Indians are passionate about sports. But for most of us, sports is only limited to cricket. However, there are numerous unsung sports heroes today in India no one remembers. Sadly in India, athletes are differentiated by their sport.
Regardless of putting immense effort in the game and winning international tournaments, athletes opting for less favourite sports remain unsung.
They go through extensive training, lead a completely different lifestyle, and even their school and college education also gets affected. But little do you realise that by the time they reach the age of 30, their best is gone. An athlete at 30+ is almost dead. These sports stars dedicated their lives to sports to make our country proud and achieve laurels.
However, it’s heartbreaking to see that we forget their accomplishments, deprive them of their deserved rewards and leave them to become vegetable vendors on the streets, golgappa walas, security guards and cab drivers, struggling to earn their livelihood, reduced to starvation, poverty and even forced to sell off their belongings.
It is not the poverty only that hurts. It is the treatment these true stars get. They are lost in blankness and left alone to struggles of life – it is the failing flight of self-esteem. It is the trauma of anonymity.
Sportspersons who made India proud but never got their due
These were just a very few names. There are many such stars about whom the nation has forgotten. They were let down by us as a nation, even though they made all efforts to make us proud.
He is the only Indian to have beaten Flying Sikh, Milkha Singh, in the 400 meters race at the 1962 National Game in Kolkata. He won gold and silver at the 1962 Asian Games as well as 16 medals at the National Games.
In dire need of finance to support his family, Makhan Singh started the truck driving in Nagpur. Sadly, he met with an accident and lost a leg there. He did not receive any monetary aid from the government, and his family suffered in poverty.
He died in utter poverty in 2002 and his wife has since been forced to pawn all his medals.
Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav
Second on the list of unsung sports heroes is wrestler Khashaba Jadhav. He was forced to pay for his own travel and lodging to be able to participate at the 1952 Olympics. He won bronze in bantamweight wrestling, becoming the first winner of an individual medal after India’s independence, a record unmatched until Leander Paes won bronze in 1996.
In 1955 he had joined the police force as Sub-Inspector. The man who won the first individual Olympic medal for the country had to live his final days in poverty as he was deprived of his pension and died in a road accident.
Mohammed Yousuf Khan
He played a huge role in India’s win in the 1962 Asian Games and also represented India at the 1960 Rome Olympics. He was awarded the Arjuna Award in 1966. After bringing much fame to the nation, Yousuf Khan faced penury in his last days, suffered from Parkinson’s disease and died due to a fatal heart attack.
He won gold in 110m hurdles at the 1954 Asian Games. The gold medal, which he thought would buy him a living, got him a meagre monthly pension of 1,500 rupees. What followed was 20 years as a taxi driver after which he became a daily wage earner.
He even ended up selling his gold medal for cash.
The first goalkeeper to captain an international hockey team, he played 3 successive Olympics finals for India. He won 2 Olympics gold and 1 silver along with 2 Asian Games gold and 1 silver. He was nicknamed the Rock of Gibraltar. He was awarded the Arjuna Award in 1965 and the Padma Shri in 1967.
But despite all the glory, he lived in extreme poverty and died due to gangrene.
The man who brought laurels for the country struggled for treatment in the later stages of his life with no help coming from either IHF or the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) or the the Sports Ministry.
13 years of illustrious career could only earn him the meagre sum of Rs. 25,000, for his gangrene treatment.
Next on the list of unsung sports heroes is Shanti Devi , who was part of Bihar’s team that won the National Kabaddi Championships in 1982 and 1983. She was the captain of the the team during 1983 and 1984. She also won the silver medal in Guwahati National Kabaddi League.
40-year-old former player of the Bihar Kabaddi team sells vegetables at the Sonari Aerodrome Market at Jamshedpur to feed her family.
The man who played for India in the 1978 Hockey World Cup in Argentina can’t afford to buy vegetables most days on his monthly pension of Rs 1,475.
When he retired in 1979 from the army, he knocked at the doors of ministers, bureaucrats, businessmen asking for a peon’s job. When he saw no help coming, he took up a job of crushing stones for Rs 50 per day.
Thanks to CHAMPS Foundation of Mr Sunil Gavaskar that now Bhengra has been receiving a cheque for Rs 7500 every month.
Why it Happens…
We are only a cricket obsessed nation and blame the government but somewhere we all are also responsible for these forgotten heroes, who DO NOT PLAY CRICKET.
In cricket, we have won Championships in all formats of the game but the result of this apathy reflects in our winning only 26 medals since we first participated in the Olympic Games in 1900.
Government Apathy towards our Unsung Sports Heroes
While we usually blame the crumbling sports infrastructure and corruption in sports administrative bodies, the successive governments never placed sports as part of their national policy agenda.
There was no department dedicated to sports before the Asian Games were held in New Delhi in 1982. It was in 2000 that the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports came into being.
Also, we have never had any sportsperson as a minister managing the sports portfolio. Even Col Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, a silver medalist Olympian was given a portfolio of minister of state for I&B first before giving him charge of sports ministry.
Only Rs 1,592 crore were allocated for the sports ministry where government’s decision to invest a whopping Rs 8000 crore into the construction Sardar Patel’s Memorial speaks volumes.
The government’s misplaced priorities have resulted in a grim state of affairs as far as sports is concerned. Though national and international level sportspersons find government and PSU jobs, those who do not have the required qualification are left hand to mouth.
‘A strong political will’ only can take care of sports heroes when they hang their boots.
But the things are changing…
First time ever Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, a sportsperson has been given sports ministry portfolio. Immediately after taking charge as sports minister, he outlined the philosophy of his new office – ‘Samman and Suvidha’. This philosophy if implemented in true spirit, we will not have any unsung sports heroes.
- Revised Award Money to Medal Winners in International Sports Events
In 2015 The Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports revised the Scheme of Special Awards to medal winners in international events and their coaches:
Medal winners in Olympic Games (summer and winter)
- Gold Medal – Rs 75 Lakhs
- Silver Medal – Rs 50 Lakhs
- Bronze Medal – Rs 30 Lakhs
- Gold Medal – Rs 30 Lakhs
- Silver Medal – Rs 20 Lakhs
- Bronze Medal – Rs 10 Lakhs
Amount of award money for medalists of Paralympic Games (summer & winter), Para- Asian Games and Commonwealth Games (Para-Athletes) has been fixed at par with medalists of Olympic Games, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.
Sports fraternity coming forward with helping hand
Gavaskar has launched CHAMPS which will aid needy heroes and aspiring hopefuls. “The state rejoices in the deeds of these men, so now it must bear the responsibility,” says Sunil Gavaskar. Over the years, CHAMPS has provided monthly stipends to Premjit Lall, the tennis player, Sami Khatow and Krishna Gaikwad, the boxers, Salim Durrani, the cricketer, and A Palaniswamy, the volleyball player.
In Mumbai, table tennis players Farokh Khodaiji, Gautam Diwan and Niraj Bajaj set up a trust to assist fellow and former players.
Hopes are high for better tomorrow…that our heroes who brought glory for the country and rejoice to us will not be left alone to struggles of life and face the trauma of anonymity….
We should keep in mind,“If you dishonour your past, do not expect a future…