Icons of New BHARAT


Khel Ratna for Deepa Malik, Gold for PV Sindhu in World Badminton Championship and splendid performance of Hima Das in the field of athletics are signs of new sports culture in new Bharat, where sports icons from different backgrounds are emerging with social sensitivity and proud nationalist credentials

Four days ahead of the National Sports Day on August 29, 2019, one of India’s brightest sporting icons was born. The history of India’s Rashtriya Khel Diwas, dates back to August 29, 1905, when a boy named Dhyanchand, was born in the district of Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. Major Dhyanchand is considered to be the greatest hockey player ever in the history of Indian hockey.
With a gold medal in the World Badminton Championship, PV Sindhu is already rated as one of the best ever women badminton players in India. Almost a year from now which coincides with the National Sports Day next year, if Sindhu is able to change the colour of her silver medal she won in Rio Olympics 2016 to gold in the Tokyo Olympics 2020, she will go down in the annals of the country’s sporting history as one of the greatest Indian sportspersons. 24-year-old Sindhu is already aware of this huge expectation.

After Sindhu arrived in the country after being crowned world champion, she was pointedly asked about Tokyo Olympics gold medal chances in 2020. She answered confidently, “I know a lot of people ask me about it, but I think each tournament is a different experience. When someone asks me whether my next target is gold in the next Olympics, I would like to say that for me it’s about the short term goals, my next aim is some of the super series which will be qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics 2020 and then take step by step from there. But definitely, my ultimate aim will be a gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics 2020”.
In management parlance, this means taking one step at a time and focus on the process and not on the end result while aiming for the ultimate goal. Prakash Padukone says, “Sindhu cannot take this victory for granted though. The difference between the players at the top is very little. She has to maintain this form and fitness until the Tokyo Olympics next year. My suggestion would be to focus on winning the two big events next year – the All England and the Olympics – and work backwards. All her efforts and planning out to be to peak in these two events. If it’s not possible to peak in both, she must concentrate on the Olympics alone. In between, even if she has to skip a few tournaments or happens to bow out early in others, she need not to be worried. Qualifying for the Olympics is not an issue. Peaking is. That ought to be her prime target now.” And, there are solid reasons behind the excitement of the sporting legends like Prakash Padukone. Sindhu has got all the marks of a superstar in Indian Badminton.
Before lifting this gold medal at Basle, Switzerland, Sindhu has had two silver medals in 2017 and 2018 world championships in her name. She won a silver medal for the country in 2016 Rio Olympics. And before this, she had two bronze medals from two world championships. Everyone was convinced about her abilities to be on top, but her series of defeats in the final matches posed a big question mark on her abilities to win the finals. After intense focus and hard work, she has emerged as Champion in the 2019 World Championship. One more hard push next year at the Tokyo Olympics will make her an all-time sporting star.
PV Sindhu’s exciting journey might serve as a case study for people from different walks of life in the country. For India to be an economic powerhouse, the success of more and more start-up ventures is the key. And, start-ups could learn valuable lessons from the success story of this 24-year-old superstar. Like Sindhu, every start-up begins life as a baby and rises to gain success. Like her, they should break the stereotypes as Sindhu has broken all stereotypes in the name of feminism and social evils. The founders of start-ups or entrepreneurs must look into her life to keep them motivated and to ensure success through hard work and commitment.
Broadly, there are five major life lessons to be learnt from the career trajectory of PV Sindhu. Firstly, follow your dream if you are convinced enough, even if it means taking what looks like a non-familiar path to others when you begin. Sindhu’s parents have accomplished volleyball players and she had the height which is considered an asset. Inspired by the feats of P Gopichand, her coach, she made badminton her passion. When starting up, you obviously have to come up with a brilliant idea, but also should be passionate enough to go through all the tough times to ensure that your idea survives. The key to any successful business is to be passionate about it.
Secondly, like PV Sindhu, for every new company to become a successful venture should have a strong support system. Without real support and foundation, no start-up would last. Sindhu’s parents stood strongly by her throughout her career. This encouraged her to achieve more in life, overcoming all the difficulties she faced on her way. Likewise, if any start-up has a family of co-workers and workers ever willing to stand by you and helping you to achieve your goals, one can see your idea converting into a full-blown business set up. Thirdly, ignoring bad vibes, focus on the job in your hand. In the Rio Olympics 2016, other participants from her country from different sports were having bad times. The disappointments of the fans were piling up and this was increasingly getting reflected in the bad press they were getting back home. She set an example on how to be unruffled with this and focus on the aim. Finally, she hit the target.
Similarly, for any start-up, while managing work, one may meet many peeps with negative vibes. All one has to do is ignore them and concentrate on one’s job. Fourthly, never give up. Despite reaching the finals, she had to be content with the silver in the Rio Olympics. She faltered in the finals of the two back to back world championships. She was called the choker. For ordinary persons, this would have been enough to shatter their confidence. But she did not give up. In the start-up, too, one is doomed to face failures and boulders on the path. That does not mean that one should give up. Picking up all the pieces and starting again is a fundamental rule of a start-up. Fifthly, be prepared to run the extra mile. She learnt lessons from her failures and ran the extra mile on the areas of her weakness. Her new coach Miss Kim worked on her game in tandem with her permanent mentor, P Gopichand. They gradually started weeding out the shortcomings of her game. Of late, her game was becoming predictable for the opponents and the trick lay in changing her tactics so that her opponents are caught off guard. After a gruelling workout at the Gopichand Academy, Sindhu used to travel about 60 kilometres through Hyderabad traffic during the day to train for two hours under-strength trainer Srikanth Verma Medapalli.
