Create roll of honour for NRI Olympians (Commentary)

August 4th, 2008 - 12:47 pm ICT by IANS  

By Kul Bhushan
Some non-resident Indians who have become citizens of the countries of their residence have excelled in sports and achieved a berth in Olympic teams for many such tournaments since the 1960s. Field hockey was one of the first such sports in which NRIs represented their countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Malaysia, among others. During the 1960s and 1970s, when India played in Kenya, it was difficult to tell the two teams, as the Kenyan team was predominately made up of local Indians, especially Sikhs. During one match between the two countries, a total 17 ‘Singhs’ were in the field - 11 in the Indian side and six in the Kenyan squad! Some of these young sportsmen were part of the migration of East African NRIs to Britain, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand from the 1960 onwards, and they soon excelled in those countries and made it to the Olympic hockey tournaments. Mohini Bharadwaj, an American NRI, qualified for the Olympics to compete in gymnastics at the young age of 25 to bring home a team silver medal.

A Roll of Honour of NRI Olympians needs to be compiled. Despite some search on the internet, the name and country of residence of the first NRI to get a berth in an Olympic cannot be traced. The diaspora would be proud to hail all the NRIs who have participated in the Olympics up to now, especially the medal winners. It seems no records have been created for such a Roll of Honour, as NRI sportspersons deserve to be identified and suitably honoured for their achievements by the numerous NRI organisations in their countries and also during the Pravasi Bharatiya conclave in India. Many more sports stars like Mohini Bharadwaj need to be identified and recognised for their excellence and contribution to sports. They must not fade away without being credited for their contributions to their countries and to sports.

Many sports writers have written about the contribution of NRIs to cricket in the countries where it is popular but there is no suitable survey of other sports where NRIs have excelled in their countries. Of course, they have participated in the Commonwealth Games in large numbers and this would be an easy list to compile, but Olympics, the ultimate sports contest, and NRI Olympians remain an elusive and unacknowledged tribe.

NRIs go on the defensive about India’s performance every time an Olympics gets going. Like Indians, NRIs find it difficult to explain why India, a country of over one billion people and a fast progressing economic power, cannot perform better at these games. NRIs always explain to their friends that the bane of India is its sports administration. Last Olympics saw the famous Bollywood actor Sunil Dutt as the sports minister who exposed the official apathy and corruption to some extent. After him, it was the same story of ‘babudom’ dominating the sports. The funds and facilities intended for players are usually enjoyed by officials and even their families! Now with a new sports minister, it is too early to expect miracles by Indian sportsmen in the Chinese capital.

Every time, India trails near the bottom of the medals tally. Their only hope, field hockey, has been dashed even before the Olympic flame is lit in the ‘bird’s nest’ Beijing stadium since India did not even qualify to play in this contest. What a fall! When this news was flashed to India in March this year, the interest in Beijing Olympics plummeted. India, the eight-time gold medallists, failed to make it to the Olympics for the first time since their debut in 1928. The Olympic hockey gold medal was considered to the ‘property’ of India but gradually the decline set in and India never recovered its lost glory. Not even the box office hit film “Chak de India” could revive Indian women’s - leave alone men’s - hockey, tainted with corruption and dictatorial management. The Beijing Olympics will be a non-event for Indian hockey despite the new management in place.

The tennis doubles where India has a sporting chance is also fraught with controversy. Here the winning duo of Leader Paes and Mahesh Bhupati were at odds with each other and they buried their hatchet in June when it was clear that they would compete at Beijing. Will they bring a medal for India? The other sports disciplines like athletics, shooting, weightlifting, wrestling, archery, badminton, table tennis may result in medals if the athletes are not disqualified for doping and can outclass the fierce competition.

The number of officials is always higher than the players in any Indian Olympic squad. The joke is that the international sports events, especially the Olympics, are meant for the Indian sports officials - not the players. So why bother about the medals?

(Kul Bhushan previously worked abroad as a newspaper editor and has travelled to over 55 countries. He lives in New Delhi and can be contacted at:

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