The League of Forgotten Sportspeople


The League of Forgotten Sportspeople

Illustration: Akshita Monga

When the IPL broadcast rights are sold off to STAR India at a BCCI-organised auction for 16 crores, you know the state of cricket in the country is perfectly healthy. Resources are bountiful, audience demand remains high, and administrators and players are all making money. Problems, if they do arise, are insignificant. Allow me to illustrate.

Once upon a time in Indian cricket – or maybe it was just a month ago – the team travelled to Sri Lanka for a series as favourites. But all was not well in the kingdom. After their public divorce from coach Anil Kumble, the next in line for the Indian cricket team’s ire was their official kit sponsor, Nike. In between back-to-back victories over Sri Lanka at the ongoing ODI series, news broke that the squad was unhappy with the substandard quality of their kits. The boys complained to BCCI’s Council of Administrators, presumably led by a fuming Virat Kohli, who I like to imagine would have thrown his jersey on the floor while yelling, “Bakwaas hai, bhenchod!”

Of course, these are the nation’s darlings we’re talking about, so the response was swift and effective, unlike, say, that of Mumbai’s municipal corporation during last week’s flash flood. Nike sent down prototypes of a new kit for the players to test out and offer feedback on. After all, they’ve paid for the privilege of having their logo appear under the shadow of Ishant Sharma’s enormous Adam’s apple until 2020, and they don’t want anything to jeopardise that. The Indian team went back to winning matches, Nike went back to working on the new kits, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Unfortunately, real life is not a fairytale. It only starts to resemble one when you’re playing cricket for India. But if you’re a sportsperson with dreams beyond having Sushant Singh Rajput or Emraan Hashmi play you in a biopic, then sorry, but you’re shit outta luck. Only the Indian cricket team can afford to complain about their kit and have it replaced. This is the same kit where a replica jersey costs upward of 3,000 and is coveted by every cricket fan under the age of 16 – the product of a sponsorship of approximately 370 crore.

Meanwhile, other athletes and sportspeople in the country keep yearning for a small piece of that pie. But as we’ve seen in wrestling, boxing, hockey, badminton, tennis, or any sport, our country’s athletes have the talent to excel. This is why it’s depressing to see their disciplines being given the stepchild treatment by governing bodies.

Cricketers don’t experience even a fraction of the apathy that’s become tragically mundane for other sports

The litany of offences is almost as long as MSG Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singhji Insan’s credit roll in his films, so we’ll just browse through some of the highlights. How about India’s own League of Forgotten Gentlemen & Women, made up of sportspersons who once brought glory to the country, only to live out the rest of their lives slipping through the cracks of public memory?

Take KD Jadhav, a wrestler who won the country’s first individual Olympic medal. In 1952, he brought home a bronze medal for the country. In 2017, his angry son talks of throwing it away, as his father’s legacy is forgotten. Still, Jadhav got to go to the Olympics and win. Which his fellow wrestler Vishal Kumar Verma will never experience, because the national-level wrestler was fatally electrocuted trying to pump water out of a flooded stadium in Ranchi this month. That’s a tale of two wrestlers who lived decades apart, but were equally neglected by their administrators.

Ah, the administrators! A rogue’s gallery of men in safari suits who are somehow holding the reins of sporting institutions across the country, despite looking like they’re allergic to exercise. I wish a sedentary lifestyle were the only accusation that could be levelled against Indian sports administrators, but sadly, my wish will never be granted. It’s true, the criminal record of members of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was the reason our athletes couldn’t compete under the national flag at the 2014 Olympics.

Cricketers don’t experience even a fraction of the apathy that’s become tragically mundane for other sports. On one hand you have Dhoni’s conquering heroes enjoying a victory parade in an open-top bus, and then you have another World Cup-winning team, the Indian women’s kabaddi team, having to take rickshaws from the airport after winning the global tournament. Kohli’s team can complain about their fancy, expensive kits being an inconvenience, but at least they aren’t being put up in partially constructed buildings like participants at the National Para-Athletic Championship.

But really, it would be sententious of me to put the blame on external factors, when the truth is – we are not a nation that encourages sport. Try and remember how many times you’ve heard grandparents and relatives tell you, “Padhoge likhoge toh hoge nawaab. Kheloge koodoge toh hoge kharaab.”

I propose a revision to this bit of folk wisdom. Instead of crushing the sporting dreams of kids across India, let’s at least try and guide them in a more pragmatic direction. “Cricket kheloge toh hoge kamiyaab. Aur kuch kheloge, toh hoge barbaad.”