One oft-repeated comment that I received on my ‘Olympics Are Biased Against Indians’ has been that I should write a fresh one for the just concluded Olympics. The article, people wrote, is hilarious; but, they want a fresh one too. So here it is, not during but after the Olympics. It is not hilarious but in my own straight-bat manner, I have tried to hit the nail on the head.
Whenever we as Indians discuss and debate any issue, just like in Arnab Goswami’s telly debates, we divide ourselves into we versus they; we are the good people with best interests of the country with us and they are the evil, inefficient, and corrupt lot who are hell-bent to take the country backwards. Shaobha De, for example is us and the politicians and ministers who didn’t let Sakshi (a Bronze Medal winner in wrestling in Rio Olympics) speak in her own felicitation function (because they wanted to grab the limelight themselves) are they. And, these we and they keep changing places depending upon the flavour of the day; for, if there is one word that describes Indians, it is opportunists. We ain’t good competitors; but we are good opportunists. All of us.
‘One reason for evil to last is for good men to do nothing about it’. This should lead us to realise that not just they but we too are responsible for the situation we are in.
Nearly a year back I wrote an article in this blog titled: ‘Indians – Poor In Record – Keeping; Armed Forces No Exception’. In this, amongst other things, I had brought out that after the 1999 Kargil War, the citation for Grenadier Yogendra Singh Yadav, who received the highest military gallantry award that the country had to offer – the Param Vir Chakra, that is, read that he was being awarded this medal posthumously. The poor Grenadier went on record saying that he didn’t want a medal that killed him even when he was still alive. This is how much we cared about the medal given for the highest in gallantry. Reacting to this article, some of my army friends emotionally brought out that this happens in fog of war. For heavens sake we are talking about the highest gallantry award and the army didn’t know whether the recipient was dead or alive.
We Are Like That Only. There are no we versus they. All of us including me are to be blamed. I remember the time when the Anna Hazare movement was at its peak. Everyone expected that once we would sort out the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats through such instruments as Lokpal Bill, India would suddenly emerge as a corruption free nation. We conveniently forgot our own involvement in making the babus and netas corrupt and our penchant to seek short-cuts to success through greasing palms of these worthies.
We are indeed like that only.
Thus, before and during the Olympics, it is made to appear that medal-winners are worthy of our respect and emulation, except that we don’t seem to be having many.
First, lets take a quick count of medals won by us in all the Olympics so far. The modern version of Summer Olympics started in 1896 and India sent just one athlete Norman Gilbert Pritchard (later as Hollywood actor Norman Trevor) to the second of those in the year 1900. He won two Silver medals. But, he was of British parentage, born in Calcutta and in 1905 went to settle in Britain.
We didn’t send a team until the sixth Olympics in 1920 when a team of six men (four athletes and two wrestlers) and two managers participated. We drew a blank. We drew a blank again in 1924 when we sent a team of 14 (seven athletes and seven tennis players) with one manager.
Our first Olympic Gold came in the year 1928, in the eighth Olympics, when we sent a team of 21 (seven athletes and 14 hockey players with the manager GD Sondhi. We won the hockey finals. We won the hockey gold for the next five Olympics in succession. Hockey also helped us get our first Olympic Gold as an independent nation in the 1948 London Olympics.
The first Indian (and not of British parentage who just happened to be born in India when India was under the British) to win an individual medal was in the the twelfth Olympics, the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav won a wrestling bronze in the Bantam Weight category. Despite his sterling performances in national events he nearly missed a berth for the Helsinki Olympics due to nepotism, the bane of Indian sports. He didn’t bow down to corruption in Indian sports but appealed to Maharaja of Patiala, himself a sports enthusiast. The Maharaja felicitated his entry in Olympic trials where Jhadav defeated his opponent who was otherwise billed to go to Olympics!
What was the honour bestowed on him being the first Indian individual medal winner in Olympics? None, since he had earned the ire of the officials. Three years after the Helsinki Olympics, he joined as a sub-inspector in police. He continued winning domestic competitions. He was also a wrestling coach. He served in the police for 27 years and retired as Assistant Police Commissioner and since he had learnt to fight in wrestling, they made him fight for his pension. He was a pariah of the sports federations and thus neither a Padma Shri nor any riches were bestowed on him. He died of a tragic accident in 1984. In the last few years of his life and until his death, he was a poor man. That is India’s first individual medal winner. Do you think any industry in India, any organisation, any philanthropist supported him? The answer is none.
The last Olympics before India became independent were held in 1936 in Berlin and our team size was 27 competitors (four athletes, three wrestlers, one Burmese weight-lifter, and a hockey team of 19) and three officials including manager G D Sondhi. As soon as we became independent, our team size bulged to 79 and from 3 sports and we suddenly started taking part in ten sports. In 1952 Helsinki Olympics, for the first time we sent 3 women. Thus, after their inception in 1896, it is only in the twelfth Olympics that we sent women (there were no Olympics held in 1916 due to World War I and 1940 and 1944 due to World War II).
