Even as the country celebrates wrestler Sushil Kumar's bronze medal at Beijing, grappler Shokinder Tomar on Sunday put up his Arjuna Award and Commonwealth Games medals for auction.
Medals in hand, Shokinder — who bagged a silver at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games and received the Arjuna in 2004 — led a procession in his hometown, Malakpur village in Baghpat district, Uttar Pradesh, demanding that the medals be auctioned to buy wrestling mats and for land to build a stadium.
The procession had over 100 wrestlers, including woman wrestler Anshu Tomar and Shyam Singh, father of Rajiv Tomar, who competed at Beijing.
Shokinder told HT it was not a publicity stunt. “Come to the village and you will know the truth. We slog in unhygienic conditions without professional coaches. There is no stadium, no ground and, even worse, women have to practise alongside men,” said Shokinder, a gold medallist at the Commonwealth Championships in Canada.
"I don't think Sushil Kumar's medal is going to change the mindset."
A bitter Shokinder said he has no choice but to auction his medals. "If someone is willing to sell his Arjuna Award, you can understand how desperate he is," said the 27-year-old who has been mostly out of action for two years due to injury.
"I am trying to come out of it, but with no physiotherapy or coaching, my career is as good as over," he said.
Shokinder is not the first Indian sportsman who has tried to auction his medals. In August 2000, footballer Chandreshwar Prasad, who was in the last Asian Games bronze-medal team in 1970, went on a fast offering to return his Arjuna Award, as the state had not cleared his dues.
With Tomar and Prasad trying to pawn medals and KD Jadhav, who won India's first bronze in wrestling, dying in penury, it's clear that being an Olympic hero does not guarantee prosperity.