Friday, October 3, 2014

Indian boxer Sarita Devi at Incheon Asian games


Indian boxer Sarita Devi at Incheon Asian games


After the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, when I was posted at Ankara, Nick Ludington, associated press bureau chief, who had gone to cover the games, told me that when Indian wrestlers were fighting in the ring, the Indian officials were nowhere to be seen. He said that he could sense that an Indian wrestler had definitely won. But the fight was awarded to his opponent. He said that in such games where there are many judges from the contesting countries there is lot of give-and-take and scratching each other's back is the done thing. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that officials in charge should be present so that no such thing can take place easily.


It was quite well known that in Olympic and other regional games villages many Indian officials who had no business to be there quite often sneak in and then made the athletes even sleep on the floor while they took over their beds and ate their food. One of the reasons is that athletes are still considered a category inferior to those who control the games in this country. During my stay in Patiala during 1958-61 , I used to go over to a friend's house for some badminton in the police lines  , where one could meet with legendry hockey players like Balbir Singh, Udham Singh and others jogging around and sometimes coming over for a spot of badminton .Balbir Singh perhaps the  best of  all times centre forwards with the game played on natural turf with different rules was humility personified . The game of hockey was then fostered ,encouraged and controlled by the likes of Ashwini Kumar IP , one of the only two Deputy Inspector Generals (DIG) of police in the united Punjab state ,posted at Patiala and another  was at Ambala ,both  under one IG at Chandigarh .Now some chief ministers of states have security details led by higher ranked police officers .Ashwini Kumar used to send his talent hunting teams to villages and towns looking for young men , whom he would appoint as assistant sub-inspectors of police , a great job in those days .Thus Ashwini Kumar nurtured hockey and controlled it too .I had him and his wife over for dinner when I was posted as ambassador at Bucharest in early 1980s .He and others like him while encouraging sports also controlled them, sometimes to the detriment  with the mai-baap like relationship .


Look how the likes of Srinivasan the charged president of the cricket control board, in spite of being asked to quit, still controls the game in which billions of dollars are involved. There is no accountability .There are many such examples specially in cricket which has now become the most paying and popular game in India .Most of the money is collected indirectly from the Indian public which has to pay for the extra charges for advertising which are included in the sale price of daily use items like soap, toothpaste, oil, tea, coffee, sugar et al. Most of the money for BCCI  a private body , comes from advertising revenues from TV channels broadcasting cricket matches .The money which is given to athletes and officials, especially in cricket is extracted from ordinary Indian citizens. The government should intervene so that things are fair and guard public interest.


Fortunately, by now it is accepted and observed by the Supreme Court of India and other high Courts that a large number of Indian politicians are corrupt and have cases against them in trial courts, found guilty and have even been convicted. Unfortunately, every sports body whether it is cricket, hockey, football, badminton or athletics is controlled by politicians or their sidekicks who have little knowledge about the games in which they monopolies these positions for decades. It gives them money, patronage and leverage .It is not going to be easy to clean up the sports in this country. Prime Minister Modi should start a campaign for cleaning up sports. But it seems his majordomo Amit Shah has already declared that Motera in Gujarat will have the largest cricket stadium in India. Let us see how it is built.


Let us take the case of Sarita Devi


Tariq Engineer praises L Sarita Devi and adds ," Her decision to refuse a tainted bronze medal at the Asian Games was an act of courage rarely seen in the sporting arena  She has put everything at risk: her career, her reputation and her livelihood to make it clear that she will not go quietly into that good night.


"While sporting bodies the world over act as if sports are a refuge for all that is good and noble, the truth is much uglier. Far too often these bodies are laws unto themselves and are run like dictatorships where any dissent or difference of opinion is swiftly crushed.


"Organisations from IOC to Fife demand the highest standards of sportsmanship and fair play from their athletes while remaining free to disregard even a basic level of ethics whenever they find it convenient to do so. They understand the athlete is the public face of sports and as long as that face appears bright-eyed and clean cut, fans won't care about what happens behind the scenes.

