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India’s Daughters: TWO MEDALS DON’T TOTAL WIN, By Poonam I Kaushish, 20 Aug, 2016 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 20 August 2016

India’s Daughters


By Poonam I Kaushish


Shuttler PV Sindhu, wrestler Sakshi Malik and gymnast Dipa Karmakar were nameless non-entities. Just a part of the Indian contingent to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics 2016. Till a silver and bronze medals and fourth ranking changed their life for ever, paved their future in gold, brought glory to India and re-wrote the rules of how we will always view these Games.

A billion-strong nation came out like termites out of the woodwork to toast and sing paeans over India’s daughters ‘Smashing Sakshi, Sindhu, Dipa’. But in the delirious cacophony of congratulations perhaps not many noticed that these three young lasses reflect ‘Yuva Bharat’ have struggled and clawed to reach where they are. By sheer grit and determination, believing in themselves, their never-say-die attitude, living their dreams and turning them into reality.

Today, as the Central and various State Governments open their coffers and dole out awards running into crores has anyone pondered to pause and think. What are they celebrating? That it took India 68 years to come this far?  Where was the Government, federation heavyweights and sports officials’ when these sportspersons needed them most?

Are we rejoicing that these victories are no thanks to the Government and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA)? Or, that despite all adversities these sportsmen did India proud?

Think. Pusarla Venkata Sindhu would travel 56 kms everyday, leaving home at 4am riding pillion on her father's scooter, to get to ex-badminton champion Gopichand’s training centre in Hyderabad. Or the flat-footed Dipa Karmakar from Agartala who mastered the ‘deadly’ Produnova vault on a handspring with duct-tape, scooter parts and a little bit of spit. And Haryana’s Sakshi Malik from Mokhra village who began her training in wrestling as a 12-year-old in a region where the sport was ‘not for girls’.

Lalita Shivaji Babar, only the third Indian woman to make it to an athletics final in an Olympic Games -- she ran the 3000 m steeplechase -- and the first to qualify since PT Usha in 1984, began running barefoot as a child to faraway wells to fetch water, realizing that winning races brought in precious prize money that could be used to help her impoverished 17-plus family in Maharashtra's drought-prone Satara district. And golfer Aditi Ashok.

This is not all. The authorities leave athletes to fend for themselves, with the meagre support of families and coaches, although many of India’s best sports people hail from underprivileged sections of society compared to other countries which have higher regard for their athletes financially and culturally. 

Official callousness was on full display when the Sports Authority of India rejected Dipa Karmakar’s request to allow her long-time physio to travel with her to Rio Apparently, the SAI considered it ‘wasteful’ expenditure. But after Dipa qualified for the final, her physio was rushed to Rio to keep the gymnast in top shape.

Adding insult to injury, sportspersons were meted out shoddy treatment at a dinner hosted by the Sports Ministry in Rio. Instead of Indian delicacies they were treated to peanuts! Why? The officials were to busy tending to the needs of Sports Minister Vijay Goel and his ‘Selfie’ mania.

Worse, Goel embarrassed the country no end by getting admonished and warned with revocation of his accreditation by the Rio authorities for trying to bully his way into sports venues. Nonchalantly dismissing it as, “The authorities are just making a big deal out of nothing.” Sic.

Certainly, Indian sports are in a dismal state of affairs. Just see how our netas-babus, federation heavyweights and ports officials’ chronic official indifference transforms in to ecstatic jubilation when a sportsperson scripts a success story. They scramble as if the victory was due to their productive role.

Perhaps, one of the major problems is that we are not serious about sports. We talk of sporting events as an aside. Nothing more than a conversation point which sounds good. More. In keeping with our herd mentality we follow the fads with the changing season. Today badminton may be fashionable, tomorrow it may be back to cricket. Sindhu, Sakshi, Dipa, Dhoni, Kohli have your pick.

In this scenario, the Olympics naturally too get treated casually and cavalierly. Something of a hyped media event to be touted as the hottest brand for a limited period. A fortnight long circus where it is fashionable to be seen. A paid holiday for politicians, bureaucrats, managers etc. Nothing more, nothing less.

Olympics after Olympics the story is the same. India continues to remain “also ran” along-with poor infrastructure, entrenched political corruption and infighting, and chaos and disorganization. Money earmarked for Olympic training is often mysteriously sidelined, facilities for training are in poor shape and equipment goes missing.

This has been going on shamelessly, primarily because of the total failure of sports management system, leading to bad planning. Scandalously, various stadiums built for the Commonwealth Games in 2010 across the country are locked for sportsperson but are opened for non-sporting events.

Arguably, when our various sports federations are controlled by netas and babus what else can one expect? They exist on five star consumerism and vested interest. Ambitious people with powerful connections who have little to contribute to sports, but have everything to gain. Massage their inflated egos, make money and distribute patronage.


They take a battalion of their high-flying socialites to international sporting does as cheer-leaders. While sportsmen languish in dormitories with a stipend of a mere US $25 a day, a Haryana Minister spent Rs one crore for his Rio trip.

Add to this poor management of sporting bodies along-with favouritism. Officials are more interested in their re-election than working for the betterment of sports. Not only are they clueless about spotting talent, nourishing and nurturing it is a far cry. Whoever hits the spotlight is due to one’s own merit, private coaching or by a fluke.

All this flies in the face of practice and norms in countries which produce a large number of Olympic winners. Sports there are managed by two categories of managers and, importantly, vested interests are kept out. One, those who have been former champions.

Two, sports patrons who have nothing to take from sports but everything to give. If we were to honestly follow their approach and catch’em young, then Olympic medal winners will start coming in automatically. Did you know that in Russia, coaches scout for swimming talent among three years old or gymnasts who are barely able to speak? Famous tennis player Monica Sales started playing at three thanks to coaches who recognised her talent early.

Finally, the million dollar question? How is the Government going to pull out the country from this sports morass?  For starters keep politicians and bureaucrats out of sports and its federations. It is plain that rescuing sport from the Octopus-like grip of vested interests, pathetic management, bad planning deceit and money across the country will be a long and painful process.


Nevertheless, a beginning has to be made soon. We have to be clear about what we want to achieve and how? The true legacy of the two medals will lie in whether money can now be made available to build the training superstructure for all sports and sportspersons and start grooming young talents.


In sum, India desperately needs: healthy sport. Will we clean bowl sports or will we play it to the hilt? Else, reconcile to being spoil sports! – INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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