I have not been watching events at the Tokyo Olympics on TV but closely enough to know who has won and who lost. Of course, when India is involved, my antenna is up. I despair every time an Indian player has to settle for a bronze and my heart beats not for the loss to the nation but for the individual or team that was out there, pain written large on their faces.
That is because in our country, excelling at the world’s top sporting arena is a personal struggle and therefore a personal achievement. Whether it is Mirabai Chanu, Mary Kom, Ravi Kumar Dahiya, Lovlina Borgohain, Dutee Chand, members of the men’s and women’s hockey teams and others – all of them have given their sweat and blood to be where they are.
We have been celebrating both the winners and losers. Winners for doing the nation proud and losers for ‘being there doing that,’ ‘going down valiantly,’ ‘down but not out.’ And we have been doing that for years. Celebrating mediocrity. We have made heroes out of Milkha Singh and PT Usha who ‘nearly’ won the bronze medal. This is not taking away from the talent or achievements of such sportspersons but think of the heights they would have reached had their struggle not been entirely their own?
A senior colleague recently wrote, “Anything less than gold does not deserve a carnival of the nation’s emotions. History usually does not remember silver or bronze medallists. It certainly does not even cursorily record the names of those who go down valiantly fighting for bronze.”
“It is a comment on India’s complacency that we celebrate Milkha Singh and PT Usha as two of our greatest national icons,” he further wrote. (My example of the same two athletes happens to be a matter of chance. Two minds thinking alike).
Well, in our country, we do remember silver and bronze medallists and even those who go down valiantly fighting for bronze and they have made history for us, simply because they are our only achievers. India has no choice but to be complacent because successive governments have done precious little for such potential sporting stars. What else can a sheepish nation do?
Where was the government when Mirabai Chanu was hitching rides from truckers to reach Imphal for training? When Ravi Dahiya was sweating it out in a village without a proper road and electricity or when others were fighting poverty? When PR Sreejesh’s father sold his cow to buy his son a hockey kit? So, if a grateful government doles out money, jobs, titles and facilities the athletes deserve every bit of it. They may not have made India a force to reckon with but at least they gave a tough fight to their opponents and India made its presence in the international sports community.
Unlike other countries where nothing less than a clear victory is acknowledged and athletes are panned for letting their country down if they lose, in our case, we owe to our athletes and players, to bring us back home whichever medal they could to the best of their capacity. They don’t owe anything to us. We should be beholden to them for our national anthem playing in the background when they stand on the podium and every time the tri-colour makes an appearance.
We cannot hope to produce champions till the time we nurture talent at the nascent stage and till we accord sports the importance and respect it deserves. We will continue to revel in mediocrity till the time we keep equating educational degrees with success. Sports must become a career option in the same league as medicine, engineering and law. The very fact that most athletes are from less privileged backgrounds who are driven purely by passion, is a reflection of our attitude towards sports. How many children from public schools have made it big in sports?
After all, how can you expect to produce champions when there is only one sports period in the school?
We have long been fed on:
Padhoge likhoge banoge nawab
Kheloge kudoge banoge kharab
Let’s snap out of it!