I’m not a very keen follower of sport, though I like football a bit and well, running. The second – because I remember that I used to run quite a bit when I was in my teens. Oh, it was nothing fancy or big time, I just loved to run, feeling the wind in my hair and taking giant strides and packing in quite a bit of the necessary endorphins. At the time, I used to visualise that I could run so fast that I was probably running high into the sky and would tell my friends that I had the gift of running in the clouds! Bad joke, I know. But yes, it was exhilarating in so many ways that I still feel I ought to do it sometime again. With time and age, small things that give us pleasure are usually relegated to the back of our minds. Especially when life is all about academics and our times were such that studying hard to get good grades and indulging in any sport were two diametrically opposite things. Sport didn’t have a chance. But frankly, not much has changed, even now!
Yet it still gives me a thrill to see people who are disciplined about a sport and their normal fitness routines. And occasionally I do read the sports news. Just a week back, however, I felt that familiar joy again when an 18-year-old sprinter from my home state Assam, Hima Das, scripted history by becoming the first woman athlete to win gold at the world level in the women’s 400 m final race in the IAAF World Under 20 Athletics Championship in Finland. It was all about guts and glory and beating the odds, so of course the media went into a frenzy about her impoverished background and well…who doesn’t love an underdog!
Marathon running requires tremendous strength, perseverance and is one of the most physically demanding sports the world over. The origin of the marathon itself puts its difficulty into perspective. Legend has it that the Greek Philippides ran non-stop from the battlefield of Marathon towards Athens, to announce the victory of the Greeks over the Persians. “Joy to you! We’ve won!” were the first words of Philippides after reaching Athens. He murmured “We won, we won!” a few more times, before collapsing in a heap and passing out from exhaustion. The man, whose run inspired the punishing 42.195 km race, breathed his last at the finish line because of the demands exacted by the run.
Physically punishing it definitely is and so are some other sports like wrestling and boxing. And then there’s a coincidence that not most of us can ignore. Athletes who excel in these sports are usually people from the less privileged sections of society. There are many reasons for this, chief among them would be the fact that these children of farmers, labourers and other meagre paying job holders are geared to take up punishing sports because of their lifestyle; they have the endurance because it’s not easy to train in paddy fields and villages without any amenities. It makes you a winner in more ways than one as compared to those born with a silver spoon in their mouth.
In previous years and now too, we see so many athletes from not privileged backgrounds bring laurels to India in physically demanding sports like Hima Das, Mary Kom, the Phogat sisters, Sushil Kumar, Sakshi Malik, Dutee Chand, Vijender Singh, PT Usha, Milkha Singh. Of course, once you hit the bull’s eye, there is no looking back. These days there are agencies like Maneesh Bahuguna’s Anglian Medal Hunt, which are funding a number of predominantly poor athletes, including Dutee Chand. All it takes is the hard journey to catch the eye of somebody who will spot their talent and train them.
Which brings us to the initial question: w
hy do we not see children from well to do backgrounds in these sports? Largely because the upper strata of people, at least, in India would largely focus on academics and soft sports like tennis, swimming, golf, etc. Well, I’m not denying that they require physical strength too, but to a lesser extent. Heat, grime, hours of training on fields, makeshift areas without amenities…these are not things our rich kids are comfortable with and probably their bodies cannot take the pressure.
All well and good; except because of the government’s lack of enthusiasm and waking up late to delivering facilities for talented sportspeople from the lower strata…perhaps we do not win as many medals as we should. Give them world-class facilities, make it as easy as going to a regular school and I’m sure we will have a record of winners each year who come home with medals.
A bit of research on this subject says that focus on academics is the forte of the middle class, the upper middle class and the rich who would rather see their child become a doctor or a lecturer or an IAS officer as it is the money and idea of intellectual achievements that matter most to them. History is proof that playing a sport is not going to sustain a family and everybody wants the money to come in. We hear of so many instances of national and international medal winners being forced to do menial activities because the world and the govt have forgotten about them. And that’s why sport is not a chosen career; barring the few exceptions to the rule.
In the meantime… let’s cheer for this champion of a little girl who broke convention even in her tiny village to pursue running. Hima was always different and she has proved it. May the laurels keep coming and may the wins never stop. After all, it doesn’t take much to be forgotten in the fickle world of sports.
As they say, ‘you are only as good as your last win.’