Last but not least, patience is the biggest virtue. When you establish a new company, you may face many difficulties one by one. There will be periods in the growth process where it will look like hardships are going to be there forever. In such situations, chant the mantra ‘patience is virtue.’ Those who pass this phase of endurance can experience real success, exactly like how facing uphill battles enabled Sindhu to realise her dream of becoming the world champion one day. One more push, with the similar urge of walking an extra mile for one more year with patience, will catapult her to the next big league.
PV Sindhu represents the new breed of Indian sportspersons who want to give it back to society and the country. She has many brand endorsements in her name. But three of them are truly significant. Firstly, the Central Reserve Police Force appointed the ace badminton player as its brand ambassador. India’s largest para-military force bestowed her with the honorary rank of the commandant. Secondly, the nationalized banks are banking on Sindhu. She signed a three-year contract with Bank of Baroda in 2016. Thirdly, the solidity in her game was latched on by Rashtriya Ishpat Nigham Limited, also known as Vigaz steel that appointed her as its brand ambassador in 2016.
Earlier this year, Sidhu had star presence at the inauguration of SH(OUT)- Sexual Harassment Out, a first of its kind initiative by Hyderabad City Police along with Soroptimist International Organization. Speaking on a occasion earlier this year, she said, “I am very happy to learn that today Hyderabad City Police along with Soroptimist International jointly is conducting an interactive symposium on prevention, prohibition of sexual harassment on women at workplace. Sexual harassment is a type of discrimination. It is an unwanted or unwelcome behaviour which makes a person feel humiliated, offended or intimidated. It can be physical, verbal, non-verbal or written. Whenever I have been travelling abroad, there I have seen a lot of respect for women. Well, in India, people tell us about women that we should respect women, but I think there are very rare people that are actually practising it. It’s just that they just say it but don’t practise it,” she added. Sindhu further said, “Now the Indian society has completely changed. Earlier, it was like women should not work and stay at home, but now things have completely changed. It’s said that men and women are equal. I think the women have to be strong and we have to believe in ourselves,’ she added. Sindhu is not alone in her concern for the ecosystem she comes from and pro-active approach in addressing them.
Hima Das, after her gold medal at the global athletics meet in 2018, has increasingly become the face of her state. For many, she is the next big hope in Indian athletics. Though she has to traverse an arduous road to be in any sort of contention for the Tokyo Olympics 2020, she has been improving with every race. What is more remarkable about her is her sincerity to give it back to her society, her state and her country at large, while her efforts in the direction of striving for the excellence on the field continues. Recently, she donated half of her monthly salary for relief efforts. Her state Assam was in the throes of a disastrous flood, with the death toll continually on the rise. The athlete shared a post from her official Twitter handle on July 16, 2019, to draw the media’s attention towards the grim situation and urged the citizens to contribute towards relief funds to help the lakhs of displaced people. While she was in Europe, taking part in training camps and other competitive meets, she donated to the Assam Chief Minister’s Relief Fund on July 16, 2019. She works as an HR person at the Indian Oil Corporation. She tweeted, “I have contributed my bit and requesting others also to please help people of Assam through hashtag #AssamFloods on Twitter. In another tweet, sharing heart-wrenching images of those affected by the flood, she appealed to corporate and rich individuals to come forward and help by contributing towards relief efforts. She tweeted, ‘Flood situation in our state Assam is very critical, 30 out of 33 districts are currently affected. So, I would like to request big corporate and individuals to kindly come forward and help our state in this difficult situation.’ Unlike the sportspersons of the previous era, sportspersons of the New India believes in giving the statement of intent when it matters the most and not after they retire coinciding with the fading away of the public memory.
Deepa Malik bestowed with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award on the eve of Rashtriya Khel Diwas. The Para Olympic legend believes that her biggest achievement is changing the perception of the common public towards disability and para-athletes in general. She says, ‘I am very happy because I have always stood up. The whole journey has been more about changing the attitude of people towards disability and hidden potential in the people with disability. I think it’s going to come as a huge inspiration to women athletes in disability. It took 70 years for independent India to win medal in Paralympic.” In her conversation with a news agency Malik says, ‘In 2012, When I won the Arjuna Award and people thought that at 42, it would be retirement age for me. I am happy that disability has no bar, no gender bar and no age bar and now at 49, if I can be awarded Khel Ratna for active sports, it validates my journey of ability beyond disability.” Malik feels that women from hinterland will take her award as an inspiration and try to achieve bigger goals in their lives.
They all may have come from India’s small towns but they want to be active Agents of Change in a new India. This makes the likes of Deepa Malik and Babita Phogat to take up politics even when they continue to aim for the best in their chosen sports. This takes MS Dhoni to serve in the territorial army, immediately after the cricket world cup. Perhaps, this definition of the sportspersons of new India is the defining statement of the National Sports Day this year.
(The writer is a senior sports journalist)