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Blame South Korea, but it is India who let Sarita Devi down

Less than a week after MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission) slingshot India into an elite club, India saw a mom wronged as Sarita Devi refused to accept her bronze at Incheon, writes HT's Rakesh Goswami.

other Updated: Oct 02, 2014 15:11 IST
Rakesh Goswami
Rakesh Goswami
Hindustan Times
Sarita Devi,Asian Games,India

Less than a week after MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission) slingshot India into an elite club, India saw a mom wronged.

As a crying Laishram Sarita Devi refused to accept her bronze at Incheon as a mark of protest against "injustice in sport", many and I hung our heads in shame.

Where were our Indian Olympic Association officials? We read they were around, but we saw they were not there for the boxer when she needed them most after the controversial loss to South Korean Park Jina in the semi-final.

Even Mary Kom said after the verdict, "Of course Park won because she is Korean."

Sarita burst into tears as she walked to the podium and cried bitterly on it. The country watched the spectacle of how she refused the medal and hung it around silver medallist Park.

A bewildered Park said after the victory ceremony, "She (Sarita) hung her medal on me. I tried to give it back to her, but she didn't want it. I wasn't sure what to do, so someone told me to leave it on the podium."

Earlier, Park had admitted she was "embarrassed" by what had happened. "She (Sarita) was the winner in our bout," she had told a media briefing.

All the commiserations are fine, but they change nothing because the sport's officialdom cannot look beyond the rulebook and our officials have their own games to keep busy.

But as a nation, we have failed you, Sarita.

Our officials did little. The Mongolians threatened a pullout after a similar (shocking) verdict, but our contingent did not even put up a token fight.

And, when India did protest, the international body, the international boxing association (AIBA), rejected it. The rules, AIBA supervisor David Francis pointed out, didn't have a provision to challenge the judges.

Now, Sarita could face the wrath of AIBA for her gesture on the podium "regardless of what happened in the competition".

India's trainer, who is a Cuban, wished the judges could be sacked. Not a squeak, however, from our officials.

Before we move on, let us spare a thought for the steely Sarita. The 29-year-old woman has not been able to devote time to her baby for two years, concentrating on her sport.

It would be cruel if the loss and punishment, if it is dished out, break her resolve. Her maiden Asian Games appearance could be her last.

When Sarita behaved the way she did, it was probably with the knowledge that there would be consequences. That, however, did not prevent her from protesting.

Then what prevented our officials from standing beside her in support, if nothing else?

The same people who flocked Mary Kom when she won gold and hugged her for shutterbugs watched Sarita's humiliation from the VIP stand.

We as a nation also cannot absolve ourselves of blame. We are cruel to our sport stars when they face rough weather.

Remember Pinki Pramanik, the Asian Games gold medallist? Remember how she was demonised after a woman charged her with rape and her gender was put to severe judicial and medical tests?

Remember how we forgot her when she got vindicated after an excruciating and long court process? Some did go back to her to write about the trauma she faced before the Calcutta high court exonerated her, but the relief did not attract as many eyeballs as the allegation had.

And, also remember how we flog our out-of-form cricketers. The less said the better.

(Rakesh Goswami is the bureau chief of HT, Jaipur. Views expressed by him above are personal)

First Published: Oct 02, 2014 14:14 IST