A month after she was gifted an expensive BMW care for her commendable performance in gymnastics at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Dipa Karmakar has decided to return the car. Coming fourth in the competition, Dipa had narrowly missed a medal at the Games. But the Produnova Vault that she performed in Rio – a dangerously difficult feat to pull off – earned her warm accolades from around the world.
On her return to India, Dipa, along with India’s two Rio medallists – PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik – was showered with awards in cash and in kind. Among the goodies (some of which appeared absurd) was a BMW car awarded to each of the three athletes.
Dipa, according to media reports, will now return the automobile to the Badminton Association. “It wasn’t Dipa’s decision. Rather it was a collective decision taken by her family and me,” BS Nandi, Dipa’s coach has told The Times of India. “There are two main reasons behind it. First, there is no BMW service center in Agartala, and secondly, the roads are not suitable to drive a posh car such as this.”
Instead of making things easy for Dipa’s middle class family in Agartala, the sudden arrival of a BMW in the cramped streets, only complicated matters. Maintaining the expensive car became a headache, as did parking the vehicle in Agartala’s narrow streets. The entire episode just goes to show how absurd the whole business is – ignoring athletes year after year only to end up heaping mindless gifts on them after a few strong performances.
It’s a wise decision Dipa and her family have taken, one for which they should be congratulated. The decision is rare in itself – not many would give up such a status symbol willingly – and should provoke dysfunctional sporting associations, indifferent governments, and publicity crazy celebrities, to do some serious thinking about their actions, which usually seem to be more geared to promoting themselves than helping athletes. We are by now all too familiar with how shoddily athletes are treated by the stakeholders – from the sporting federations, the bosses in positions of power, to the politicians who worm their way into top slots in these associations. Not to mention state and central governments, which are least interested in bolstering infrastructural support for sportsmen and women.
However, the moment they sniff the possibility of extracting some publicity – personal, political or business-driven – they spring into action. The whole situation is ridiculous. Indian sports is today in doldrums because those whose job it is to groom and nurture athletes are consistently indifferent to their condition of living or training. What is the point in doling out crores of rupees to athletes after the grand event is over, when that money should have actually been spent on training the athletes for the event?
Consider for instance, this report published in Economic Times on 22 August, which says, with reference to PV Sindhu: “The 21-year-old has received cash prize of more than Rs 13 crore so far, including Rs 5 crore from the Telengana government, Rs 3 crore from the Andhra Pradesh government and Rs2 crore from the Delhi government.”
Contrast this with the amount of money disbursed by the Sports Ministry to the Target Olympic Podium Scheme launched last year. The money under this scheme is meant to be spent on training athletes, on their personal coaches and support staff, who will represent India at the Olympic Games. How well did the funding scheme function?
According to data accessed by The Indian Express Instead of meaningfully helping Dipa and her career, they reached into the bag to pull out a gift they think all Indians want – not realising that a BMW is not the pinnacle of everyone’s existence.