We did cheer for Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar, but failed as a sporting nation
On any given day, the television set at the dining hall of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai has some random music channel on with students paying no heed to what is being played. Things were, however, a little different on the 19th of August 2016. A dining hall that is abuzz after 8:30 in the evening had people surrounding the TV set since 7.00 and by 8.00 pm everyone was on their feet cheering for PV Sindhu, who was playing her gold medal match against Spanish Carolina Marin.
The ecstasy of the crowd was so much that they banged the steel table hard every time Sindhu scored a point. In fact, according to one of the hall attendants, the last time he witnessed something similar was during the 2011 Cricket World Cup final against Sri Lanka. The energy was indeed electrifying.
As a sports lover, it was indeed a treat for me to see people coming out and cheering for a sport other than Cricket. Every time people chanted ‘Sindhu tum Bharat ki shaan ho’ (Sindhu you are the pride of the nation), I had tears of joy in my eyes. Many would argue here that slowly, but steadily we are giving the due respect and support that our athletes deserve.
But let’s face it here, we might have wholeheartedly supported Dipa Karmakar, Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu this Olympics, yet collectively India has failed as a sporting nation. The rant isn’t just about our sports administrators, but also about us.
We cheered for Sindhu, Karmakar or Sakshi when they reached close to the podium. As pessimistic as it looks like, just like the Government who facilitates an athlete only when he/she achieves something and not when they need support; we as an audience also tend to garner our respect and support only when we know that a medal is achievable.
The intention isn’t to disregard one’s passion and support for any sport, but what is being indicated here that we just shouldn’t cheer on the day of the finals but support though out. No one bothered about the Olympics before and into three weeks of the games, but the night after Sakshi Malik’s heroics everyone rose up to watch the games and cheer for India.
This I am sure does not hold true for everyone. But it would not be wrong to say that people paid more attention to a stupid tweet by a stupid page 3 journalist than the games. To put it in another way, it took a stupid tweet to raise the sporting nationalism of a country with four hundred sixty-two million citizens online. Well, at least Ms. De was following the Olympics.
The crux of the argument here is that athletes need support and this support should not start when they reach the centre stage, but should start when they start their career. The stakeholders for this to happen shouldn’t be just the audience, but obviously should also be shared by the administrators and the media.
Talking about media, what followed after the remarkable achievement of PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar was blatantly disappointing. As pointed out by a recent The Wire piece, our female athletes are all India’s Women, not just daughters or sisters. The piece very aptly argues if a female athlete needs to accomplish extraordinary tasks to be acknowledged as ‘India’s daughter’, then what status does she enjoy before that?
This did not end here and moving over to social media where people are sharing posts like ‘We expect medals from our athletes, but expect our son and daughters to be engineers or doctors’. And right here we have coaching institute shamelessly sharing this: The success mantra that is common to both an Olympic Medallist and a top IIT-JEE ranker.
The practice of Public Relations never fails to capitalize on remarkable achievements our athletes. In fact, anything that invokes nationalistic sentiments is very vividly used by PR firms. So when Sindhu won the silver medal, a reputed Pizza brand offered free pizzas to any girl whose surname is Sindhu while some online delivery services offered special discount with SINDHU promo code. A taxi service, in fact. had shuttles made instead of cabs in their application. The respect is due, and we appreciate it.
But the question still remains the same, why can’t this support be for every athlete. Why only podium finish garner fame. Every Olympian is a champion and all of us need to realize this before they win medals. The day we have an ecosystem that supports athletes, that motivates and respect athletes or in short, the day we evolve as a sporting nation, medals will start pouring in.