Both Sakshi Malik and P.V. Sindhu will go down in history as two exceptionally outstanding women athletes who salvaged the pride of a medal hungry nation at the Rio Olympics, where India, for the first time, had sent a 120-member strong contingent. Sakshi worked against all odds to overcome hurdles and a misogynist mindset to become the first woman wrestler to bag a bronze at the Olympic Games. It was her total commitment, perseverance and determination which helped her to succeed. Similarly, Sindhu, who had the advantage of being coached by the legendary P. Gopichand, rose to the occasion on the world’s biggest sporting stage and thus delivered, sending a billion Indians into unmatched ecstasy. There can be no words to describe how the emerging badminton icon displayed technique, composure and grit to set the court on fire. Along with Saina Nehwal and Sania Mirza and of course Sakshi Malik and the irrepressible Dipa Karmakar, Sindhu has carved a place for herself in the sporting lexicon of this country. Needless to say, it was a saddening experience viewing Dipa missing the medal by a whisker, but her buoyant optimism, coupled with the burning desire to achieve excellence has demonstrated that no amount of red tape and narrow thinking of officials and those connected with the preparations can deter a star from making it to the constellation.

It is a matter of deep shame that well known columnist and author Shobhaa De had chosen to belittle Indian athletes participating in the Games through unwarranted tweets that blasphemously happened to continue. De has the right to express herself, but to damn the sportspersons who overcame all odds to find a berth in the Indian contingent to Rio was indeed unpardonable. Had the writer come out with an informed opinion, one could have comprehended a point or two; but to come out so unfairly against the Olympic contingent was totally uncalled for. The graceful thing to do would have been to withdraw her comments and proffer an apology.

However, what has caused immense pain is the manner in which the Indian Olympic Association and the Sports Ministry have treated Narsingh Yadav, a wrestler with a medal winning potential. Narsingh probably has become a victim of vicious rivalry and an equally callous attitude of the sports authorities. He now faces a four-year ban for an offence he never committed. The way his case was handled by the IOA, shows total lack of foresight, anticipation and preparedness. First of all, he suffered on account of a court case filed by Olympic medal winner Sushil Kumar and subsequently became a victim of intrigue and malicious actions perpetrated by unknown persons who wanted to ensure that he would not catch the flight to Rio. Nevertheless, the notable wrestler managed to reach Rio largely because Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw merit in his pleadings. In Rio, the callousness of the Indian authorities was in full view as the lawyers who had argued his case in New Delhi were absent to take up cudgels on his behalf when the matter came up before the Court of Arbitration of Sports (CAS). The outcome being that India’s medal prospect was unable to compete.

The story of official apathy and lacklustre approach was clearly evident when on the eve of the Rio Games, the captains of both the men’s and women’s hockey teams were replaced. It was perplexing that the foreign coaches recommended the changes and the federation agreed with the logic, thereby upsetting the winning rhythm of the teams. It is not only heart breaking for any player to endure such gear-shifting changes and being stripped of captaincy at the last minute must have severely affected Sardara Singh’s game, thus impacting the overall performance of the entire team. The problem, as is made out to be, lies not so much with our sportspersons, but with the bureaucracy entrusted with the preparatory task. There is an urgent need to make heads roll in the federations, rather than holding individual players responsible for the fiascos.

Indian sports have had no dearth of idols. From the legendary Milkha Singh to P.T. Usha and from Major Dhyan Chand to Balbir Singh (Sr), Ajitpal Singh, Mohammad Shahid and Dhanraj Pillai, there has been a galaxy of path-breaking athletes, who have become household names. Every country has sporting heroes. In Rio, Michael Phelps of the United States ensured that he had made an indelible mark for all times to come. Usain Bolt of Jamaica has done which no other athlete before him had ever achieved. The late Teofilio Stevenson of Cuba would have been as big a boxing legend as Mohammad Ali was if he had turned professional after winning three heavyweight golds in successive Olympics in 1972 (Munich), 1976 (Montreal) and 1980 (Moscow). The late Florence Griffith Joyner of the US still has standing records to her name after winning the women’s 100 metres and 200 metres at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. Bob Beamon’s long jump record stood for 22 years after he leapt to victory in Mexico in the 1968 Olympics. But all these legends had coaches and federations to back them.

The short point is that our girls have done it this time. They have made the whole country proud. It is not easy by far for a sportsperson in a third world country to excel, given the kind of limitations he or she has to deal with. Thus, before we criticise our athletes, we must always keep in mind that there is no substitute for hard work, focus and the unflinching aspiration to succeed. This is a lesson which underlines the performances of Sindhu, Sakshi and Dipa. Between us.


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