Even in their success, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu and Sakshi Malik have done a disservice to Indian sport.
Even in their success, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu and Sakshi Malik have done a disservice to Indian sport. Their medals at the Rio Olympics have precluded the possibility of a root and branch overhaul of a system that continues to produce Olympic duds. Although there was no guarantee that a revolution would have followed a medal drought in Rio, at least frenzied hand-wringing on the ills afflicting Indian sports would have ensued.
Sindhu’s silver in badminton and Sakshi’s bronze from the wrestling mat are no mean achievements, but the two medals should not be used by the sports ministry to gloss over India’s problems in the world’s greatest sports show. It is critical to understand that the achievements of the two super girls came despite the system and not because of it.
A viral post on social media — “Save the girl child” must now be changed to “Saved by the girl child” — succinctly captured India’s woman power at the Rio Olympics. If not for the stellar efforts of Sakshi and Sindhu, the world’s second most populous nation would have been the butt of jokes.
The barren days of the ’80s were very much lurking in Rio before Sakshi mounted a brave comeback to win an improbable medal. That no one counted her as a serious prospect must have hurt the Haryana girl.
Sakshi’s bronze medal play-off embodied the roller-coaster nature of life. Although her chances of winning appeared remote, Sakshi never gave up. In her heart of hearts she knew the bout wasn’t over. She wasn’t ready to let her 12 years of hard work go down the drain in six minutes. Once Sakshi scored the winning points at the death, the expression she wore on her face said it all. It combined joy, relief, pain and incredulity. No one missed the irony that a girl from Haryana, a state with the worst sex ratio in the country, rose to the occasion to save India’s face in Rio.
It would be an understatement to say that Sindhu has captured the imagination of the nation. As actor Akshay Kumar has pointed out, the Hyderabad lass did the unthinkable: she persuaded a cricket country to watch badminton. Although Saina Nehwal did win a badminton bronze in London four years ago, the achievement had to be taken with a pinch of salt as she bagged the medal only after her dominant Chinese opponent withdrew midway through the match with injury. There can be no such complaints about Sindhu’s show.
Badminton will never be the same again in India. Sindhu has done something for the sport that no marketing blitzkrieg could have achieved. Unlike wrestling, badminton has a lot of advantages to take wing in India. Saina and Sindhu will forever be remembered for their pioneering roles in taking the game to the masses.
The two spunky girls have indeed fired a million hearts. Shobhaa De came under attack after she criticised India’s poor show in Rio. She wasn’t totally wrong but her choice of words weren’t right. Instead of having a go at administrators who encourage mass participation at the cost of quality, the socialite made fun of athletes.
The Union Government must first ferret out the truth over India’s oversized athletic contingent in Rio. With the exception of Lalita Babar in the 3,000m steeplechase, no one performed with any semblance of competence. How did so many hopeless athletes make it to the Olympics Besides doing little to promote the sport, the Athletics Federation of India has also taken the country for a ride by ‘ensuring’ the qualification of a huge contingent.
The less said the better about the Indian Olympic Association which has been in limbo for quite some years. The powers-that-be in the IOA are more worried about either holding on to their chairs or reclaiming lost posts. No office bearer is genuinely worried about India’s pitiable state of affairs. As long as they are somebody in the IOA, all is well and the Olympics no more than a jamboree.
National sports federations are no better than the body that leads them. Using the International Olympic Committee’s diktat on autonomy as a scarecrow, federation bosses flout accountability norms at will. Most of them treat their sports as fiefdoms. The involvement of politicians — here there is no difference between the BJP and Congress — only make matters worse because a few have the guts to question the powerful netas, especially those with connections to the ruling party.
“Why did an Olympic medal winner, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, not get the sports portfolio in the Union council of ministers ” is a question many sports fans are asking. Rathore knows what it takes to become the very best. But India has a sports minister who was only keen on self-promotion during an unwanted trip to Rio. Some state sports ministers also had a ball in Rio on the pretext of being observers at the expense of public money. Unless sport is disentangled from politics and bureaucracy, relevance for this chest-beating article will reappear every four years.
As former cricketer Kirti Azad has pointed out, the reason for USA’s fine performance at Olympics after Olympics is the country doesn’t have a sports minister. Experts handle each sport in America. It’s high time India dismantled its ineffective bureaucratic structure in sports in favour of result-oriented professional approach with greater involvement of private sectors. Unless corrective steps are taken at once to steer Indian sports on the right path, the quest for gold will come to fruition only in jewellery shops.