For past two weeks the major subject being discussed in the media and across the nation has been about Olympic Games and India’s likely medal tally. Before the games it was presumed that the current contingent to Rio was perhaps the best ever sent by India to Olympics and therefore most expected India to better its past performance in terms of number of medals. Unfortunately it was not to be and the final tally was far below the expected numbers. Without a doubt there were some spirited performances that resulted in near misses but that may not cut much ice with those die hard analysts who believe that the proof of pudding lies in eating. Without a doubt young Dipa Karmakar from Tripura won millions of hearts by performing some dare devil routines on the vault in gymnastics and lost the bronze medal by the proverbial hair’s breadth. Her performance is special, despite no medals, because she excelled in a sport where India has never even come close to qualifying in most international events and where training facilities in India are far from being world class. Her success was a result of sheer determination, confidence, courage and belief shared by her and her coach. In purely sports terms Dipa’s performance was akin to what Milkha Singh achieved in athletics in 1960. Both performances will forever be written in golden letters in the history of Indian sports.
PV Sindhu, put up a stellar show to tame many badminton players ranked much higher than her in her march towards the final where she stretched world No. 1 in a well contested three game match. Sakshi Malik won a bronze medal in women wrestling by producing a memorable out of the world performance in that crucial span of ten seconds to secure a convincing win. The fact that these young ladies are national icons today is hardly debatable. The fact that they deserve all the accolades as well as prizes too is not debatable. What is debatable is whether awards given by central or state governments to medal winners are done in an arbitrary manner or in a structured manner to avoid controversies that invariably will crop up due to arbitrariness. Awards and incentives given by employers, organisations and people in private capacity can neither be regulated nor is there a need to do so. But all official governmental awards must be regulated to ensure fairness and consistency. It is no secret that in our nation we manufacture controversies even if there are none, so giving grounds for a controversy must be avoided at all costs. In light of this it may be advisable for the central and state governments and sports bodies to lay down firm guide lines in this regard. The cap on the amount or extent of award can be left to the governments concerned.
The government of Delhi jumped the gun and was first off the blocks to announce rewards for the two medal winners, neither of whom belongs to the state of Delhi. The political motives for this hurried action are not difficult to fathom. In fact Delhi government went one step further by announcing a promotion for father of Haryana based Sakshi Malik who works in Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC). Frankly such a move is devoid of logic as it is not based on sound logic. Next time if some medal winner’s father is employed in civil sector, what will Delhi government do? In any case there is no link between the ward getting a medal and the father’s profession. His promotion has to come with time based on suitability and performance. What will the Delhi government do for PV Sindhu’s father? Will it not be unfair if nothing is done for him? States of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, the partitioned sister states, are vying with each other to lay claim on Sindhu and Gopi Chand’s success at Rio by trying to outdo each other in terms of value and variety of awards. Madhya Pradesh government too has jumped in the fray with cash awards though neither Sakshi nor PV Sindhu belongs to that state. Frankly it is good if such icons of the nation are rewarded generously since they deserve every penny that is given. The point being made is about consistency, uniformity and sustainability of such awards.
The other point of concern is that the nation seems to have forgotten all others who too performed either as per expectations or beyond expectations but were not good enough on the given day to win a medal? Surely sports is first and foremost about participating and giving your best and then about the final result. Participation in the Olympics is in itself no mean feat. It is time the nation spared a thought for some of the other performers too. They too deserve some recognition and awards for the many years of hard work that must have gone in before they were given a nod to represent the nation in the Olympics. It goes without saying that this responsibility will devolve primarily on the central government, states and the parent sports bodies that control various sports in the country. Such recognition will lead to real motivation for other budding sports men and women since the first goal for them has to be to represent the nation at such events. Therefore performances of Dipa Karmakar in gymnastics, Dattu Bhokanal in rowing, Srikanth in badminton and Indian hockey team too deserve recognition.
Indians are known to get highly emotionally charged with love and passion for the nation from time to time on special occasions and Olympics is certainly one of them. This results in the nation going overboard in our magnanimity at times for ‘heroes of the moment’ that not only is unsustainable but also, at times, unwarranted. The case of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar is a prime example in this regard. He was awarded all the sports prizes starting from Arjuna award to Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna – the highest sports award in the country. He was even conferred distinguished service awards like Padma Vibhushan and was nominated as a Member of Parliament to the Rajya Sabha in 2012. A year later the Congress governments at the centre and in Maharashtra colluded to award the nation’s highest award – Bharat Ratna to him in 2013 with a view to gain some political mileage in the general election of 2014. Did we as a nation go overboard? Any sane Indian would nod in the affirmative. Today we have a Rajya Sabha member who has a dismal attendance record of less than 6% apart from the fact that he has made no contribution as a parliamentarian. Justification for the award of Bharat Ratna is even more difficult since in his case without a doubt it was political expediency that motivated Congress Party to confer the same. Can Sachin Tendulkar be placed on the same pedestal as other non-political personalities who have received this award before him like Dr. C. V. Raman, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Mother Teresa, Vinobha Bhave, Mr. J. R. D. Tata, Mr. Satyajit Ray, Ms. Subbulakshmi, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Dr. Amartya Sen, Ms. Lata Mangeshkar, Shri Bismilla Khan, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Dr. C. N. R. Rao? It is indeed difficult to find a place for Sachin Tendulkar in this august group. Surely there are some important lessons to be learnt here.
It is time the government and sports bodies concerned formalise and standardise the awards and honours that sports persons can be given based on performances at various levels. Representing the nation in any sport internationally has to be seen as an achievement in itself with the final win being the cherry on the cake. Mother Teresa had once said “There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread”. It must be remembered that a true performer’s hunger for materialistic returns ends at one point and after that it is all about recognition and appreciation. This should be the guiding principle for bestowing awards and prizes to all performers including sports persons.
(Food for Thought: Nation’s highest bravery award in face of the enemy for defence forces is PARAM VIR CHAKRA (PVC) which has been granted to only 21 recipients till date with two thirds receiving it posthumously. A serving PVC decorated soldier gets Rs 10,000.00 additionally per month as special pay based on 7th Pay Commission recommendations!! The lump sum grant varies from state to state depending on the state to which the soldier belongs. It varies from a few lakhs in most states to rupees two crore in Haryana. There is no grant from the central government. However the recognition, respect and appreciation within the defence forces for such awardees are what most outside the uniform cannot even imagine or understand. That is what the soldier actually lives or dies for.)
Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.