Sakshi's medal should be rewarded with the Indian sports administration changing its ways

Awards and rewards are fine but when will Indian governments respect sportspersons
Voices Opinion Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 14:15

Sakshi Malik was just about to win. The wrestler’s mother was up on her feet, holding her hand up in excitement, her mouth half-open – just waiting for the referees to call her victory. And when they did, she jumped with joy, howling in excitement. Soon enough, from local politicians to community leaders, everyone made a beeline to their home at Rohtak in Haryana.

 The Haryana government lost no time in announcing a reward – a hefty Rs. 2.5 crore.

The same script plays out tournament after tournament. Till sportspersons prove their mettle in the global arena, the Indian government and its sports administration doesn’t just ignore them, they insult them. The pilferage which goes on in the name of sports in India is no secret, but what’s worse is that we further disable our athletes instead of encouraging them.

Take for instance the fact that the chief medical officer of India’s Rio contingent is a radiologist, with no real experience in sports medicine. Coincidentally, he is the son of the VP of the Indian Olympics Association. Our athletes, some of them from the poorest backgrounds, are slogging their hearts out for a medal, and we only give them our indifference in return.

We don’t just leave our athletes to fend for themselves, we take every opportunity to make it difficult for them.

And our solution to this? Open up the Khel Ratnas and Arjunas, disburse a few lakh rupees as rewards, and throw in some land in their home state. Awards and rewards are easy to hand out, and come after a sportsperson has put in years of hard labour working against the system.

What is the point of awards when we not only deny support to our athletes, but consistently work to their detriment?

A sports minister of the same Haryana government which is now announcing Sakshi to be the pride of the state, spent Rs. 1crore to land in Rio with his contingent – and hit the beach instead of helping the players.

Just think about it. Rs. 2.5 crore award for the woman who brought us the Bronze in Olympics, and Rs. 1 crore for the minister and his men to go party in Brazil.

What good are our awards and rewards, when not only are they disproportionate to the achievement, but also a post-facto consolation to the trauma which our athletes go through in the name of training?

Of course, awards matter and we need more of them. But it should not be the easy way out for our government to escape from taking up the responsibility of the lack of infrastructure, good coaches, and financial support that our sportspersons desperately need.

Sakshi’s own story speaks of the sneering attitude we have towards sportswomen. When her first coach took her under his wing to train her, he faced a lot of opposition from the villagers who thought that wrestling was not for women. Sakshi worked against that social stigma, the apathy of the Indian sports administration and the lack of any support from the administrator at Rio, and got us a Bronze. She should get many more awards and rewards, but what would be a meaningful reward for her efforts is that the Indian sports administration changes its ways.

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