There was a prince in the great Hindu mythological epic Mahabharata, Arjuna, considered to be the greatest archer ever. Indian government awards the Arjuna Awards to outstanding athletes every year. There was also Dronacharya, his guru. We have an award after his name too, for coaches.
P V Sindhu won an Olympic Silver medal in a moment that brought great joy and pride to whole of India. Sindhu, and Saina Nehwal before her in London, are both protégés of Pullela Gopichand or Gopi Sir, former All-England champion and the man behind the Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad. Kidambi Srikanth — quarterfinalist in Rio — is also his disciple. Tributes started pouring in for Sindhu on her stupendous triumph. Her profile, biography and struggles were the highlights on social and electronic media. Naturally, Mr. Gopichand was being praised too. And then something happened.
There is a school of thought, on the internet of course, that giving Gopi a part of the credit for Sindhu’s triumph not only takes the focus away from her, it also follows some sort of a pattern where credit due to women is given to men. Like, really? Do we need to drag feminism into this?
Sindhu’s hardwork and determination have taken her to the podium and there’s no doubting that. But saying that Gopi shouldn’t be congratulated on the result or that doing so takes focus away from her is inaccurate.
We live in an age where more than ever, men and women work in close proximity and influence and assist each other’s success. This is true in just about every field you take up – engineering, politics and sports. Mr. Gopichand has been instrumental in shaping the careers of most of our current badminton stars and up until last year — when Saina left his academy to train under the tutelage of Mr. Vimal in Bengaluru — he was the coach of the country’s top three singles players. Just as we acknowledge the role of Dronacharya in Arjuna’s success, we must take note of the role Gopi has played in the success of our shuttlers. His wards have brought the country the laurels he couldn’t, from World Championship medals to top rank in the world to Olympic glory. It was a well-deserved, if fortuitous, bronze in London and a tour-dé-force Silver here. Now for Gold!
The casteist Indian :
This Google search screenshot did the rounds after Sindhu’s win. Now this might be influenced by the search history of the person concerned, but it does show us in poor light if we are checking the caste details of a person who made sure that every Indian regardless of caste, creed, sex and religion, was beaming with pride that night.
Apathy and Hypocrisy lead to more heartburn :
No, I’m not talking about the official apathy that our athletes have to face time and again. I’m talking about the general populace. We see these hardworking guys once every 4 years when we consider them worthier of our time than cricket. And our blood boils from righteous anger when they fail to get a podium finish or heck, fail to even qualify for the finals of their respective events. Hardly what they deserve.
While P V Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar are household names now, how many people will be able to tell which event Dattu Bhokanal took part in? Or who was the second-best shooter at these games from the country? I’m generously considering that they’d know that Abhinav Bindra, gold medallist in Beijing, missed a bronze by 0.5 points in Rio. And these are the standouts. Even I’d struggle if I was asked to name all the members of the women’s archery team (I only recall Bombayla Devi and Deepika Kumari).The answer to the questions here are Rowing and Jitu Rai, respectively. My point is, we don’t care enough about those who make it their life mission to achieve glory for the country at the biggest stage in sport. We don’t want our kids to have anything to do with sports, other than the odd gully cricket or football game in the evenings. So when you won’t check whether your own kid has an aptitude for outdoors, won’t let him pursue it when he’s in +2 (since that’d spoil his chance of getting in a top college), how come you expect others to excel? And do we even know how harsh the lives of many of these Olympians were before they reached that stage? The answer is an emphatic NO! For a sample, here’s Bhokanal’s story.
Singapore’s 21 year-old Joseph Schooling beat Michael Phelps in 100 m butterfly to win Gold, inspired by a meeting with Phelps eight years ago. How many people here, even those with the means to do it, will let their kids pursue swimming as a career?
Change must take place, one person at a time :
Thing is, we must respect even those who are the last in their competitions at the Olympics. They are the best of our nation. More often than not, they did it despite the system. The amount of money Sindhu and Sakshi are getting now, if even a minuscule percentage of that had been spent well in advance before the games, Dipa wouldn’t have had to gamble her life on the deathly Produnova. She might then have been able to beat Simone Biles and co at their own game, with “normal” vaults. But shoulda, coulda, woulda don’t cut things, do they?
We must build a sports culture for jerks like Piers Morgan to not be able to mock our country’s athletes “losing” gold. And that change must start from The Individual. We need to embrace sports as a lifestyle and make it mandatory in our school and college curricula. That’d not only win us more medals but also ensure the scourge of diabetes and hypertension don’t ravage our nation. Oh, and I despise the blatant elitism and casteism of the Dronacharya-Eklavya episode. But that’s a rant for another day.
Do share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.
Images courtesy : Google Images.