If Dipa Karmakar maintained that she was returning her swanky new BMW because the roads in Agartala weren’t good enough, it would have been a different story. It turned a little awkward once it was reported that Karmakar preferred being given a cash equivalent.
We live in times where sportspersons, except cricketers that is, have to shamelessly ask for money and sponsors. If they don’t, their careers could end up going nowhere. Then again, our sporting millionaires — the cricketers — have not been graceful with gifts, either.
The irony of the Karmakar gift saga is that she received the BMW in the presence of Sachin Tendulkar, who is also the brand ambassador of the German brand. Tendulkar, himself, had sold the Ferrari, a gift he received from Michael Schumacher.
While we could try to justify Karmakar’s reported preference, it is hard to do the same for Tendulkar, who was the highest paid Indian athlete throughout his playing days.
Indian athlete’s life
An Indian athlete’s journey is full of ironies. When they embark on their sporting career, the biggest priority is to secure a job. Financial security is the Holy Grail they search for.
The same reasoning applies when an athlete moves to another state. The search needn’t always be for proper training facilities. It invariably is for a better paying job that also allows enough leaves for training, along with the lucrative prize money the respective state’s government doles out for winning a medal on the international stage. In fact, the latter goes a long way in helping them choose a state.
But when someone decides to honour an athlete’s achievement with a gift out of his own benevolence, many athletes, unfortunately, fail to understand the symbolism attached to that gift and the decorum that needs to be maintained to keep the respect they command intact.
Cricket’s gift trouble
Cricket is one sport where the successful are not only paid in crores but also showered with gifts everywhere they go. It is expected in this ‘more-the-merrier scenario’ that the cricketers be humble. Somewhere down the line though, desire drives humility out.
Not many years ago — the BCCI still was one of the richest Boards and the players used to draw fat daily allowances — the players used to make a line for the manager’s room and use his phone to make the international calls back home.
Many players used to make issues out of trivial expenditures such as registration tax and import duty on gifts they received while playing abroad.
Earlier this year, MS Dhoni was fined for ‘mistakenly’ registering his imported Hummer as a Mahindra Scorpio. The difference in registration tax was around Rs. 3.5 lakh which Dhoni ultimately had to pay along with an unspecified fine. A 3.5 lakh contribution to “nation building” is something Captain Cool shouldn’t have worried about.
Perhaps that is the difference between a sporting hero and a sports star.
And talking about sporting heroes, the most controversial car gift story was that of Tendulkar and his Ferrari. Even accepting the car, a 350 Modena, involved a fair bit of controversy when Tendulkar initially insisted for an exemption on the import duty. Ferrari finally put an end to the controversy by paying the duty as well.
Karmakar’s reaction is still understandable as she doesn’t have a central contract like cricketers and neither does she have sponsors lined up.
Then again, after her Rio performance, it’s unlikely that the governments, both state and central, won’t pay for the training of the gymnast who finished fourth at the Games. It would have been much more graceful had Karmakar just returned the car with a polite, ‘Thanks, but no thanks’.
But sportspersons in India rarely let it go at just that, and the precedent has been set by none other than a “sporting hero”.