At Beijing Olympics 2008, India bagged three medals (Abhinav Bindra delivered Gold for Shooting, Vijender Singh Bronze for Boxing and Sushil Kumar Bronze for wrestling). For a nation starving for medals in sports, Beijing was a landmark Olympics and set the platform for the future that could only get better. And it did get better as India went on to win six medals at the next Olympics London 2012 ( Sushil Kumar Silver in Wrestling, Yogeshwar Dutt Bronze in Wrestling, Vijay Kumar Silver and Gagan Narang Bronze in Shooting, M.C. Mary Kom Bronze in Boxing and Saina Nehwal winning the first ever Olympics medal — a Bronze — in Badminton). The spate of medals made India euphoric and signalled the arrival of Indian sportsmen and women in the international arena. And our athletes proved that they too can take on the very best in business and come out on top with flying colours.
The gains at Beijing 2008 and London 2012 were expected to be further improved at Rio 2016. But the hopes were dashed to the ground as India faltered and just about salvaged their campaign with only two medals at Rio 2016, despite sending the largest-ever Indian contingent of 119 athletes at the Olympics. India’s honour was rescued, thanks largely to wrestler Sakshi Malik , the first Indian woman wrestler to bag Bronze in 56 kg freestyle, and the brilliant performance by P.V. Sindhu, who bagged a Silver in Badminton and bettered the previous best of Bronze by Saina Nehwal.
Frankly speaking, the Rio Olympics 2016 campaign or the preparations for India never got off to a positive start. Controversies dogged India right through and never ended. It began right from the moment when Bollywood superstar Salman Khan was appointed as the Olympics Goodwill ambassador. The appointment was widely criticised and the Indian Olympic Association, in a apparent damage control, roped in cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar and ace musical composer A.R. Rahman as Goodwill ambassadors.
Wrestling — which won us one medal at Beijing 2008 (Bronze) and two at London 2012 (Silver and Bronze) — found itself in the midst of a raging controversy as to who would represent India. Winner of two medals at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, Sushil Kumar was overlooked and in his place, according to quota system, Narsingh Yadav was selected to represent India. The two fought a lengthy and messy court battle and the court rejected Sushil’s plea for trial. But in a dramatic twist, Narsingh just a few days before the Olympic Games was found guilty of dope violations. Later in a hasty move and under growing public pressure, Narsingh was cleared by the NADA a day before the contingent left for Rio. However, his misfortunes continued as the WADA challenged the NADA clean chit and a day before his Olympic bout, the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) sanctioned him with a four-year ban with immediate effect. The CAS panel rejected his ‘victim of sabotage’ theory.
This brings to us the question as to why was Narsingh Yadav hastily cleared by the NADA? If he was under suspicion, then why was he allowed to go to Rio and get banned just hours before his bout? Had it not been better to send a tried and tested Sushil Kumar to get a medal rather then going by quota norms? The sorry state of affairs of wrestling following the Narsingh saga means India lost out on an assured medal. The shell- shocked WFI has now demanded a CBI inquiry into the Narsingh affair. What will it do now after the nation has been humiliated at the world stage? Narsingh has vowed to prove his innocence and said that the four-year ban, if not reviewed, would certainly put a full stop to his career.
Indian archers led by Deepika Kumari flopped, and so did shooters Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang. Indian men’s and women’s hockey team failed when it mattered the most. India biggest medal hope Badminton star Saina Nehwal crashed out early in the second round. Later it was revealed that she had been recovering from a bad knee injury. If Saina was unfit, why did she go to Rio 2016 at all?
Playing at his record 7th Olympics, Indian tennis legend Leander Paes along with partner Rohan Bopanna lost in the very first round. Moreover, Bopanna and Sania Mirza had two chances to wrest a medal but flopped miserably. The team combination before the event was drama.
Both Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza had expressed their unwillingness to team up with Paes. It was indeed ironical to find that Bopanna, who has not won a single Grand slam in doubles in his career, was dictating terms as to whom he would play with. This was nothing but arrogance. His arrogance cost India heavily at London and Rio was a repeat. He had audacity to make wait Leander Paes who has won eight doubles and 10 mixed doubles Grand Slam titles.
Bopanna picked Saketh Myneni over Paes but the AITA turned down his choice and the forced pairing on court was reflected in the results. All in all, the AITA did not learn any lesson from the fiasco at London 2012. Sania Mirza got emotional after her exit and even hinted that she might not be around for Tokyo 2020.
India’s Rio 2016 sojourn was a near disaster until the trio of wrestler Sakshi Malik, shuttler P V Sindhu and gymnast Dipa Karmakar from Agartala gave India something to cheer about with their sterling shows.
