The government’s decision to double the monthly pension for sportspersons could not have come sooner. Last week, Sports Minister M.S. Gill announced that the monthly pension earned by ex-Olympians will be doubled with retrospective effect from July 1, 2008. The value that we give our sportspersons (barring cricketers) has a lot to do with how we fare in the international arena. In the past, successive administrations talked of taking up the cause of former Olympians forgotten by the very nation they once brought so much glory to. But such concerns turned out to be lip service.
The country should hang its head in shame, the way many of its sporting greats have been treated the moment they slip from public memory. Even a Makhan Singh (gold and silver medallist, Asian Games 1962), who ended up driving a truck, could consider himself lucky when compared to a Mohammed Ali (played for India in the Merdeka Cup in the 60s) who later worked as a coolie at a railway station. A notional monthly pension seldom made any difference to sports stars like Gopal Bhengra
(represented India in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina) who broke stone in a quarry for a living.
Unfortunately for an athlete, his or her career ends at 30-plus. Whatever comes by way of government grants to troubled sportspersons — and pensions to Asian, Olympic, and World Championship medallists — has been a piddle.
Doubling their pensions will not make their lives as comfortable as they should be. But it will help. And perhaps more importantly, it will send out the message to today’s sportspeople that they will not be ‘dropped’ the moment they hang their boots. This is important in a country like India where athletes have to content themselves with the status of a third-class citizens, quite often with inadequate training facilities and paltry sums passed on as ‘stipend money’. Hopefully, the Ministry’s gesture will prompt sponsors to shift their cricket-centric focus to our athletes as well.