Two and two. Four ? Or twenty two? That depends on how you want to view the equation. As the Rio mania subsides, you will hear and read about how a nation of 1.3 billion people sent 117 athletes across 15 games to the Olympics but returned with only 2 medals. When we look at how our sportspersons have had to battle all odds to even make it to the international arena, I do believe that ‘less’ is more. If it’s academics, it’s centums, if it’s sports, it’s medals. Has anyone factored in something called ‘performance’? Missing the bronze by a whisker did not make gymnast Dipa Karmakar any less a winner. Not when you saw her death-defying ‘Produnova’ vault at the final. Not when you consider how bigwigs at the Sports Authority of India had once written her off on the ground that she had ‘flat feet’. Not when you realise that she had equipment as sophisticated as old scooter parts assembled together.
Everytime I see young boys and girls from slums across the country doing somersaults on the road, or poor performers at the local Circus enthralling the audience, I wonder why we cannot have a proper Sports Talent Hunt. Super Singers, yes. Super Swingers, No. The closest would be the Indian Premier League and its controversial parent, the BCCI. Thank heavens there is no Cricket Ministry. Everytime I read reports about fat cats in Sports Ministries who know precious little about Sport, I wonder why we need such Ministries at all. For what joy? Other than that of the Ministers and their families and (doctor) friends. If recent trends and junkets are any indication, the Sports Ministry may as well be merged with the Tourism Ministry. The United States of America has no Sports Ministry. And that didn’t stop its swimming sensation Michael Phelps from almost drowning in gold medals! Everytime I come across this ’empty handed’ lament every 4 years, I wonder why folks are surprised at all. Sports is seldom a career option. Centums. Hundred per cent cut offs. Math Special Classes traded with PT Periods. Engineering. Medicine. Management. Capitation Fees. Dowry. Join the dots.
The fact is that even like our Nehruvian Five Year Plans for the Economy (Shhh, no squeak about Raghuram Rajan) we don’t seem to have a Four Year Plan for the world’s biggest sporting event. For God’s sake, we couldn’t even spend the entire 40 crore budget for the ‘ten medal’ goal. If we bagged 6 medals at the 2012 London Olympics, I suspect it may have had something to do with the ‘trial’ round in 2010 with the Common Wealth Games. Not to skip the fact that our religion ‘cricket’ does not figure in the Olympics. We didn’t need a Virender Sehwag to remind us that Cricket may have been founded by England, but they are yet to win a World Cup! But their celebrities don’t tweet about selfies and empty hands. Out of the ambit are other winnable sports like Chess and Squash. If ‘Vishys’ were horses, all spectators would ride.
I prayed for P.V. Sindhu to get the Midas touch before her big match against Carolina Marin. Those who know her struggle will not grudge the crores of rupees, plots of land, jobs and brand endorsement offers that she is being flooded with. She deserves all that and more. So does Sakshi Malik. So does Dipa Karmakar. So do many other althletes in India’s Rio contingent who may not have won medals but who are no less champions. We as a nation seem to ignore potential but celebrate only glory.
Like that inimitable ‘Abba’ number, ‘the winner takes it all…’ . Why? Because milking the moment gets you brownie points with the people. And return on investment for corporate entities through brand endorsements. On that note, I am still perplexed over why our Football Federation chose to reward our badminton and wrestling champions. Would it make sense to use that money to improve its own grounds and gyms? And where were all these large-hearted souls when our sportspersons really needed them? Sindhu had to travel 60 kms everyday to practice. Gopichand had to mortgage his property to build that academy. Sakshi had no proper gym. Dipa had to use primitive equipment. Swimmers had to use dams.
Oh, did I say large-hearted? Dutee Singh had to travel economy class while the blue blooded officials got business class. And how classy of the Air India head honcho to write to Sakshi to “come show my letter and pick up your business class ticket from our Delhi office.” You see, Sakshi is not bollywood star Akshay Khanna, who reportedly received a red carpet welcome at the airline office for his role in ‘Neerja’. Remember those forwarded messages about how Priyanka Chopra earned a zillion times more money playing Mary Kom, than the original boxing champ herself?
And aside of this Olympic post mortem, when we have time, let’s also spare a thought for the race against poverty, malnutrition and unemployment.
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer – Madras High Court, Columnist, Political Commentator, Author, Mentor – Silver Tongue Academy Resource & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)