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Home > India > Sports > Column > Mahesh Vijapurkar

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This is not on, Mr Suresh Kalmadi

September 05, 2008

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No, Mr Suresh Kalmadi, this is just not done!

You cannot walk away in a peeve from an event to felicitate Olympic medallists Sushil Kumar and Vijender Kumar at Vice President Hamid Ansari's residence because you were denied a seat next to him.

And mind you, my objections have nothing to do with protocol requirements or the official Order of Precedence when a constitutional functionary is involved.

What got my goat was your walking away from an event that was honouring two boys who brought glory to the country by breaking the jinx by which we did not get an Olympic medal for years. Not only did you disrespect talent and achievement, Mr Kalmadi but you showed total lack of grace.

You are, after all, not one of those boorish politicians but from among the ranks of the socialites, suave, charming and flamboyant. You have lived in high society and are reputed to have the requisite graces. Unless, of course, you too think that the boys who go to sweat blood to compete in Olympics [Images] are menials, which they are not.

To the country and the sport, it matters little how you were treated and asked to shift a seat by the officials organising the event. It is more important that you took the focus away from the more deserving of applaud than any of the officials of the Indian Olympic Committee would ever merit.

All quite disquieting.

These boys and Abhinav Bindra got the medals -- two bronzes and one gold -- not because of the IOA but in spite of them. The boxer and the wrestlers coped with official apathy, non-release of funds meant for their preparations to go to Beijing [Images] Olympics; for the boxers, only some 35 per cent was released of the Rs 1 cr granted. Bindra had his father to thank for because he was gifted a world-class firing range on his own farm to practice in.

I'd like you to list, with evidence, what the IOA really did apart from promise of funds?

Another sickening spectacle was on the flight back home from Beijing by Air China. It appears that the officials flew back in business class and the two Kumars who are now the country's pride were in the economy section. It so irked other passengers to complain that this was shabby treatment of the hinterland heroes.

What was the bland explanation? There were no business class seats available for the boys!

One realises the rush when thousands leave a country after an Olympic event and there would not be seats to be had. But if only the Indian mission in Beijing had been asked for help, they could have perhaps managed a couple of seats. No guarantee that they would have succeeded but at least an attempt could have been made? If that was an act of omission, the appalling act of commission was the IOA officials not switching their seats.

I believe that the Board of Cricket Control in India plans months ahead and books the seats, all business class, for the cricketers. None of them is forced to stay 20 to a room -- as the boxers did when in camp for the boxers, and thanks to 24x7 TV for revealing this with telling footage -- and how they are treated is a lesson to be learnt by the IOA.

No wonder, Kalmadi and people of his officious ilk -- this includes the Indian Hockey Federation where slots in the team were recently sold for graft -- have made very little positive contribution to the growth of sports in the country. Only the contractors who build stadia would perhaps have some nice things to say about them.

Contrast this to the heartening way Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd welcomed his country's swimmer Stephanie Rice. He walked up the ladder to the aircraft's door when she returned home to Sydney. A picture by Associated Press released worldwide showed her surprise when there he was, arms outstretched.

Then again, Cuban President Raul Castro received his country's athletes at the Havana airport and not, as is the case in pompous and graceless India, waiting for them to call on him for being shown the winners, their medals and for other photo-opportunities.

These are two smaller countries which have often won more medals in a single Olympics than India has in its entire effort in all the Olympics games.

Now, Mr Kalmadi, doesn't all this explain why Indian sports lags behind?

You had lamented in a TV interview, Mr Kalmadi, that India does not win a single gold. This time the sportsmen did the country proud. They deserved a better show of grace from all of you in the sports officialdom, where you fought to get there.

Would the future tell a different story?

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