A nation not interested in sports piggybacks the victors (Commentary)

August 22nd, 2008 - 11:13 am ICT by IANS  

Abhinav Bindra, the well-heeled shooter who became the first sportsperson from independent India to win an individual gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, remained sober - no doubt helped by a natural reserve. But the delirious orgy of official and officious cash award celebrations went on for long.Bronze medallist, wrestler Sushil Kumar, with his experience of grappling with mind-numbing adversity and obscurity, remained humble. But his achievement triggered another frenzied moment under the sun for politicians, Delhi chief minister downwards.

When boxer, Vijender Kumar, having practised his feints on official apathy, assured the nation of at least a bronze after a quarter-final win, keeping hopes alive for silver or gold, the nation’s chest size swelled alarmingly. India had never had such a large Olympic kitty ever before.

It was time for big-time official celebrations.

On second thoughts, why not?

What luck that Bindra won his gold days before Independence Day! The nation got a new mascot, one better than the previous, Athens Olympian Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore who was worth his weight only in silver and merely worth his weight in Beijing. With Sushil Kumar and Vijender adding their might, the nation’s golden-bronzed physique was visible all right.

Pride is what sets a great nation apart from those that are also-rans.

Recognising excellence too is the hallmark of a great nation. Moreover, appreciate the grace of the Indian nation that it should recognise excellence in individuals even when it has not had much to do with honing it.

The nation knows it can’t compete with Papa Bindra’s Rs.2 billion gift of a hotel to his son, or with the pure coach-protégé relationship that Sushil and Vijender boast. A father-son/ guru-chela relationship is special.

But how dare anyone ask why the nation has directed a cash flood Bindra’s way when he “really” doesn’t need it, and in the case of the other two not soon enough?

A nation’s bond with a victor is special - it is in fact sacred.

And if young Bindra has said that it is in their struggling phase that sportspersons need support, put that down to Punjabi sentimentalism.

Enterprise - that’s what is needed today. These boys did not trouble the nation at all. They trained quietly to strike gold and bronze.

Ultimately, the victory tune played on the winner’s podium was India’s national anthem. The shooter, wrestler and boxer are Indian citizens.

That means a total victory for the Indian nation that has the sovereign right to piggyback on any Indian’s achievement of any kind.

The plain truth is that the nation is busy with the business of economic growth, and becoming an international heavyweight. Does it seem as if it has the time to - what is that word - ‘nurture’ talent? Is the nation a nursery to nurture human talent like plants?

The nation is not interested in sports, but as a stirring superpower it is interested in the victory of glistening gold on the world stage. And it is prepared to reward victors with goodies once they have done the nation proud.

People still refuse to understand. Look at all those sportspersons, each with a heartrending tale of how walking the jagged edge of poverty crushed their talent.

Such troublemakers! If you don’t have the capacity to support yourself, why do you even enter sports? Why not just work in a BPO, earn a salary and become that slight decimal shift in the destinies of big nations.

Or, show the grit of a Sushil - face privation; train one among 20 squeezed in a room infested with rats and cockroaches; perform sans a physiotherapist to beat all odds and win in the international arena. Then the nation will give you a job, promotion and cash rewards.

Only, don’t get dewy eyed, looking to the nation for systematic ‘nurture’ of the sport. That softens the spirit.

The nation is moving in the right direction. When Chhattisgarh — its vital midday meal scheme at Rs.2.58 per primary school child in disarray due to inflation and meagre funds - gives Bindra a Rs.100,000 award; when Maharashtra - facing the calamity of debt-ridden farmers’ suicides - rewards Bindra with Rs.1 million, it is to show sheer gratitude to an individual who did not cry for the nation’s support at every step, holding it back from important matters.

There’s a limit, you know. People must realise the nation is not a crutch for individuals; it’s a crown that only the deserving get to wear. Like Bindra, Sushil and Vijender.

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