She lost again! In the final of the World Championship, against a familiar opponent whom she had decimated a few weeks ago. PV Sindhu once again lost to Spain’s Carolina Marin in a final and thus the monkey is still on her back. The media will continue to use ‘forever bridesmaid’ in their headlines.
But. Stop. Wait for a moment, think again. Contemplate. How did a player, who came from 19-12 behind in the second game of the semifinal the previous day, squander away the lead of 14-10 in the first game of the final to lose the match eventually? What plagues her in the final? Is Marin so daunting? Those groans so deafening that they suck her talent out, leaving her sheepishly fending, before conceding the match? Do you have the answer? What happens to Indian athletes in the final?
Barring Abhinav Bindra at the 2008 Olympic final, there are hardly any instances of an Indian athlete or team sealing the final with authority. Wrestler Sushil Kumar was not quite 100% in the final of the 2012 London Olympics and thus lost the final. So we reserve the benefit of doubt for him. But at the global stage when the opponent is of similar calibre, more often than not the Indian athlete goes down – sometimes fighting, sometimes timidly!
And this is not something that’s because of lack of talent or lack of resources that for decades has been a major concern for the Indians. With schemes such as TOP (Target Olympic Podium), the government has tried to breach the gap between the facilities which foreign athletes avail and the resources at Indians disposal.
The problem of an Indian falling down in the final is something that does not arise overnight, nor does it creep into our athletes’ mind at the global stage in the final. It’s not even a problem – it’s a far bigger issue. It’s the self-doubt, the pressure of unreal expectation that he/she faces as the first thing in his career much before making it to the big stage.
It is not a problem related to sports anyway. It’s a societal problem – a deep rooted evil that has cursed millions of middle class families in India. The eagerness to propel their child, wards in a race that has more participants that any other country is what bogs down our talent.
We might be providing the best facility to our athletes at every level but there is one thing that we as a country fail to inculcate into our athletes. And that is: it’s okay to lose. At the end of the day, what matters is did you give your best? Was the opponent better on the given day? If yes. Let it be! There will be moments in future. Anyway, one medal or a victory does not define a sportsperson.
There is another aspect that Indians need to cater to. We are not encouraging our children to play enough – just to go out there and enjoy the idea of sports. After all, not every outing in the park has to be competitive. ‘We will go out there and have fun’ is something that appears a fake (read forced) quote from our players ahead of the big event. In reality, the said sportsperson is just trying to keep off the pressure that is mounting on him from every corner. He has to answer that neighbour who advised his father to keep him off sports. That relative whose son preferred studies over sports and has something to show to the society. That government job, which only an achiever of certain degree is eligible to get. Then there is jingoism too. A country deprived of medals at the global level gets swayed a bit and attaches overt expectations from an athlete who is already fighting battles at every front.
A clear head is a perquisite for an athlete to excel at the top level. Abhinav Bindra, in a sport like shooting, could keep his head calm and fire the golden shot because he achieved the improbable of locking himself away from such expectations. Many athletes, who are not privileged to come from such backgrounds and rise from the lowest rungs of the ladder, falter at the big stage. Not because they lack talent. But because they lack the belief that world does not end with a loss. It’s okay to lose. A loss never defines a sportsperson. What defines them is the ability to wake up next morning and show up with the same intent to go for the best, once again. We are not preparing our athletes for the mornings after a loss. We just want them to give us a reason to dance on the night of the final. I am afraid, that is not how we will make a great sporting nation.
‘Haarna nahi hai Gita’ would have been more pleasing with Aamir Khan shouting, ‘Shabhash Gita, tu jeetegi ye!’