Hockey legend Balbir Sr’s wish to see his lost memorabilia remains unfulfilled
Singh had said then that in 1985, he had donated his medals and memorabilia to the then SAI Secretary on being told that they would be displayed in a show window’ at the then proposed National Sports Museum.Updated: May 25, 2020 13:56 IST
For last eight years he left no stones unturned to regain his lost memorabilia, which he had donated way back in 1985 to the Sports Authority of India, but Hockey legend Balbir Singh Sr’s last wish to see his treasure remained unfulfilled.
One of India’s greatest hockey players who won three Olympic gold medals in a stellar career, Singh died at a hospital here on Monday after battling multiple health issues for over two weeks. In August, 2015, PTI had reported about his missing memorabilia, which included an Olympic blazer, medals and rare pictures. It was donated to SAI for a proposed museum which never saw the light of day.
Singh had said then that in 1985, he had donated his medals and memorabilia to the then SAI Secretary on being told that they would be displayed in a show window’ at the then proposed National Sports Museum.
With the exception of his Olympic medals and the Padma Shri award, everything else - including his captain’s Melbourne Olympic blazer, 36 medals including Tokyo Asiad (1958) silver, and over 100 rare photographs - were among the items that had been donated by him.
Singh, who had won gold medals at London (1948), Helsinki (1952) and Melbourne (1956) Olympics, travelled to Delhi many times with his maternal grandson Kabir to meet ministers or officials in this regard. The Hockey great just kept receiving assurances and nothing concrete was done in this regard. His daughter Sushbir and many Hockey lovers also wrote on social media about it but nothing happened.
They came to know that the items were missing when the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Museum wanted the Melbourne Games blazer to be a part of the official London Olympics (2012) exhibition where he was the only Indian and the only hockey player chosen among 16 icons across all participants in all disciplines in 116 years of the modern Olympics era.
“That is when we contacted SAI to get that blazer as Nanaji (Balbir Sr.) had nothing with him in London apart from Olympic medals. But SAI officials said that they didn’t know about the whereabouts of the treasure,” his maternal grandson Kabir had said at that time.
Sports historian and Singh’s close associate for over six decades Sudesh Gupta said that despite the legend and his family’s best efforts, nothing came out in this regard.
“Despite his age and health issues he himself met many sports ministers and all sports secretaries and SAI officials in last 8 years. Me and Kabir accompanied him and we travelled everywhere from Delhi to Patiala. It is a disgrace! These articles were a part of our national sporting heritage,” Gupta told PTI Bhasha.
“We also raised this issue with former sports minister Sarbanand Sonowal in 2014. He also gave us assurance at that time,” he said.
A group of lawyers from the Punjab and Haryana High Court filed many RTIs in the SAI office in New Delhi and the National Institute of Sports (NIS), Patiala, which revealed some astonishing facts.
The RTI replies of these authorities revealed shocking mismatch of statements, but more importantly, also an affirmation of the fact that the articles were indeed received by these authorities from Singh.
The first RTI in this matter was filed on December 9, 2014 with SAI and it contained one basic question as to whether there was a proposal to set up a National Sports Museum at Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium at New Delhi. Questions were also asked pertaining to the status of articles received from Singh.
The concerned authorities, in their reply sent to this RTI on January 5, 2015, stated that there was/is no proposal to set up a National Sports Museum at J L Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, and flatly denied having received any articles from the legend. The second RTI was filed by the lawyers in the offices of NIS, Patiala on December 19, 2014 to which a reply was received on January 2, 2015 in which NIS acknowledged that it had received the articles from J L Nehru Stadium, New Delhi to be displayed at NIS, Patiala.
Meanwhile, dissatisfied by SAI’s reply to its first RTI, the lawyers filed an RTI appeal to the Appellate Authority of SAI, which was transferred by SAI to J L Nehru stadium, New Delhi.
“The reply to this RTI appeal was received on March 19, 2015 and it left all of us shocked. This RTI reply revealed a list of items which were handed over by J L Nehru Stadium, to NIS Patiala in 1998. Item No 23 in this list clearly mentions that an Olympic blazer from 1956 Olympics was received from Balbir Singh Sr by J L Nehru stadium,” Kabir had said. “This happens to be the same blazer which he wore as the only Indian to have been bestowed the honour of being flag bearer twice for the Indian Olympic contingent (1952 and 1956).”