India's Olympic shame

Last Updated: Wed, Aug 24, 2016 08:20 hrs
Sakshi wins bronze

Across the country, people who once associated vaults with banks and DC comics are now allowing ‘Produnova’ to roll off their tongues.

Pizza chains are giving away freebies to women called Sindhu.

The clouds that shrouded Indian wrestling in the wake of the Narsingh Yadav doping scandal have been partially blown away by Sakshi Malik.

And, somehow, Indians credit themselves for forgetting the washed-out test match in the West Indies and dedicating themselves to Rio.

We’ve come a long way from that first week, when celebrity socialite and penny dreadful churner Shobha De decided to weigh in on what our athletes should be doing (and not doing) in Rio.

There will be awards, there will be paeans, and then there will be cricket, which will wash out everything else.

Dipa Karmakar will return to risking her life every time she takes the stage. P V Sindhu will hope she never has to face the sort of vitriol Saina Nehwal does when she doesn’t live up to the enormous expectations weighted on her shoulders. Sakshi Malik will search for funding. Lalita Babar will wonder why more wasn’t made of her stellar performance at the steeplechase. And O P Jaisha will undergo months of treatment, which is unlikely to be funded by sponsors.

Who is O P Jaisha? Most of us had no clue that an Indian woman had collapsed at the finish line of the full marathon, and remained unconscious for three hours, until she returned to tell her story.

The national record holder took 2 hours, 47 minutes and 19 seconds to finish the race, more than thirteen minutes longer than her best performance. She finished eighteenth. Everyone who finished faster – and slower – than she did had access to water and sponge every 2.5 kilometres, whereas the Indian stations were empty except for the tricolour. She only received water from organisers every 8 kilometres. Unlike everyone else, she had no glucose and no honey, until she collapsed from dehydration. Speaking to the media after her return, Jaisha said she had competed despite being injured while training, and had not had a chance to adapt to the heat in Rio after training in Ooty.

Dipa Karmakar said she was dreading her return to India because she was going back empty-handed, despite literally putting her life on the line. The gold medal winner Simone Biles has said she would never attempt the Produnova, because she is “not trying to die”. And yet the Indian woman who had to build makeshift training apparatus from discarded scooter parts and crash mats tries the vault every time because it is all she has to gather points.

She has no balance beam, no uneven bars, and no funding.

Every time she runs up the strip, she knows she could break her neck. And yet she has no choice. For all her efforts, she will return home with the disappointment of having lost out on a medal by 0.15 points, and to the apathy that is the lot of every Indian sportsperson who does not play cricket.

As a country, we are happy to thump our chests and speak of how ‘proud’ we are of our athletes, when everything they have achieved has been achieved in spite of us, not because of us, in spite of officials, not because of them.

Take the case of Dutee Chand, the woman who broke the national record for the 100 metre sprint and then had to fight to prove that she was a woman. Take the case of Santhi Soundarajan, who lost her Asian Games medal after she was subjected to a gender test without her knowledge or consent. Contrast these with that of Caster Semenya, behind whom the South African government and sporting federations threw their weight.

Where does all our pride and solidarity go when the Olympics are over?

Why do athletes have to fight so hard to please a country that is happy to dole out tens of crores to a cricket team that is already richer than most taxpayers, but cannot provide water to a marathon runner?

India cannot take pride in the performance of the athletes.

Indeed, it is a moment of shame, because if these young women did so well with no facilities and no aid, we must wonder how much more they could have achieved if they had half what their competitors did.

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage.