Controversy over success: Why the Indian tennis social media spat doesn't deserve any attention
Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna indulged in an ugly social media war, but there is actual sporting success that we ignored last week.
Last week will be remembered as one of the finest for sport in India. Apart from a historic Paralympic campaign, which saw the small yet effective squad of 19 participants win four medals, there were several other feats that slipped under the radar. The Indian basketball team registered their best finish at the Asia Championship in 27 years, a junior wrestler became only the third world champion the nation has ever produced and as we speak the Junior Shooting team is top of the World Cup medal tally. However, the only thing that's making any headlines is a social media fight between India's top tennis players, after a humbling outing against Spain at the Davis Cup.
On September 18 at around 1 am, Sania Mirza tweeted, “The only way to win against a toxic person is not to play!!” this seemed to have been directed towards Leander Paes, knowing the duo's inability to play with each other in the past. This particular notion was confirmed once Rohan Bopanna immediately retweeted the post, and also commenting, “At it again!!.. the usual ploy to stay in news by slanging fellow players in the media.” According to reports, this was a rebuttal to Leander's “not sending the best team to Rio” statement. This became the toast of the town, with people discussing the 'sorry state of Indian tennis' or 'how these players are letting their personal grudges' come in the way of the sport's growth.
Till now if anything is certain is that there is no end to this spat. It happened prior to the 2012 London Olympics, it happened in Rio and it will happen everytime national duty beckons the trio. Yet, it continues to get the attention which it doesn't deserve anymore. On the other hand, Deepak Punia, a name you've probably never heard has pulled off the unthinkable. He became only the third ever junior cadet wrestling world champion from India. A feat which should be celebreated considering the woeful performance of our Men's team, who failed to win a single medal in Rio. The catch in all this? He was only a milkman in his Haryana village last year going door to door attempting to make ends meet.
Juniors make India proud, but who really cares?
Let's face it, do we really care whether a young kid wins a medal somewhere in the middle of Georgia? Probably not very much, but when it comes to winning medals at the Olympics, we as a nation are up in arms against failure. Some of the tweets that were targeted towards Yogeshwar Dutt, after his first round exit as follows, “You're a worthless f***, who just knows how criticise good people like Salman Khan, if you were that good a medal was for sure.” Others were slightly toned down, “You're a burden to this country, how can you shame us by being knocked out in the 1st round.” If we are so genuinely concerned during the time of the Olympics, what happens to it a month after the event? Is the patriotism and attention limited only to those two weeks? Azerbaijan promised their junior medallists a hefty monetary compensation of 50,000 Manats as incentive for the future, and mind you, most of them won bronze or silver, much lesser than Deepak.
Upon asking Deepak, what he can look back at home, he non-chalantly replied, “Cow's Milk, my father promised me cow's milk and that's what I will get.With hardly any media exposure, this particular 'news story' was carried by a few publications, with most choosing to give it a slip. How do we even expect medals when we don't know about our future medallists? Instead, most people were waiting for Leander Paes' reply, and to continue this entire saga, the reply did come. Paes said, “It seems like people are doing anything to tarnish my reputation, they need to understand how difficult it is to win as much as I have won and now having to deal with this is saddening.” There is no denying that Leander is one of the greatest sportspersons India will ever prodcue. But, continuation of such a situaton helps in reinforcing 'the sorry state of Indian sports' stereotype, which is not an accurate representation of what's going on.
Around a month ago, I walked out of the Deodoro Shooting venue with by head hung low. India had failed to win a single medal in shooting, a sport that has won 65 % of the country's medals since the turn of the century. Hence, it's remarkable that the National Rifle Authority of India (NRAI's) youth policy is finally coming to the fore. A relentless pursuit to fill the shoes of great shooters such as Abhinav Bindra, who have bid their final adieu from the sport. With the rest of the same batch not getting any younger, it was essential that the juniors showed their growth. Under the watchful guidanc of former Commonwealth Games medallist Jaspal Rana, the squad has won as many as 13 medals and just dropped to second spot behind Russia in the standings. With two days of competition to go, India could still go on to win the overall tournament, a first for the country. Yet this is restricted to small corner of the news-paper, with most readers missing it due to its font size. In fact such is the problem for a journalist covering the 'other' sports, even images are not available of our junior heroes. While writing the news about India's news world champion in the 50m Prone, Subhankar Pramanick, not a single image about the lad could be found. A visit to the North Caclutta Rifle club was required for me to garner any information about him.
NRAI Chief Raninder Singh said, “Yes, the Olympics was not upto the par, but we are making some changes which will improve our situation in Tokyo. However, our junior team is going where no country has gone before, they are on the verge of becoming the best junior team ever. They are the future, and we are taking steps to ensure that. They will be travelling to as much as for 6-8 tournaments this year, this is the first time something like this is being sanctioned, because we are certain these are future Olympic medallists.” Yet none of these World Cup events have any coverage or highlights package which can highlight their prowess to the nation. Instead, we are eagerly waiting for Leander's reply on a situation that can never be solved. You pick a side and support who you think is right, but then again we must really ask ourselves this question, 'if there is not solution to the problem, is it really worth it?'
Against all odds, India’s basketball team finishes 7th, but pointing fingers seems to rake in the eye-balls
The national basketball team has been going through hierarchial turmoil over the past couple of years. Their Federation has been split into two halves with one not recognising the other. Warring factions went to the extent of not letting merit-based players participate in tournaments as they had 'potential' links with the other groups. They conducted separate election and the condition was so bad that the International Basketball Association (FIBA) termed it “impossible for the sport to grow in India given the political circumstances.” However, that didn't deter the national squad, who notched up upsets against the likes of China to register a 7th place finish at the FIBA Asia Challenge. Three of the players – Amritpal Singh, TJ Sahi and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi were statistically in the best 10 players of Asia. Yet, our focus solely remained on why Sania or Rohan don't deserve to get angry on Leander or It's time for Leander to retire now.
The Rio Olympic failure exposed a deep underbelly of sport in India which was fuelled by the once-in-four-year Olympic fan. If we don't keep consistently follow or celebrate these winners, they eventually fade out because the magnitude of their success is never projected. Instead we rather focus on aspects that are far more controversial with much lesser an impact on our sporting landscape.
Subhankar Pramanick's reaction to media coverage explained everything you need to know about our priorities. He said, “What? Really? People in India are actually talking about my victory? I thought only other countries really care about junior medals, good to hear that once I return to Kolkata, more people will know about me.” Well, in all likelihood people will not remember his gold medal as much as what someone said about the other on social media. If we want Olympic success, it's time we prioritise on what's important and what's not.