The winning of the gold medal by Abhinav Bindra in the Beijing Olympics, 2008, is indeed a matter of great pride for not just the sports loving people of this country but also for every Indian. It is special to me for three key reasons: firstly, the triumph of this young man with a childish innocence has literally brought India out of the notional apartheid and a sort of Below Poverty Line (BPL) status it had had for long in the global sporting arena. His win assumes a larger than life status, considering the fact that never ever in the 112 years of Olympics’ history has any Indian athlete won an individual gold medal; the last gold medal we had earned was in the team event of hockey, and that too 28 years ago!
The other reason that makes Abhinav’s feat so special to me is that after watching the India contingent walking past during the inaugural ceremony, I was so filled with shame that I had almost given it a zero chance of anything close to even a single gold – something that’s so huge for this nation of a billion people. While the American team walked in so smartly dressed, waving to President Bush, and team after team marched smartly, making their country proud – be it in tiny contingents or large ones – the way the Indians walked out on to the field was the most embarrassing for any Indian. If you thought that wearing a common dress code was a basic necessity for such globally telecast functions, all you had to do was to see our ‘national’ representatives to do away with such fantastic notions. Seeing our men dressed in just about acceptable sherwanis was just about OK, but the way our women athletes were dressed was outright horrible! Some in sarees, some in salwar suits with dupattas that looked completely mismatched by any standards; and on top of it Sania Mirza’s attire – a track suit!!! It almost looked as if she were coming straight from a practice session and looked completely disinterested in the entire ceremony! Every team had a sense of national pride, which was visible in its dress code; and the way Indians didn’t even bother about a dress code in the highest form of representation of the country in a world forum – with the highest number of people on Earth watching it – was nothing but almost a sort of a national shame. To top it all, the players were carrying video cameras and busy recording the stadium atmosphere while walking past. During those moments, I felt that a contingent, which doesn’t even know how to give a respectable picture of its country during the march past, can hardly be expected to do anything at the Games – for the winning spirit of a team can be seen as much from these things as on the field. It is reported that on being asked about the horrible attire worn by Indian women, the explanation was that there were none who could have helped the women’s squad to tie a saree, so they couldn’t be uniformly dressed! Although nothing can beat such an outrageous excuse, still, if one has to consider that what is said was correct, then I wonder why so many officials are around [as per reports, the number of officials accompanying the squad is almost on an 1:1 ratio!!] and for what purpose, if such a basic and crucial thing like attire [which is a matter of national pride] has not been taken care of. It is unfortunate that while large amounts of taxpayers’ money is being drained on officials – who obviously had gone there to watch the games at the expense of taxpayers –there was a sheer lack of people to work as a support system for the players.
The third thing that makes Abhinav’s win big is the very fact that strangely enough, whoever does well in sports in India has done the same on his or her own efforts, and with personal money and hard work – not because of the system but despite the system. Be it Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi or RS Rathore, and of course, not forgetting Abhinav Bindra, who had a mini shooting pavilion at his own home. When one talks to these greats, one realises how they have constantly faced humiliation and hurdles despite doing their country proud – an example was how Jaspal Rana was treated before the last Asian Games. If there is any Olympic sport that had got us a regular flow of medals in the past, it was hockey; and despite that, even for hockey, we have not bothered to create a world-class environment for repeated success. And it has been nothing less than a national shame that the Indian hockey team could not even qualify for the Olympics this time. And we all know that one of the major reasons for that has been the major rot that has developed in the Indian Hockey Federation over the years. In fact, not just hockey, each of the sporting federations of this country has become personal fiefdoms of some individuals who more often than not are from political backgrounds. And instances of favouritism, nepotism, corruption and misappropriation of funds are mostly a norm than the exception. In the midst of all the hype over Abhinav Bindra, the utter shameful episode that took place with respect to dope testing of Monika Devi has been completely forgotten. It was rather shocking to hear her allegations against senior SAI officials over partiality in favour of another weightlifter named Shailja. And more shocking than this is the U-turn of officials after her outburst and after the intervention of the government, when she was cleared of the charges of testing positive in dope tests. What happened was perhaps a tip of the iceberg about the rot in the sporting system of our country. And probably this is where China is so very different from us! Though it wouldn’t be right to compare ourselves with China, simply because like all other streams, even ‘sport’ is completely regimented in totalitarian China. But then, what is noteworthy is how the Chinese, despite being our next door neighbours and despite their being constantly compared to us, not only managed to bag the Olympics Golds but staged a never before seen spectacle on earth and are right amongst the top medal winners for more than twenty years now!
The bottom line is that like Abhinav Bindra, there are several potential champions in this country. But they need to be nurtured. And unlike Abhinav Bindra, not everyone’s father is a billionaire. The only way to salvage sports in this country is to completely immunize these potential world beaters from politicians and middlemen and instead professionalize their management. For all its inherent flaws, if BCCI can do the same to cricket – that is, nurture and encourage world champions – then why can’t the Sports Authority of India?!? When the Chinese nationals win medals, it’s the nation too that wins alongside for the support it provided to those nationals. But when an Indian wins the medal – despite our national anthem being played there – can the nation claim to have won the medal too?!??
- 24 April 2008 |