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August 3, 2000

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The Inner I

Sujata Prakash

This morning, I like many others read the vision statement of the BCCI.

At this point, I still don't know if the BCCI is going to implement all that it promises to, but I do know that it has made quite a few promises.

There will be an academy which will train players to compete with the best. There will be promotion of the game and enhancement of facilities. There will be an honest attempt made to win the next World Cup. And there will be more money for players who perform better.

There is more. But as I read on, I couldn't help but think about two words which took on an even bigger significance coming in the wake of the match-fixing disgrace.

Vision. Performance.

I'm not talking of the board here. I'm thinking of the players. If we asked them, today, what vision they have for themselves, would they have one? If they did, what would it be? 'To do my best, to be the best'? And would they then match words with effort?

Why is it that we cannot produce world number ones like Jahangir Khan or Pete Sampras? Why is it that we are embarassingly short of a second name to put alongside Sachin Tendulkar?

We can't even claim Vijay Singh as our own.

Could this vacuum in sporting excellence be filled by providing the right coaches, the right facilities? I would like to think so -- but then, I look at Sachin and I wonder, which academy did he train in before he went to Pakistan, aged all of 16, and stood up to the bouncers of Akram and Younis?

I guess he must have had a vision. One which he dredged up from somewhere deep within, because you need one when you're just 16 and facing the world's fastest bowler. Or when you're 24 and need to drag your team into the next round because no one else will. When he scored the last winning run, I can bet he wasn't thinking of the pay-for-performance deal or the better contract which waited him.

This is not to say that a player should not be induced to perform better, or that he should not be shepherded along by the best training he can get. Many have, and succeeded But as we constantly see, the real achievers are the ones who thrive on competition, get motivated by their own personal burning desires, and do not rest content by being second best.

Like Dikembe Mutombo. I don't watch basketball much, but on the rare occasions that I do, he is one of those who stand out. Just as he must be to countless native Africans. Born in Kinshasa, he came to the USA (around 1990) for college, with a dream of making it to the NBA. He did. In 1996, he was signed by Atlanta Hawks for a deal worth $58 million, for 5 years. Today, he is rated the best defender in the NBA.

He is also the highest contributor to the coffers of his war-torn country.

Now, that's a man with a mission. Someone who didn't need vision statements, and official carrots. A man with his own vision, one which took him to places that other athletes, with equal skill perhaps, and possibly even exposure to better facilities, could not reach.

As I write this, I confess I am moved by this word, vision. The dictionary may define it one way -- but no dictionary can capture its larger connotation. For instance, what dictionary can define the vision of a Tiger Woods, a Michael Jordan? Or of the late James Thurber, who became a much better writer after he lost his vision and became blind? It was Thurber in fact who declared, with characteristic humour, that 'a blind man benefits from lack of distraction; my one-eight vision obscures the sad and ungainly sights.'

Maybe, just maybe, they'll make an academy one day which can teach vision. Teach us to see, with the inner eye, not what is, but what is possible.

Sujata Prakash

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