Despite there being question marks over Santhi Soundarajan’s achievement at the Asiad, the Tamil Nadu government on Monday awarded her with Rs 15 lakh for winning the silver medal in 800m.
At the ceremony though, which was presided over by the TN Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, Santhi was unfazed by the controversy. “I have not received any official communication so far. I am still the winner of the 800m silver. The medal is still with me,” she said after receiving the cheque.
Santhi’s story of combating poverty and malnutrition to become a champion athlete has turned her into an icon in the state. Her parents Soundararajan and Manimekalai, brick kiln workers earning just Rs 22 each a day, silently watched their eldest daughter in ecstasy.
Sports and Youth Welfare Minister TPM Mohideen Khan said the government had stuck to its decision to give her the cash incentive on ‘humanitarian grounds’ and also because it had not received any official communication. “It is our duty to encourage someone who has brought honours to Tamil Nadu,” he asserted.
He refused to speculate on whether the government would take back its gift, if Santhi was officially stripped off the medal. “It is for the chief minister to decide,” he said. Chess gold medallist Krishnan Sasikiran got Rs. 20 lakh, long jumper Anju Bobby George 15 lakh for her silver and squash player Saurav Ghosal got 10 lakh for a bronze.
Sports officials recall that Santhi’s is not the first case of an athlete failing a gender test in Tamil Nadu. Over a decade ago Solaimathi, who did not reach international level, had to give up her career after being found with less female hormones than specified to be considered a woman.
Technical official and Tamil Nadu Athletics Association joint secretary CK Valson said Santhi’s career was far from over as she could undergo hormone therapy and surgery, if needed, and appeal to return to competitive athletics after two years.