Keeping athletes in line is also why the Olympic code specifically prohibits them from making political statements at major sporting events, as if athletes exist in a bubble outside of society. Sports are as much part of popular culture as theatre or movies or books. Yet while playwrights, actors and authors are free to use their art to critique society and culture, American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were expelled from the 1968 Olympic Games for giving the black power salute on the medals podium to draw attention to racial discrimination.


"It is all to perpetuate the myth that sports are pure and free of the messiness of real life because the myth has made a great many people a great deal of money.


"Athletes recognise the game is rigged but the vast majority of them don't dare speak out because retribution can be ruthless. Indian badminton star Jwala Gutta was hit with a life ban earlier this year just for protesting a sudden and random changing of the rules during the Indian Badminton League. As in any dictatorship, public dissent and questioning of authority cannot be tolerated.

Sure, Sarita could have pushed her case behind closed doors but it would have been hopeless and she knew it. She was left with nothing but the pain of her sacrifices and the broken shards of her hopes and dreams.

Sarita Devi cries as she steps on the podium for the medal ceremony at the Asian Games. AP

"By her own account, Sarita was moved to speak out when she saw the Indian flag at the medal ceremony. Her actions were not premeditated, as in the case of Smith and Carlos. It was the last stand of a desperate fighter who found herself cornered and decided she could not, would not participate in the charade any longer.


"When I went to the medal ceremony I broke down because I wanted to see the Indian national flag go up but when I saw it down, I couldn't control myself," Sarita told CNN-IBN. "It wasn't my medal. I didn't want to take the medal to India. I wanted to leave the sadness behind in South Korea."

It was no surprise that a few hours after the presentation ceremony, AIBA announced they were initiating disciplinary proceedings against Sarita. But in doing so they tipped their hand, revealing just what they are afraid of:


"I had to request OCA to review this incident, so any boxer or athlete in other sports will not follow in her footsteps by respecting the spirit of fair-play and sportsmanship of the Olympic Movement," David B Francis, the Technical Delegate, wrote in his report.


"If other athletes follow in Sarita's footsteps, the whole house of cards could come tumbling down.


"By rejecting her medal in the most public way possible, Sarita has exposed the hypocrisy of sports bodies everywhere that demand respect for sportsmanship from the athletes without respecting it themselves.


"This isn't the first time AIBA has been accused of corruption. Their history is littered with examples of fixed fights. And we can expect AIBA's punishment of Sarita to be severe. They will want to send a strong message that such public outrage will not be tolerated to discourage others from following in Sarita's footsteps.


"But as fans and lovers of sports, we ought to stand by Sarita and show her that we too won't participate in this charade any longer. For unless that happens, Sarita's brave act will likely be in vain."


She, and all of us, deserve better.


Reaction in India


I was particularly disappointed by Karan Thapar show on Sarita Devi, where he took a very unsympathetic view from a high moral position. He was supported by an ex -billiards champion, quite a different game in which India is okay because most other nations play snooker in which India is no nowhere. There were some reports about his sleazy associations in a financial scandal. It was clear that those who are closely associated with the sports know that Sarita Devi is quite correct .Let us hope that Sarita Devi gets a very warm reception when she arrives in India to shut up all these TV Channel jokers. Thapar in general is sympathetic to north Indians specially the outgoing Prime Minister .He went out of his way to harass  and harangue Mr Rai ,the Comptroller and Auditor General. It was like a Spanish inquisition .No wonder that Rai after writing his book preferred to be interviewed by high decibel Arnab Goswami, then by Mr Thapar.


As for sportsmen showing their unhappiness and even bitterness, the example of Bharat Ratna Sachin Tendulkar was quoted when he refused to come out of the dressing room where he was crying after India had lost to Pakistan, in spite of his century, for which he was selected for the man of the match award .But he refused to come out and accept it. Do not forget the case of the great Algerian origin French footballer Zidan Zindan who in the WC final against the Italians, butt headed Italian footballer for having said something nasty about his sister. He may not have got the so-called great honours, but most people sympathised with him and were with him than the Italian lout.


 Let us also not forget the famous and ugly cricket incident in Pakistan some decades ago when the Pakistani umpire gave many incorrect decisions against the visiting English cricket team. The English cricketers, one evening, took a towel, covered the Pakistani umpire's head and thrashed him, which the latter thoroughly deserved .The sporting Brits were delighted but nothing much came out of it .One can cite many such examples when sportsmen under constant pressure , tension and expectations lose their cool .