Their grand welcome on their return back home and the rewards and accolades are indeed fitting and truly well deserved. Another star who made headlines was Indian runner Lalita Babar after she etched her name in history by becoming the first Indian to feature in an athletic final in 34 years after P.T. Usha in 1984 in 3,000 m final. The previous achievers were Milkha Singh at Rome Olympics 1960 in the 400 m final, Sriram Singh at 1976 Montreal Olympics in 1976 in the 800 m final and lastly, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa at the 110 m hurdles at 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
The foursome – Sakshi, Sindhu, Dipa and Lalita – with their performances brought smiles on a billion faces. With the ascent of Sindhu, India now has two world class badminton players. Full credit to cool and affable coach Pullela Gopichand for mentoring these two players ( Sindhu and Saina) and making them what they are today. Gopichand himself had been a star player in his heydays and had won the 2001 All-England Badminton championships, thus becoming the first Indian after the iconic Prakash Padukone in 1980 to win the coveted All-England crown.
As India battled hard to get themselves on the medals tally, Indian sporting officials dented India’s image with their gimmicks. Minister of State for Youth Affairs Vijay Goel (famous for his penchant for selfies) found himself in the centre of a major controversy when Rio organisers sent a scathing letter that said: “We have had multiple reports of your Minister for Sports trying to enter accredited areas at venues with unaccredited individuals. When the staff try to explain that this is not allowed, they report that the people with the Minister have become aggressive and rude and sometimes push past our staff.” They even threatened to withdraw his accreditation.
The nightmare continued for Goel when he, in his tweet, misspelled Dipa Karmakar as Dipa Karmanakar. He wished good luck to athlete Srabani Nanda on his Twitter handle but attached a photograph of Dutee Chand instead. The Rio jaunt for officials went on with INLD leader Abhay Chautala despite been on bail managing to go to Rio and click selfies with players. Haryana BJP minister Anil Vij planned a trip that would cost Rs 1 crore to cheer for team India and learn how to improve infrastructure in Rio.
The Indian contingent’s woes at Rio were many. First, the Indian hockey team on arrival much to their shock found jelly beans in their rooms. Further, they gave the opening ceremony a miss due to non arrival of the official kit. Second, boxer Shiva Thapa was on the verge of being disqualified as the word ‘India’ was not written on his T-shirt. Third, athlete Dutee Chand was made to fly 36 hours in economy class while officials travelled in business class. Fourth, at a reception for the Indian team at the Indian High Commission in Rio de Janeiro on the occasion of 15th August, the athletes were served just beer and peanuts in the evening.
The media was largely ignorant of the plight the Indian team underwent in Rio. Rather it was busy applauding Nita Ambani for becoming a member of the IOC ( International Olympic Committee). And was more curious to find how much cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar is enjoying in Rio de Janeiro? Tendulkar, it seems, has time to be present everywhere except Parliament where he is a Rajya Sabha member.
Also making disgraceful comment about the athletes at Rio was publicity-hungry writer Shobhaa De. She was slammed for her insensitive tweet: “Goal of Team India at the Olympics: Rio jao. Selfies lo. Khaali haat wapas aao. What a waste of money and opportunity.” Former hockey player Viren Rasquinha gave De a scathing reply: “Ms. De, kindly run on the hockey pitch for 60 mins & hold a rifle like Abhinav and Gagan. Bit tougher than u think.”
As the applauds continue for P.V. Sindhu and Sakshi, the sorry state of Indian athletes really came to the fore towards the end of the Games when one saw the plight of marathoner O.P. Jaisha. In her grueling 42 km marathon run, she did not get water or any refreshment from the Indian support staff. She collapsed after crossing the finish line and was unconscious for nearly three hours and even her coach thought she was dead.
The treatment meted out to Jaisha is the ugly dark side of Indian sports that no one talks about. Our selfie clicking minister Vijay Goel is silent over the issue. Will he sack the errant officials? Or will he go by the slogan ‘sab ka saath sab ka vikas’ while defending the officials?
In a nation where cricket is religion, it is wonderful to see other sports stars shine and bring glory to the nation. We need to be caring too so that they flourish in future and not fade away after a brief glory. Preparing the right infrastructure, providing coaches, proper diet, training, exposure at major events, support from sponsors will go a long way in helping India becoming a sports nation.
However, if the government continue with its callous attitude and treatment meted out to athletes like Jaisha, then the dream of becoming an Olympic nation will always remain a dream. And India will continue to languish at the bottom. Mere lip service with catchy slogans are not enough make a nation a prowess in sports.