compete but also to earn money.
Swimming isn’t given due credit as a sport in our nation, at least not given the weightage as a sport, say the way Cricket is or even for that matter Kabaddi. To be fair, swimming is a very non-viewer-friendly sport. Often, the races are speedy and end under-a-minute. I mean, you wait for a race to start for 15-20 minutes, and then it ends in 30 seconds. That’s too quick, and most of the time, you are unable even to view the swimmers properly, they all look the same once they are in the race. You know them only at the start and at the end. That’s it.
And then, unlike other sports where a dark horse could emerge from the unknown, the wins are reasonably predictable. Typically, the podium spots will keep rotating between a small set of individuals. The rest are like character artists in a Hollywood film; for instance, do you recall any actors that were terminated by the machines in the film War of the Worlds, while Tom Cruise was trying to save his backside? That’s the case with swimming. It is quite elitist, in that way.
But because swimming has not been given much focus or support, we as a nation are pretty terrible at it. According to the Australian Olympian Stephanie Rice, “the best result so far of India is about 24th in the world when it comes to Olympics”.
Take the case of Tokyo Olympics 2020 to be held in June and July. Not a single Indian swimmer has qualified for any of those 35 swimming events (70 races, as there are men and women races). Aquatics sports account for the maximum number of medals at the Olympics as a sporting event, and India does not even have a chance to compete forget winning in these closely-fought races.
One of the primary reasons why we don’t have great swimmers in India is because young-age swimming is not promoted in India, the way it could. There is no concerted effort taken by governments or sports bodies to find gifted swimmers and nurture them for the future. Competitions for swimmers are held chaotically, with no gains to be made by winners, except for glory.
In this context, the Thane Mayor Swimming Competition stands out. By giving out cash prizes to the young winners, they are incentivizing swimming for these young kids. Also, the prize money is made through cheque payment that will only be made to a winner’s account. So, this also coaxes many parents to open their kid’s bank accounts.
For swimmers living in Thane, there are only a couple of events that provide such incentives for winners, the other one being the Navi Mumbai Mayor Cup Swimming Championships. The competitions are galore, but the incentives are not. In this regard, kudos is due to Thane Municipal Council, TDAA, the organisers and Mayor Naresh Mhaske’s team for making this happen. The Thane event could be a blueprint for encouraging swimming at the junior-most level in India. It was heartening to see, 6-year kids waving the cheques with pride at the end of the award ceremony.
If India needs to make a mark on the global scene, junior swimming needs to be nurtured and promoted. And to do so, we need more such events that give not only medals but also an added incentive to the winners.