There are times one realise that nothing is bigger than being able to represent one’s nation at an international platform. The excitement and joy increases manifold if the particular platform boasts of a century old legacy. And the fact that one achieved this feat while socio-economic disadvantages haunted him/her for years is only going to exponentially sweeten the pleasure. It is in that moment that even winning a Bronze seems no less than winning a Gold medal.
By winning bronze, at the recently concluded Glasgow Commonwealth Games (CWG) in their respective categories of weightlifting events, Punam Yadav (19) and Ganesh Mali (21), the duo did not break any records, nor could their performance be argued to be amongst the best. However, this performance of theirs could not (and should not) be measured in terms of statistics alone. Their win, despite acute financial constraints and belonging to socially disadvantaged sections of the society, makes the bronze shine brighter than many gold medals put together.
Yadav hails from a very modest family living in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh which is dependent on a small piece of farmland to meet their ends. The family’s economic condition is so bad that Punam had to almost walk out on the sport to support survival of her family.
Ganesh, likewise, belongs to a family of landless labours and lives in Kurundwad locality of Kolhapur district of Maharashtra. His family lives of the daily wage his father and mother manage to earn and from earning his father makes working as a painter. In both the cases, their relatives came forward to support them and share the burden of their aspirations.
Their achievement at the CWG has endowed the families of these two athletes with a great sense of accomplishment and has brought them recognition. The win, which brings with itself award money from sport authorities and government bodies, will help these families lead a significantly better life now. At such young age, both these athletes are becoming great sources of inspiration, especially to those fighting caste and other social barriers. At the same time, their win, despite immensely difficult circumstances, would also prove to be a force of motivation for many aspiring athletes.
On 3rd November, 2003 the United Nations’ General Assembly adopted resolution 58/5 recognising the role of sport as a means to address issues related to education, health, development and peace. This resolution has been acknowledged by the Indian government at numerous occasions but has seldom been the subject of actual policy making and/or implementation.
Economic disadvantage is both a consequence and cause of social disadvantage. In the context of India where population is divided along the lines both of caste and capital, success cannot achieved in resolving either of the two problems, without simultaneously addressing the other.
Global evidence and experience shows that sport, in comparison to other traditional ways, has been a cost-effective tool to achieve targeted goals of development.
The success of likes of Ganesh Mali and Punam Yadav, alone, should be a good reason for the government to aggressively invest in sports development itself and constructively engage with organisations that are using sports as a tool to achieve various developmental objectives.
The power of sport, even amidst the worst kinds of situations, to positively affect the lives of many is simply overwhelming. A well designed, carefully implemented and rigorously monitored/evaluated sports policy could save the government a lot of trouble and would bring a new dawn to the lives of millions.
This essay was first published by The International Platform on Sport & Development on 14th Aug, 2014. A revised version of this essay was later published by The News Minute on 16th Aug, 2014 under the same title.