By Chitra Ahanthem
This week saw two major incidents: one was literally a loud blast in our own backyard `“ the bomb blast at MG Avenue and the other happened in far away Incheon in South Korea. The former left casualties, one dead and many injured. The later incident is still seeing reverberations in the media, in the sporting world and amongst the public. The bomb blast was not the first of its kind-we have seen such cases, a blast in the heart of Imphal where non migrant people could have been or not been the actual targets and then on with life as usual. What happened with Sarita (host country using unfair means to get their medal tally on the increase) and her own action thereafter despite many feeling she was `unsporting`™ in her stand of not accepting her medal has rallied people not just from Manipur or the North Eastern states but across the country as well. With the bomb blast, a sit in protest, a few releases denouncing the attack and the heads of state calling the incident `unfortunate`™ and `act of terrorism`™ is all there is to it. But there`™s more to be read into the Sarita incident, which is what this column will be about.
It`™s no secret that sports have never been accorded the respect and support that it needs in this country. Barring cricket that has got the kind of infrastructural and financial support and the media attention, no other sports discipline gets close to being promoted. But things kind of shifted in a very subtle manner following the Commonwealth Games hosted in Delhi. Yes, the media coverage did start with the scams around the Games but to be fair, it did stay on the athletes and sportspersons in the arena. And then, it became almost fashionable for various media outlets to come up with stories of sportspersons left out in the cold without any Government support: which explains why there is no dearth of former medal winners living a life of poverty, squalor and neglect. This is not to say that such stories are needed: in fact, they are necessary as they expose the almost callous nature of Sports officials and the blind eye that the Sports Ministry and various associations associated with Sports in the country.
But in the end, what all these stories have ended up doing is make this apathy towards sportspersons in the country almost normal and acceptable and that we are all fine with how things are going.
And yet, when Laishram Sarita refused to accept her bronze medal, it was as if the floodgates of public opinion gushed forth. The last time I did a Google news search, there were more than 1000 news items on the medal. On social media networks, the wave of comments made Sarita `trend`™ (which means most talked about) with the most heartwarming take away being that mainstream media were suddenly talking about the trails of sportspersons besides slamming sports officials. The swell of support that the boxer has received from people across countries and regions has not been kept in the real of media footprints and the online world but has brought other forms of support in terms of awards. The most interesting is the one that has come in from the Olympic Gold Quest, an initiative started by Geet Sethi, a professional Billiards player and winner of various tittles and Prakash Padukone, again a well respected sportsperson who has bagged various international tittles in Badminton. The agency has not only honoured the boxer with a cash award of Rs 10 lakhs but has also earmarked another 10 lakhs to take care of her training needs. Another boxer that this agency has been supporting for the past many years is of course Mary Kom who may well find herself facing some rough times in wake of her most recent comments over Sarita refusing to take her medal.
Mary Kom, as we know earlier said she kind of showed her support for Sarita when she said that the later was treated unfairly but in her most recent interviews said that Sarita should not have done what she did. When regular folks go into the right and wrong of what Sarita did at the medal ceremony, it is not such a huge thing but to have Mary Kom and Sarita pitted one against the another is a little bit unfortunate given that there was an earlier incident involving Mary Kom where she was said to have said before the media in Mizoram that Manipuri media was baised against her and in favor of Sarita. This was of course a reference to the rumblings over Mary `taking over`™ Sarita`™s weight category for her Olympic participation. If Mary Kom`™s latest statement snowballs into a major controversy given the state of the public emotions, she should not be surprised. After all, Manipuris love ethos and drama.