Millennium Post

An ode to our sports heroes

Play Write 2018 presented a dynamic platform for bringing to fore the clandestine, yet, inspiring stories of India's daring sporting heroes, writes Vinati Bhargava Mittal.

In a cricket crazy nation, where men's sports are more popularly watched than women's, there are several rising stars in the sports firmament who have brought laurels to the country across different fields. Yet, little is known to the public about them or their game. The first edition of the two-day Play Write, 2018 – India's premier sports literary festival, inaugurated by the three time Olympic Gold Medal winner Balbir Singh Sr, at The Lalit in Chandigarh on March 18, brought together eminent sports personalities who had been the subject of books or movies, written one themselves, sports writers and upcoming sports personstogether on one platform.

It provided the perfect forum for the audience to hear about the spellbinding inspiring stories of sporting heroes – Balbir Singh Dosanj (Balbir Singh Sr.), 93, one of the greatest sportsmen the country has ever produced, whose record for scoring the highest number of goals by an individual in an Olympics men's hockey final still remains unbeaten; the resurgent comeback of former Indian hockey captain Sandeep Singh in 2009 after being fatally injured in an accidental shooting while travelling in Shatabdi in 2006; and former marathoner Fauja Singh, the world's oldest runner, who hung his boots at 101. The sports literature festival also presented an opportunity to learn about the toils, travails and struggles of youngsters which need to be highlighted as these champions in making vie for the top slots internationally.

"The idea behind Play Write, 2018, is to pay an ode to sports and the art of literature," says Vivek Atrey, a former IAS officer, writer and motivational speaker, who co-curated this event with Chitranjan Agarwal, a chartered accountant, under the ambit of the Vibrant Networking Forum. Atrey, who organises the prestigious All India JP Atray Memorial Cricket Tournament in Chandigarh every year in the memory of his father, wants to make Play Write an annual festival so that people come to know more about the inspiring stories of sports stars. "Such events bridge the gap between perception and reality," opines G Rajaraman, a Delhi based senior sports journalist who has authored the book Match-fixing: The Enemy Within.
Twenty-one year old Aanchal Thakur, who won a bronze in the Women's Slalom race in the Alpine Ejder 3200 Cup in Turkey earlier this year, is the first Indian to win an international medal in skiing. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore congratulated this youngster from the Burua Village near Manali for her achievement. Despite her win, she still finds it onerous to get sponsors who can support her in her sport. Since India does not have the adequate infrastructure for training; she along with her brother Himanshu train in Europe which proves to be very costly. "The International Ski Federation (Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS) helps us for a month. Thereafter, we are on our own. The coach charges 200 EUR per day to train us for four hours. Therefore, we cannot afford to stay in Europe for more than two-three months," says Thakur, admitting her competitors train for a longer duration.
The siblings have been lucky since their father Roshan Lal Thakur, Secretary with the defunct Winter Games Federation of India and an avid skier himself, worked hard to arrange for the finances needed to support them. Unfortunately, many youngsters have had to leave this sport since due to the escalating costs. "The equipment, comprising ski, boots and clothing costs about Rs five lakhs," says Thakur, a student of DAV College, Chandigarh. Introduced to this important game of Winter Olympics by their father, the brother-sister duo had to struggle very hard to reach the top. Unlike the West, there was no luxury of lifts to take them uphill. "It takes us two hours to climb the Solang Valley for a downhill race of a minute," reminisces Thakur who plunged into the sport very early. The game is very risky. Though she hasn't faced any serious injuries, Himanshu, who was operated in Japan, says more government support and better infrastructural facilities are needed to support the game in the country.
At times, injuries during sports may prove to be fatal. And, they cost high if the player is not insured. In the struggling phase, insurance takes secondary priority. "The first aim is to get a sponsor, next comes the question of being insured," says Gurjoat Singh Khangura, 23, a shotgun skeet shooter, who has represented the country internationally. Young sports persons like Khangura want talent to be tapped when the player is in the struggling mode, nurtured through governmental or corporate funding, so that champions can be made. Sponsors are attracted when one has won a medal, he says, but asks: "What about the time when PV Sindhu was grinding for the Olympic medal?" Khangura, who has to pay a good coach as much as 200-300 EUR an hour was supported by his father who is in the Army. With costs mounting to Rs 50-Rs 60 lakhs a year, it was difficult for his father to sustain him and Khangura had to look beyond. He had a difficult time finding a sponsor till Bharat Forge picked him up as part of Lakshya, a non-profit sports organisation which identifies and nurtures talented sports persons.
"In our country, if someone does well, then they pump money. But, abroad they train more people, and then a champion emerges," says Chandigarh based golfer Saaniya Sharma. Sometimes, corporates have promised sponsorships but later the deals have barely gone through, she recalls.
Five rugby players of India's Women's Rugby team which won the silver at the Asian Sevens trophy held at Vientiane, Laos last year are from the tribal areas of Orissa. They are all students of the Kalinga Institute for Social Sciences (KISS) in Orissa, which imparts education to the underprivileged and Below Poverty Line (BPL) students. "KISS has involved sports into the curriculum. By the time students reach 17 years, they are representing the country in the India junior teams," says Vahbiz Bharucha, 25, a former captain of the Indian Women's Rugby team. Although, she is passionate about rugby, Bharucha had to look for a steady job. Sensing the immense necessity of physiotherapy for sports people, she decided to take it up as a career. "Since this was a service I did not receive as an athlete, I would like to offer it to others," she says.
How will players perform at the international level they are supposed to if they don't get the motivation or scientific training required, asks Indian Rugby Captain Neha Pardeshi, a software engineer in her twenties. "You have to be specific to your sport, the technique, the position you play in a particular game," she says. Like Bharucha, it was the passion for Rugby which made her take up this unconventional sport in her teens. Pardeshi, who works for A La Concierge Services Pvt Ltd, received her first pay of Rs 25,000/- from the sport last year. Pardeshi and Bharucha are sponsored by French Bank Socieite Generale which has partnered with Rugby India to promote rugby in the country. The Prime Minister had even congratulated the Women's Rugby team after its win at Laos in Mann Ki Baat.
"The nation has to invest in its success stories. If you get people to play in top platforms, you are getting heroes," says Chandigarh based golfer Gurbaaz Mann, adding "Sports is the only way, you can foist your country's flag on foreign soil, or else it is by war." "Work hard, aim high, think positive, the spot at the top is always vacant," is hockey icon Balbir Singh Sr's favourite one liner which could perhaps help motivate several young sports players to become champions. "Never ever give up. Failure can be a blessing in disguise," he says.

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