The power of one, of an individual’s will and resolve, is formidable and can move mountains and shatter glass ceilings. Sakshi Malik’s bronze medal at the Rio Olympics has done both. Her success has changed the mood of the whole nation overnight from pessimism to optimism and beyond. As we congratulate Sakshi, we should devote some time to introspect what her success means to Indian society and its sporting culture. Her state Haryana celebrates its champions with awards and accolades (the government announced a ₹2.5 crore cash prize for Sakshi soon after her victory).
However, Sakshi’s achievement goes way beyond the borders of Haryana. Sakshi is India’s champion now, just like Dipa Karmakar is, just like PV Sindhu or Abhinav Bindra or several other athletes who have defied odds to do well. They have done so despite officialdom and the many factors which pull them down rather than push them forward. The bureaucracy in Indian sports is infamous for its apathy, its lack of application and its focus more on administrators rather on sportspersons. Sakshi and Dipa are examples of the fact that champions make themselves. If must be asked that if they could get this far, largely on their own steam, how much better they would have done had they had the proper inputs in the form of scientific training, nutrition and encouragement.
It is all too easy for people to be cynical and ask if this bronze medal is all that much to celebrate in a country of a billion plus people. It certainly is, considering how much effort the wrestler put into her sport to be able to compete with the best in the world. The fact that the Haryana government has acknowledged her achievement will inspire others to follow in her footsteps. But this should also be an occasion for the sports authorities to professionalise their game instead of waking up just before these mega events to put into place training schedules for athletes. In addition, we can only hope that the sort of spectacle we saw of the Haryana sports minister and his entourage turning up in Rio ostensibly to cheer on the state’s athletes is not repeated in future.
Champions like Sakshi do not need this sort of encouragement. It is a different matter that the minister and his party spent a large part of their time on Rio’s famed beaches than on any productive work. The money spent on this jamboree could well have been used to find and train other potential Sakshis.