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Why ignore Vijender and Sushil Kumar?

There must be something terribly wrong with a system which fails to recognise India's rare achievements in the field of sport other than cricket. The names of Olympic medallists do not figure on the list of the Khel Ratna, rues Pradeep Magazine.

india Updated: Jul 25, 2009 10:27 IST

There must be something terribly wrong with a system which fails to recognise India's rare achievements in the field of sport other than cricket.

When India won a gold and two bronze medals at the Beijing Olympics, the country went euphoric. The celebrations that followed may have been over the top, but there was enough justification for it, so meagre has been our haul of medals at the world's biggest sporting stage.

Abhinav Bindra was feted as no other sportsman, other than a cricketer, has been ever before. So were boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar. For a brief period cricket took backstage as TV channels and the print media were full of inspirational stories of how these athletes had fought against insurmountable odds to compete with the best and come out winners.

It almost appeared as if a sporting revolution had taken place and India could now shed the tag of a one-sport nation. All of a sudden Bhiwani was discovered on the geographical map of India as a place of pilgrimage. Sushil Kumar's hometown Najafgarh would have been accorded the same status had Virender Sehwag not belonged to the same place. You could see a sense of pride even on those faces who believe sports is a waste of time.

It did not take much time for 'normalcy' to be restored and cricket took centre stage once again. So much so that in the list of Padma award winners, there was no Vijender and no Sushil Kumar. Instead we had MS Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh figuring in the list. As someone belonging to the tribe who has lived off following and writing on cricket, it is not my case that Dhoni and Harbhajan did not deserve to get this government recognition, but somehow in a year when we had gone beyond cricket, it seemed grossly unjust to have ignored the two Olympic bronze medal winners. And what these cricketers, pampered by the corporate world, the media and the public alike, think of this "honour" became obvious when they did not attend the award ceremony. Worse, they did not even bother to inform the Sports Ministry that they were too busy to attend the function.

Given the way we treat our cricketers, it is not their fault if they start believing India belongs to them and not vice-versa. So, let us leave it at that and not take this sarcastic quip too seriously. But the questions remains, why were Vijender and Sushil ignored then as they are being now? Their names are missing from the country's highest sporting honour this year, the Khel Ratna. Puzzling but there is an interesting explanation: We are already training ourselves to behave like a superpower. In America, where winning gold medals is a norm and not an exception, who remembers those who win bronze medals!