We’ve all been in a situation that has some parallels with this scene. You have a passport, but you can’t find your birth certificate. Yet, this form you’re filling up needs a certified copy. So, you petition the municipality for a duplicate, which in turn asks you to file an affidavit saying you have lost your original. Then you have to run to the court to file the affidavit, and then to the municipality, and then in turn with that birth certificate to the agency that asked for it. Along the way, you’ll have to stand in queues, fend off touts, mosquitoes and every pestilence known to civilised humans.
Now, imagine this birth certificate is what is going to help you compete at the Olympics. And imagine the Olympics – this event you’ve been building up to, training for, living for, for the last four years – is coming up in less than a month. And imagine that it isn’t a birth certificate, but it’s a certificate to say you didn’t take a banned substance. This certificate is what stands between you and your lifelong ambition. This piece of paper represents all your hopes, your hard work, your legacy. And you have no influence on its outcome.
Enough imagination. Here’s some reality, which we’ve all known a while. Our sporting establishment doesn’t care about our athletes. They haven’t for a long time. The BCCI isn’t any different, and neither is the Basketball Federation of India. Sure, there are some well-meaning folk who try to change things, but over the long term they fail. They fail because the establishment doesn’t want them to succeed.
Before you hurl accusations of cynicism, ask yourself honestly, if there’s even a single sports federation in the country that has ever put the athlete first. Or if there’s ever an athlete that has emerged from the cow belt, fire pits or the jungles of India on to the national scene without the backing of a single private citizen or benefactor. This is true whether the sport is shooting (where the athletes had to famously pay duty for every single bullet being imported) or our national sport hockey (where the federation is a satire of a satirical Upamanyu Chatterjee story)
Success in Indian sport is despite the system and its officials. This is evident every single day. Narsingh Yadav has had to fight for his right to go to Rio. In a time that he should have been working on trying to follow up his bronze medal in the 2015 World Championships, he’s now been asked to explain why he’s been taking a substance made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger. One that helps people gain mass rather than lose weight – something that members of JSW Sports, the team prepping him for Rio, tweeted about.
To be talking about an S1 agent for weight,muscle gain at a time when every wrestler is on a weight loss program says all. #BackingNarsingh
— Mustafa Ghouse (@MustafaGhouse) July 24, 2016
Please note neither the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) nor the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has come out in any way to protect an athlete that they selected and who has never failed a dope test.
True, the WFI president has spoken on behalf of the wrestler but why does he make accusations about India’s premier sports training institute? Why isn’t the IOA stepping in to prevent this slanging match?
Yadav has one smirch to his name, which is that he once cheated in a Maharashtra state police exam. Critics could say this underlines a flaw and a weakness in his character. Think of the implications of that counter-accusation. The people ultimately in charge of deciding his fate have also been accused of cheating for things that will make a state police exam look rather amateur in comparison.
This whole Narsingh saga bodes poorly for Indian sport. But then again, the future of Indian sport has never really been very bright to begin with. As someone who went to Bhiwani at the height of the euphoria post the Beijing Olympics, it was quite clear that the boxing authorities had little role to play in helping create champions. If living in dingy rooms with dirty linen and barely palatable food makes you a medal winner, then the ‘official’ boxing school should have created multiple winners at pretty much every Olympic Games since the sports program began in India.
At a systemic level, they have no real desire to help our athletes. The people in charge of our sports bodies have never played the sport, save a few. Most of those sportspersons-turned-administrators are reduced to pen-pushers or to sycophants who hold on for dear life to their egoistic-power-crazy bosses.
Our sports minister had spoken about parampara when Narsingh was chosen ahead of Sushil (another drama which we haven’t even brought up here). Yet, we are still waiting to establish a tradition where the athletes comes first. Remember, that time when the Weightlifting Federation of India thought that Karnam Malleswari’s Olympic bronze in Sydney would elevate its status in world sport? Seems like a long time ago now. Instead, we’ve had the federation itself almost banned and its athletes mired in doping controversy, year after year after year.
The Indian middle class is often blamed for not promoting its kids to play sport, about placing academics ahead of sport, but we do barely anything to help create heroes. Narsingh Yadav may or may not join the ranks of Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar. Yet, he deserves respect for his sacrifices and his hard work. He deserves respect for having had the drive to overlook a system that constantly made him feel like everyone was doing him a favour. He deserves respect for having had more courage than most of us to carry on through dedication and pain beyond just the physical. He will now carry with him the taint of a doped athlete, regardless of how this current drama plays out.
Only when we create, rather than stumble upon, true sporting heroes will Indian sport begin to evolve. Right now, we are a nation hell bent on mediocrity and in denial of the fact that even the heroes of sport we worship barely count on a global stage.
Every time, instead of lauding a federation for felicitating a medal winner, we ought to ask that photo-op seeking minister or official, why they don’t take care of every athlete who has the guts to keep going without the fame, without the comforts of home, with a system that can barely give them sanitary living conditions and even the basic protection that a national athlete deserves.
Yet, instead, we quibble about how difficult our lives are made by having to seek an affidavit.