TODAY -

Sports powerhouse Manipur shows the way

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi *

 Reception of Tokyo Olympic Bronze Medallist Sanglakpam Nilakanta and 4th Position Pukhrambam Sushila at Imphal Airport :: 11 August 2021 .
Reception of Sanglakpam Nilakanta and Pukhrambam Sushila at Imphal on 11 August 2021 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam



As an Indian, we owe it to the North East, and in particular Manipur – a sports and sporting powerhouse – that drives some of the non-cricket sports and produces athletes who go onto becoming icons.

If boxer Mary Kom won a medal at 2012 Olympics at London and inspired countless girls to take to combat sports, this year it was Mirabai Chanu who brought a silver medal in weight lifting on the opening day of the ultimate global sports spectacle that is held once every four years.

Both these sportswomen from Manipur are among the several from the North East, who have won laurels for the country and also highlight the sporting prowess of the seven sisters.

Notching up the bronze for boxing, Lovlina Borogohain from Assam is only furthering the tradition of excelling in sports that require physical strength, stamina, skill and determination. Often, the sporting stars from across India, we find inspiring stories of sacrifices the players and their families made, and the struggle they had to undergo, coming as they did from not so privileged backgrounds.

As Olympics progressed in Tokyo, many of these players, few from team events like Hockey have become household names and have become inspirations for the youngsters, as television channels and newspapers document their achievements and journeys.

Of course, there are a number of people working behind the scenes in the success of these athletes. The media has played its part, even before the sporting spectacle during the build-up to the event, giving that encouragement that the sportsmen and sportswomen need.

On that count, the Indian contingent to Tokyo Olympics 2020, has had tremendous support as the Nation of 1.3 billion people unleashed their prayers and love for those competing in the sporting arena in individual and team events.

The stupendous individual medal winners, or for that matter the journey of Indian men and women Hockey teams, the wrestlers, and the boxers, have spread immense joy among the people back home in a country that has not seen many Olympic medals.

At the time of writing this, our contingent is yet to pick up gold, though chances are there in the Javelin throw our Neeraj Chopra is first among all the qualifiers. Can we hope for a medal from him too ? Well, his fate will be known after you have read this column.

While Manipur and the North East celebrate its athletes, along with the Nation, it is so important to acknowledge the power of sports and sporting personalities in generating emotions that unite the country like nothing else.

Are we doing our bit, as fellow countrymen and women and also in governance, to strengthen or sportsmen and sportswomen ? Yes, we are a huge Nation, geographically and also population-wise, and thus need huge resources, and often our players make it against all odds.

And even after making it big, the issues they have to face is something that we as a Nation collectively should ponder over.

Vandana Kataria, the first Indian Hockey player to score a hattrick, and her relatives had to face cattiest slurs after the Indian team lost in the semi-finals. There will be some police action, and after a few days, everyone would have forgotten.

For boxing Olympic medal winner Lovlina Borghoain from Golaghat in Assam, it will be a first-time smooth ride to her house after the local authorities began laying a road in her village only after she was guaranteed a medal.

From Manipur’s daughter and the toast of India in Saikhom Mirabai Chanu of Imphal in Manipur, her heart-warming pictures of celebrating with truck drivers, who ferried her to her practice venues through her formative years and till recently, tell the story of the true grit and determination of Mirabai Chanu and her family members. Truck drivers of her neighbourhood also deserve every praise in recognizing the need to help out a youngster wanting to break out and make something out of her life.

Inspiring tales of the life and times of some players are stuff that films are made of. But real-life heroes like Neha Goyal of Haryana, Nikki Pradhan, Salima Tete, whose hometown in Jharkhand is Maoist infested, or 21-year-old Lalremsiami of Mizoram, who didn’t speak Hindi or English at all when first selected. The journey of Hockey team captain Rani Rampal is no less spectacular–her father pulled handcarts for a living.

The athletes have done their job–of pulling and riveting the attention of the Nation on the power of sports and more important have through their life journeys are telling the youngsters that anything is possible, if only they try and give it their best shot. More than the medals, it is this positive message from the success, and even failures, of the Indian Olympic contingent that should be celebrated and drilled into the younger generation.

One more thing that a sporting event like the Olympics, the biggest sporting stage, does for a cricket-crazed country is that it gives birth to several non-cricketing icons. One can only hope that the Indian Olympic contingent story inspires the young, and more important instils confidence among parents that sports too can be a livelihood option worth exploring.

But then, there is a need for the corporate sector and big business to invest in sports, other than cricket. It is wonderful that Odisha sponsored both Men’s and Women’s Hockey teams, enabling both the teams to undergo worry-free training regimen, and preparatory matches with foreign teams abroad, that eventually led to the success. The women’s team did not win a medal but announced to the world how great a team it was.

In a country that is obsessed with cricket, anyone picking up a sport other than cricket starts off their sporting career on a wrong foot, it seems. Those exposed to the sporting activity at school and college-level participated in tournaments, would know and remember how pathetic facilities often turned out to be.

Can not the Government step in, and identify the talented at a very young age and put them through structured training programmes at sports centres, with all the needs taken care of. And also, preferably put them through a formal education programe as well that offers them academic certificates so that they do have a fall-back mechanism, just in case.

This is not to say that the Government, at Centre and States, is not doing anything to promote sports and sportspersons. Indeed, the results that have come in at Tokyo 2020 Olympics surely owe it to the support of the Union Government, sports administrators, and corporate sponsors.

But, medals tally in single digits, for a country of 1.3 billion does indicate that we are doing things in the right direction, but they are clearly not enough.


* Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country.
He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times.
He can be reached on kvlakshman(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on August 22 2021.



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