In Hockey, we have won a total of 11 medals including 8 Golds, 2 Silver and 1 Bronze. In individual medals, thanks to the deplorable treatment meted out to Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav, our next individual medal came only in 1996 (23rd Olympics) when Leander Paes won a Bronze in Tennis (men’s Singles). Leander Paes competed in consecutive Olympics from 1992 to 2016 making him the only tennis player in the world to have participated in seven Olympics.
He has been bestowed with many awards. He has received the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, India’s highest sporting honour, in 1996–97; the Arjuna Award in 1990; the Padma Shri award in 2001 and its 3rd Highest Civilian Award the Padma Bhushan in January 2014 for his outstanding contribution to tennis in India.
At this juncture let me bring out that there is money in tennis and cricket. Yuvraj, for example, instantly won a crore rupees for hitting six sixes in an over. The reason is that both these sports are well suited for advertisements in between the overs and the games and there are huge advertisement budgets and sponsorships involved in both the games.
Compare these with an event that both our men and women have been winning since its inception in 2004, the Kabaddi World Cup, that is. So far, there have been seven world cups for men and three for women (since 2012). We have won all the seven golds for men and all the three golds for women. But, have a look at the women waiting for and finally getting into an auto-rickshaw after winning the World Cup:
If you go on the net or check the newspapers, you would get to see our former sports persons who brought glory to the nation languishing in poverty. Here are a few of those pics:
I am not going to fill this entire blog with numerous stories of neglect of sports persons even after they made the country proud.
Lets take one of the most famous: Shankar Lakshman who was the goalkeeper of the Indian team in the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics, that won two gold medals and one silver medal. He was the first goalkeeper to become Captain of an international hockey team and was awarded the Arjuna award and the Padma Shri by the Indian government. He was Captain of the Indian team which won the gold in the 1966 Asian Games. After missing the selection for the 1968 Olympics, Lakshman quit hockey. He remained with the Army, retiring in 1979 as a Captain of the Maratha Light Infantry. He lived the final years of his life in poverty, and died in 2006 after suffering gangrene in one leg, in Mhow.
Lets take just one more case, that of Sita Sahu. This intrepid 15-year-old at the time of 2011 Special Olympics at Athens won for the country two Bronze medals: in 200 m relay race and in 1600 m race. What does she do now? She still lives in abject poverty and sells golgappas and paapdi chaats.
In our characteristic style we blame the netas and the babus and the self-serving officials of sports federations in India, very sure in our minds that we ourselves have no role to play in this rot. And then we blame the money spinning games of cricket and tennis for the neglect of other sports.
Who goes to see the cricket and tennis matches? We do. Who goes and spends hours and days watching tamasha (spectacle) at the IPL? We do. Indian sports persons have won a total of only 28 medals in all the Olympics so far that include two of Norman Pritchard and 11 of Hockey; a miserable 15 medals in 28 Olympics. Six of these were won in London Olympics and two in Rio. This means that we just had seven individual medals to our credit in 26 Olympics.
Five years ago, I wrote an article titled ‘Indians Bartering Character For Prosperity’. I concluded the article with the following words:
“At the present juncture, I am sorry to say, we are doomed to be what we bemoaned at one time: ‘a rich country inhabited by the poor’; except that now, poor is defined as ‘poor in character‘.
Everyone of us has to bring in (and do so proudly) discipline in our individual and collective lives.”
Lets face it; we love tamasha (spectacle) whether in sports or in religion or in anything we do. Everything has to be seen in money terms. IPL interests us because it is a media-made tamasha, that makes us feel great just like three hours spent watching a Hindi movie takes us away from the reality of the squalor and misery that we still live in.
And if we feel that the political leaders are responsible for this mess, think again. Who elects them? We do.
During the height of Anna Hazare movement, I wrote several articles as to why the movement would fail unless we are involved in clearing the mess and not leave it to them to do so. My only poem in Punjabi (my mother tongue) was ‘Anne Na Raho (Don’t Remain Blind)’ bringing out our own responsibility in electing the right people and not just toss a coin and vote or not to wait at all.
And, mind you, we are talking about medals won in sports. As a nation we don’t have respect for those who won gallantry medals at the risk of their lives or often sacrificing their lives for the country.
Here is a spectacle of veterans returning their medals in protest against the non-implementation of One Rank One Pension. Who cares? We don’t.
Next time, following the advice of our former and most respected President: Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, rather than pointing finger at the political bosses and some other officials, lets point a finger at ourselves and begin with ourselves to set things right. Lets take a pledge, for example, that we shall desist from such tamasha as IPL and encourage our athletes and other sportsmen, even if the current entertainment value of watching them is little.
Lets all win together and not make it look like that they are us if they win and they are they if they lose.
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