India bested its medal haul of the London Olympics by winning 7 medals in the just-concluded Tokyo Olympics 2020. In total, India has now bagged 35 medals in the Olympics – ten Golds, nine Silvers and 16 Bronzes. However, out of the 20 Olympic medals bagged in the last 21 years, 7 individual medals have been earned by sportspersons from Haryana, suggesting a clear pattern that the Northern state has been a factory of producing sporting superstars.
Out of the 127 players that represented India in Tokyo, 30 were from Haryana. With a population of 25 million people (according to the 2011 census), Haryana’s exploits haven’t been limited to the Olympics. The state won 22 out of the 66 medals won by India at the 2018 Commonwealth Games (CWG 2018) in Gold Coast. It previously won 19 of the 64 medals India collected in the 2014 Glasgow CWG and 27 out of 101 in the 2010 edition held in New Delhi.
It is not a recent phenomenon that Haryana has found itself on the top of the pile of medallists. Before the green revolution in the 1970s that made the state one of the top crop producers, hundreds of able-bodied Haryanvis joined the army and paramilitary forces to supplement their family income and some of these soldiers eventually became national and international athletes with military patronage. The army continues to do its bit to this day.
The youth in Haryana harbour dreams of joining the Indian army from a relatively small age. Physicality plays a big role if they are to realize the said dream. Thus, most of them take up a sport of any kind and through a hit and trial method, find one that suits their capabilities. Joining the Indian army through the sports quota is also a lucrative proposition that inspires teenagers and youth.
Even Neeraj Chopra, a resident of Haryana is a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) in the Indian armed forces. Voices have been growing in pace to grant him a promotion after his heroics in the games. The Panchkula Stadium where Neeraj trained has already received a flood of admission requests from parents seeking to enrol their kids into learning the art of ‘Javelin Throw’. Perhaps, the parents also want their wards to chart a similar journey to that of Neeraj where they balance the professional and the sporting career.
However, other than the numbers and facilities, it’s the sporting culture of the state that has made its stand head and shoulders above the competition. Haryana and sports are interchangeably used terms and invariably while talking about the state, sports seeps its way through in the conversation.
The Indian pop culture aka Bollywood is replete with movies that play on the tropes of Haryana and its ‘soil creating athletes’. Aamir Khan starrer Dangal, despite its inconsistencies, was a case study of how the sporting culture in Haryana has evolved through the decades. Unlike other states where girls are often discouraged from participating, Haryana has broken the stereotype.
As argued previously by TFI, Sports in India is still not a conventional career option. Playing sports means deviating from a path of career security as the nexus of teachers and parents ensure that the kid is set back on the road laid by them. Sports ‘was’ and ‘remains’ an extra co-curricular activity.
However, the same cannot be said about Haryana. While the governments have played their part, it’s the Haryanvi families that push their kids to pursue a career in the field. Allowing the kids to practice on sporting facilities day in and out and not stopping them from taking a leap of faith to venture into the professional arena is a trait that the rest of the country can pick from the Northern state of India.
Moreover, the old ‘akharas’ of the country that train pehalwans in the rustic settings are still a regular feature in the sporting landscape of Haryana. The state and its people still have a deep connection with spirituality and ancient Indian history. The land where epic Mahabharata took place, often finds its way into the sporting behaviour of the players.
Neeraj’s flowing long mane along with his good looks, throwing an ancient weapon i.e spear drew comparisons with Yuddhistir, who was similarly well versed with the art. Perhaps, it is the close connection with Mahabharata that most of the athletes from the state, relying on the vegetarian diet can sustain themselves on the biggest sporting platforms.
Haryana’s blood has sports and more than anything, it explains the meteoric rise of the athletes. One can only imagine, if proper grassroot facilities are developed, the state could practically dwarf the biggest of sporting nations in the medals haul.