Sports is not a day to day necessity for human beings. Nobody dies or suffer any loss for not participating in sports. With all the efforts put in, it can at the best get you some grace marks in interviews! There are no shortcuts. It calls for utmost dedication and hard work. Not everyone will be keen to show such dedication or put in such hard work unless there are very strong factors that motivate him/her.
Keeping this in mind some time back I tweeted that ‘unless our athletes want to win medals for themselves, and not merely for the sake of nation, we will not win many medals in Olympics’ or other such events. It sounds great for a sportsperson to say that he is competing for the glory of nation etc, but there is no doubt that what drives a person to the extreme will only be his/her own individual passion and motivation.
That passion to perform and outperform is what sets apart a great athlete from us lesser mortals, who also like to perform for the glory of nation but are not motivated enough to put in the hard work. What the nation can do to facilitate that passion is to provide all the facilities and security to those individuals who are willing to sacrifice all their comforts in life for the sake of that one or two medals!
We Indians do crave for glory of the nation. Each success of the nation in any international forum is celebrated to the fullest extent. Everyone from politicians to common man on the street competes to take ownership of the glory brought in by fellow Indians. But when it comes to failures, we are equally harsh on those who tried. We never value the effort put in by someone but readily assume the glory of successes and reject any failure with equal intensity.
Other day I tweeted an observation, ‘In India, sports is like armed forces. We all want youth to bring glory to the nation in sports and wars; but none want our own children to do it’. It received about 50 re-tweets, showing that a lot of people agreed with the sentiment. Not many parents want their children to take up sports as a career option. All that they want is the children to do well in exams so that they are assured of a better career in the future. Most Indian parents do not consider sports as a viable career option (probably with the exception of cricket). So, while we want to share the glory of international medals we want someone else’s children to take the risk and do the hard work. Same is the case with armed forces. We all are so proud of our soldiers but how many of us will willingly send our children to armed forces?
I am aware that there are exceptional families and certain villages etc that take pride in their children becoming soldiers. Similarly there are some exceptions in sports as well. But they are still nothing but exceptions and we are dealing with general traits.
All these came back to my mind when I saw the controversy about the ‘demand’ (somebody even called it blackmail) made by India’s silver medallist at London Olympics, Subedar Vijay Kumar, that he be given a promotion by his employer, the Indian Army, in recognition for the achievement. Many people found it outrageous that a Jawan is demanding to be made an Officer! How can Army make a Jawan an Officer, without him qualifying in the tests etc?
Well, if my understanding serves me right, Army has the tradition of Regimental Commission, Emergency Commission etc in exceptional cases. There is also number of Gazetted civil posts within Army establishment. Armed Forces have been awarding honorary ranks to film stars and cricket stars, even though it is in the Territorial Army. A silver medal at Olympic is an exceptional case, justifying an exceptional reward. If there are no policies, we must make them! If there are no precedents, we must set new ones!
Subedar Vijay Kumar was not being greedy or thankless when he made his ‘demand’. To quote his own words, "I had done the country proud by winning at major events in 2006, Delhi 2010 (CWG) and London 2012 and was expecting promotion and decorations. As sportspersons we also have expectations." So, he has a legitimate grievance that his achievements in the past were not rewarded by his employer in a suitable manner. Can we then blame him in expressing that grievance, now that he has won the highest honour ‘for the country’?
Subedar Vijay Kumar broke two cardinal rules: Firstly, he sought something for his own personal benefit. We expected him to say that he is proud for the nation, then quietly go back to his barracks and continue to serve as a soldier without expecting anything in return. Secondly, a soldier demanded that he be made an officer! That is unthinkable as it breaks our stereotype of soldier who is supposed to willingly die for the nation, without seeking anything in return! It also attacks our idea of officers as superior class of human beings, to which a mere soldier should not have put a claim to!
Some people are also finding fault with Mr Ajay Maken, the Minister for Sports, because he took up the issue of Vijay Kumar and wrote to Defence Minister Mr AK Antony, seeking special consideration for the sportsman. Here is a Minister who is actually talking of doing something for our great athletes who have represented the country in Olympics by offering them a Group B Officer post in Sports Authority of India (SAI) and to promote them to Group A level, if they win medals in Olympics. In fact, he was offering such a position to all those Olympians and did not want Vijay Kumar to be left out merely because he was serving in the Army.
This is the least we can do for our sportspersons. When many state governments gave away crores of rupees to otherwise well paid cricketers for winning a low key event like world cup, we did not find anything outrageous. But to seek a well deserved reward in the form of a promotion or a job by way of appointment in SAI is considered too much for our Olympians, even though when you and I were doing everything possible to enhance our careers these people were sweating it out to make winning those medals, in the name of India, possible.
‘Do your Karma; do not seek any fruits’... This seems to be our advice to sportspersons. We will partake in your glory, because you represent our country. But do not seek anything in return; not even kind words when you are out performed by others!
With this kind of attitude, India will produce more Santhi Soundararajans who will end up working in brick kilns after making us proud by winning medals. The smarter parents like you and I will continue to tell our children to concentrate in their studies and become a doctor or engineer than ‘wasting their time, playing games’.
Let us accept that sports will remain a low priority for most Indians. Occasional brilliance like Vijay Kumar and Mary Kom will continue to bring glory. But forget super power; let us not even expect India to be of any consequence in the world of sports! And, let us not be hypocritical about India’s glory in these International events!