No winners in the unseemly bout in Haryana

Neither side has come out of this joust looking good. Haryana’s Department of Sports and Youth Affairs and some of its athletes who won medals in the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast have been sparring in public eye, leading to the cancellation of a scheduled felicitation in Panchkula on Thursday.

Sadly, neither the 13 medallists who united to reject the State Government proposal to adjust the reward money after taking into account the rewards announced by Railways or Services, not Haryana took into account the impact the decision to cancel the function would have on athletes who did not pick up handsome cheques from Railways or Services.

What’s worse, instead of returning to training for the Asian Games, some of them have disappointingly caused a storm that has led to the Haryana Government cancelling its plans for felicitation. Surely, they could have found a more graceful way in which to communicate with the State Government than make such a fuss.

Of course, the athletes had the option of turning up for the function and returning the cheques pending a decision on their appeal. But it would appear that they are in no mood for such niceties. It is a sign of the times that there seems nobody around to advise them to make their point in a better and more convincing fashion.

Here’s a disclaimer. Not for a moment am I suggesting that the athletes have not done a good job of winning medals. Of course, they have done very well to earn themselves podium finishes in the Commonwealth Games and the rewards that follow. But then for them to make it seem like they are demanding rewards from their State Government does not leave a great taste.

Perhaps, it is poetic justice that the function did not take place at all. For, it is not as if Haryana now making claims of being home for the medallists has helped them in their development phase or in their training as elite athletes. The transition of athletes to the elite stage has been facilitated in National camps, funded by the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.

Over the past few years, delighted that it has taken over from Punjab as the nursery of Indian sport, Haryana rushed to reward all Haryanvis, irrespective where they were based. Now, it finds itself in a corner, driven by adamant athletes whose all-or-nothing approach has climaxed in the cancellation of the scheduled function to honour them.

To make it worse, wrestler Bajrang Punia told The Tribune that it is not about money but about respect. How can forcing the State Government to cancel a function be respectful of either the Government or fellow athletes? Now, nine Haryana athletes who are not employed either by Railways or Services have no idea whether they would be rewarded or not.

Time was when an athlete would be happy to be honoured at a function. The amount on the cheque was not important. This is an era when athletes have National camps with their board and lodging as well as training being taken care of. Not too long ago, an athlete like Anju Bobby George would invest the incentive money she got from the Central Government into her training.

Clearly, the times have changed. After all, some of the nation’s well-to-do athletes have preferred to not give up the 50,000-rupee a month pocket allowance they get from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. If we expect them to play the perfect role models with no desire to draw pocket money from public funds, perhaps we are mistaken.

This is also the time for the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to draw up a grading system where the Commonwealth Games competitions in some disciplines like wrestling, weightlifting, shooting and boxing are not treated at par with other sports like the athletics, hockey and swimming. Similarly, it needs to distinguish sport in the Asian Games as well.

The incentives, rewards and awards must be in keeping with the degree of difficulty in winning medals in such events. It will then make it easy for State Governments to ensure that their own rewards policies are in keeping with such a gradation system. More importantly, it will discourage athletes in some sport from choosing the Commonwealth Games over the Asian Games.

The throaty and complaining voices that are heard about incentives and awards – be it monies that State Governments disburse or the National Sports Awards or the Padma Awards – indicate that the innate desire to rake in the honours is becoming more apparent than the desire of playing for the nation. It has become the norm now to express one’s grouse on public platforms and get away.

Indeed, Manoj Kumar and Vinesh Phogat’s bouts in Gold Coast were completed quickly but this battle of theirs along with 11 others against the State Government seems set to be a long-drawn affair. And a rather unseemly one.

An edited version of this article was first published on thequint.com on April 26th

About Rajaraman 453 Articles
Born on March 10, 1961 in Hyderabad, I wanted to be an electronics engineer but my focus on cricket and basketball at school and junior college meant that I missed qualifying from the entrance examination. I led the School and Junior College basketball teams. I then decided he would be sports a journalist like my father, Mr N Ganesan. While I graduated in commerce from the Badruka College of Arts and Commerce, I also spent more time in sports, representing Andhra Pradesh in the National Basketball Championship in 1980 and Osmania University in 1981-82. I joined the 1981-82 batch of Osmania Univeristy's Bachelor in Communication and Journalism. I missed the gold medal by 0.6 per cent and was pursuing the Masters' degree when The Hindu offered me a job as Sub-Editor in Madras. I took up The Hindu assignment on March 17, 1983. Though my job entailed editing functions only, I got to cover the annual Sholavaram motor racing grands prix in 1985 and 1986 and the Himalayan Rally in 1985 when my photographs also found expression in The Sportstar. I left The Hindu in November 1986 to join Press Trust of India as Sports Reporter in Hyderabad. I was called to New Delhi to report on the World Table Tennis Championship in March 1987. I covered a variety of events, including the SAF Games in Calcutta in 1987 and Islamabad in 1989. I ventured to Delhi in July 1992 when I joined The Pioneer as a Senior Reporter/Sub-Editor (Sports). My cricket writing skills came to the fore when I was deputed to write on India's tour of Sri Lanka in July-August 1993. I was rewarded with a promotion as Deputy Sports Editor in 1995. The departure of the Sports Editor in January 1996 saw me hold charge. A good performance during the 1996 World Cup cricket and the Olympic Games in Atlanta - when The Pioneer brought out a four-page supplement every day saw me being confirmed as Sports Editor in August 1996. The Hindustan Times, Delhi's largest newspaper, appointed me as Associate Editor (Sports) in January 1997. I conceived and launched a weekly colour supplement, Sport during the World Cup football finals in 1998. I covered the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok and the 1999 World Cup cricket in England. I left the Hindustan Times on February 23, 2000 to take up position as Editor, www.cricketnext.com on February 26 and can claim with pride that I played no mean role in building a good site that is rated among the best cricket news sites. Besides, a number of TV channels – NDTV, Star News, Doordarshan, CNBC, Zee News – and radio stations like BBC, SABC and ABC have invite me to in-studio discussions on cricket. In 2001, I authored a book, Match-fixing: The Enemy Within (Har Anand Publications). I joined www.espnstar.com as Senior Editor in June 2001 and worked for two years, helping it transform from a corporate website to a respected sports site and playing a role in driving the hugely popular online fantasy cricket game, Super Selector. I left the website to pursue life as a freelance writer and consultant, editing the Afro-Asian Games Observer in Hyderabad in October-November 2003 and helping the Board of Control for Cricket in India's Communication Committee. I joined the respected weekly magazine Outlook as Senior Special Correspondent in April 2005 and worked there till September 2007, with a story highlighting Sunil Gavaskar's minimal contribution to Indian cricket after his retirement being one of the best in my career. For a year, till Sept 30, 2008, I was Sports Editor, Samay, Sahara India's National news channel. I live in New Delhi with my wife Sudha and daughter Priya and after a short stint with www.iplt20.com and www.t20.com, I am now consultant with the Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi (28° 40' 0 N, 77° 13' 0 E) lending my shoulder to the wheel that will make India a hugely popular sports destination.