My Open Letter To The PM of India
Dear Mr Narendra Modi,
I write to you as an athlete of the country you lead and have been elected to better.
Amidst the hysteria around the football World Cup, a news channel broke the story of a few MLA's who were going to Brazil to watch the World Cup under the pretext that they needed to see how an event as big as the this was being managed. A day later, after much public outrage, this junket was scrapped and the ministers cancelled their trip!
I have been a swimmer for the majority of my life, represented my country abroad for over 15 years and have no connection to the game of football. However, when I saw this story unfold on television it brought feelings of nothing but anger and frustration, disgust and regret that I did not speak up earlier!
Let me say first off, that my experience of the two National Games at Hyderabad and Assam, was that they were managed and organised extremely well! Therefore this justification of needing to watch the World Cup to learn how an event is conducted does not seem believable, specially when no such event is planned for India at present, other than the IPL which is anyway spectacularly managed.
That being said, this incident makes me want to share two instances to draw your attention to the sad and disgusting state of affairs in our country written from an athletes point of view!
Competitive sport is grueling, Sir, and requires all manner of sacrifices from an athlete, his coach and family. After 20 years of hard work in the pool, I qualified to race at the Beijing Olympics. My parents were in China to watch me race, a reward for their years of hard work, but the sad part was they had no tickets to watch my event! For two days at Beijing, my parents and coach did nothing but run from pillar to post trying to get their hands on tickets just to be able to watch their son race. The irony was that officials who had come along for their trip had entire families with them staying at the official hotel with tickets to multiple venues! It was disgusting to see that so many people not even connected with sport were on this free ride, and even more disgusting to see the attitude with which they walked around while my parents struggled to get tickets to the swimming races!
My father also came to watch me race at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and for my race, once again had no tickets! Not because they weren't available, since the galleries were empty most of the time during heats, but because they had all been sold and distributed amongst people who had no intention of coming to the pool to watch the events! My dad managed to buy a ticket five minutes before my race and I was told minutes before I went on the blocks that he was finally in the stadium!
Over the last 15 years of my career, I have traveled to several meets abroad and there are always these officials we see, apart from the ones that actually help us at the meets, who honestly seem to be there just on holiday! No one from the team knows who they are, or why they are there. We see them on the first day at the airport and then again on the last at the end of the tournament. All we end up doing is standing in lines behind them at airports and I have witnessed athletes in the team who have no voice being embarrassed and bullied into picking up their bags!
Sir, I must agree that I have never taken much interest in politics, shared a very similar opinion with most of my friends, that nothing is ever going to change so why bother voting . But let me tell you that this time round, there is a whole section of the youth that is very very interested in seeing what you can do for our country! I personally know people who have worked extremely hard to see that you win and be given a chance to change they way we as citizens look at politicians.
Cancelling that junket was the best news I heard all day, but the fact that it was being mooted in the first place though not really shocking, angers so many of us sportsmen! If you have been a part of the decision to scrap this junket then I continue to look forward to seeing what you do to make sports better in this country!
I do no understand why these excess funds cannot be spent on the development of athletic talent in India... Today as I travel to coach and share my experience with swimmers across the country, I see the paucity of funds reflected at every pool. There are many many kids sitting in different national academies with not enough money to buy themselves proper racing gear or nutrition to train better!
I only say this to project the sentiment of what I'm certain all of us athletes feel. We work very hard in our sport to see that we can represent our country at the highest level possible, we do everything In our power to be the best and then we come up against people who do nothing but waste money that could have been spent to help them give us a better chance to bring glory to the Flag!
It is in your hands to see that athletes of this country are valued for who they are, and not brought down to a level of having to argue for an extra piece of chicken at a sports hostel cafeteria, or having to check if there are bed bugs in their mattress at night in these same hostels!
It is sad but true, and if you want us to have faith in politicians, show us that someone actually cares for us, for the swimmer who is buying trunks off the road before his race or the athlete who can't afford to buy his food supplement and is up against athletes from the rest of the world, twice his size to begin with and ten times the support from his country too!
Jai Hind, maybe!