For someone to suggest that Sarita Devi's reaction was premeditated should be sent to a lunatic asylum. In that case if a biopic is made on her like gold medal winner Mom Mary Kom, Sarita could act the role herself and not need an actor like Priyanka Chopra.


In any case most of the international sports organisations are headed by international mafia gangs, who donot quit and continue to remain in positions of authority, dispensing favours openly, bragging and bribing their way .They awarded the next world cup football to Qatar, which is farcical, both in terms of Qatar's local spectators and the quality of its football team.


In India corrupt politicians, their families and hangers on occupy and control money and patronage which accrues from controlling the purse strings of sports organisations. This is not going to change any time soon. Look at the board of Cricket control of India from which an allegedly corrupt head refuses to leave and influences its decisions through his proxies. In this case, people are very disappointed with Justice Mudgal, who has done very little so far in producing not even an interim report. In the last hearing at the appointed judicial authority, he almost cleared everyone and asked for more time .In his first interim report he had raised doubts about the integrity of many BCCI members and some of the top Indian players .Many lawyers and judges are a law into themselves .So the politicians exploit them for enquiries, delays and favorable conclusions. The cases of Sukhram, Laloo Yadav and now Jayalalitha are some of such cases .What about the decisions taken from the date of crimes were committed and now convicted of!!.


International sports have become like noisy patriotic propaganda wars, where countries literally fight for their own team using all means, fair or foul.  A win makes the political leader popular and gets votes .Indian politician Sharad Pawar, always in BCCI affairs, organised a big reception for the Indian Cricket team for its victory in T20 championship in 2007, to garner blatant publicity for himself and his cronies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew over to Brazil when the German football team reached the final of the World Cup, thus aborting a possible meeting with Indian Prime Minister Modi who was on way to Brazil with a stopover in Berlin, to attend Brics Summit.


The use of drugs to enhance performance is very common and ancient .Many concoctions were used even by gladiators in Roman stadiums as researchers have shown. In this field United States has an advantage in creating new illegal performance enhancing drugs and using other unfair means to garner medals and then boasting about them. Many US athletes have been found guilty of these practices and then deprived of whatever gold and other medals won by them .This era of illegal drugs in sports gives an advantage to countries like USA with its advances in biochemistry and biotechnology. Many poor Indian athletes have been caught out only because the production of such drugs is not as advanced as in many Western countries.


In India, most of the athletes come from very poor families. In states like Haryana, if they win a gold medal they are appointed straightaway as police officers, jobs which one can get only after very tough academic and physical competition .In many cases such jobs are given to the relatives of ruling party and their cronies. Such jobs can also be bought and cost crores of rupees. It costs six or seven lakhs of rupees to get the job of police constable by bribing the selection authorities. It holds true for all almost all posts in India except those that are selected by union public service commission.


One can have a comfortable and well paid career only in the game of cricket, which has become very wealthy dispensing billions of rupees. A cricketer once selected for the Indian national team becomes a rupee billionaire. Playing for state cricket team and extremely rich Indian Premier League, ie IPL sets one up comfortably for life .Therefore; many families invest full attention and money into their talented and promising cricketer progenies, because when successful they are amply rewarded with money and fame. . It has become more rewarding then getting selected into Indian administrative service, Indian Foreign Service, Indian police service and others civil services.


Before the collapse of the Soviet Union and its associated states in East Europe, the emphasis was placed on showing the capitalist West that the communist and socialist system was superior in athletics, games, culture, et cetera. Recruiters used to roam around in villages looking for talented youngsters who were then picked up, when 10 or 12 years old, transferred to cities and finally to the capital along with their parents who were provided with better jobs. Still the system established in former Communist states appears to be paying .Look at the tennis, football and other sporting stars produced in these countries .In USA the Blacks have only athletics and music left to them so many excel in them .Something like this is happening in recruitment of young football players from Africa and Latin America to play in European and other rich leagues.


K.Gajendra Singh 3 October, 2014.