Whether it is in the sports arena or in the sphere of sports administration, Punjabi domination has been unsurpassed by any other community in the country. A host of sporting legends have their roots in this land of five rivers and they have brought triumph and glory to the state and the country. Prabhjot Singh recounts Punjab’s contribution to Indian sport and traces the growth of the Indian Olympic movement as the XXXI National Games start off in Ludhiana.
ENDOWED with tremendous resilience, physical endurance and the spirit of adventure, Punjabis have made tremendous contribution to the world of competitive sports. They have also contributed to the growth of the Olympic movement in India.
Credited with winning more than 60 per cent of the country’s medals in various international competitions, including the Olympics, Commonwealth and the Asian Games, Punjabis have always been at the forefront of the sports scenario— be it on the playfield or in the sphere of sports administration.
It was in 1924, in erstwhile Punjab, Lahore to be precise, that the Indian chapter of theOlympic movement was born. The founder was none other than G.D. Sondhi, the first Secretary of the Punjab Olympic Association. Lt.Col H.L.O. Garrett, vice principal of Government College, Lahore, was the President of the founder body. The same year, the country's first Olympic Games, now christened as National Games, were organised in Lahore, the then capital of undivided Punjab.
Games are now returning to Punjab after a gap of 45 years. The last
time they were organised in Punjab, it was in 1956 at Patiala. An
attempt to hold the third Games under the new format in 1989 was
aborted by terrorism that had engulfed the state in the early ’80s.
Before that, 7 out of the 12 Indian Olympic Games were organised by
Punjab, with Lahore playing host six times and Patiala taking the
credit by organising the 10th edition in 1942.
Four years later, when Punjab joined the Olympic movement, it started dominating it and that domination, with a few lapses, continues even today.
If India won its maiden Junior World Cup Hockey at Hobart last month, it was not without the contribution of eight Punjabi players, including skipper Gagan Ajit Singh and the top scorer of the tournament, Deepak Thakur , and the services of its chief coach, Rajinder Singh, and assistant coach, Narinder Singh Sodhi. This is true not only of hockey, but of almost all sports. Name a sport or a game, and the name of a Punjabi will pop up as a star performer.
After Partition, Patiala took over from where Lahore had left. The contributions of both Lahore and Patiala to Indian sports would be remembered for ever.
In fact , if one looks back, it was Panjab University that had set the ball rolling. It was in 1903, nine years after the first Panjab University Sports Tournament was started, that the inter-college hockey competition was introduced. Hockey brought Punjab to the forefront. In the 1928 Olympics, India won its first-ever Olympic gold, and that too in hockey. In the same year, both Maharaja of Patiala, Bhupendra Singh, and G.D. Sondhi were elected President and Secretary of the Indian Olympic Association, respectively, after both Dorabjee Tata and A.G. Neohren resigned. In 1932, when Dorabjee Tata died, G.D. Sondhi became a member of the International Olympic Committee in his place. Punjabis have heldpositions in the IOC since then. Raja Bhalendra Singh and Ashwini Kumar were the other IOCmembers. At the last IOCsession in Moscow, Randhir Singh, Secretary-General, IOA, was elected a member of the IOC.
It was again Patiala and G.D. Sondhi that paved the way for the first and the only Western Asiatic Games in New Delhi in 1934. After Maharaja Bhupendra Singh's death in 1938, his son Yadavindra Singh was elected President.
In 1938, G.D. Sondhi quit as secretary of IOA. This position came back to Punjab in 1957 when Ashwini Kumar was elected the secretary. In 1959, Raja Bhalendra Singh, father of Randhir Singh, became President of the IOA, and continued in office till the early ‘80s.
It was not only the IOA that saw the domination of Punjabis but administration of other sports, including track and field, hockey, badminton, table tennis, volleyball, handball, wrestling, weightlifting and cycling also witnessed Punjabis spearheading various associations.
M.C.Dhawan, Jagan Nath Khosla, Buta Singh, Umrao Singh (athletics), Naurattan Singh Bhalla (badminton), Ashwini Kumar, Professor Gursewak Singh, Swami Jagan Nath, Bishen Singh Samundri, Inder Mohan Mahajan, Gian Singh, Kartar Singh, Amrit Bose , K.P.S.Gill (hockey), R.L. Anand (handball), A.S. Harika (swimming), ISBindra, SPBagla (table tennis), S.P.Arora , R.K. Sood and Raj Kumar (volleyball), R.K.Khanna (tennis), Surjit Singh Majitha , K.S.Minhas, and G.S. Mandair (wrestling), Dwarka Dass Sehgal (football) and Principal Som Nath (athletics) are all big names in the country’s sports administration.
Unfortunately, Punjab has lagged behind in the organisational aspect. The Punjab State Games, for example, have not been held for almost two decades now. That could be the major reason for the state's failure to win the overall trophy in any of the five editions of the National Games held under the revised format. Holding the sixth edition (31st otherwise) has afforded the state an opportunity to re-establish its supremacy.
The state can no longer boast of sportspersons like Milkha Singh, Balbir, Ajmer, Parveen, Jarnail, Udham, Kamaljit Sandhu, Manjit Walia, Labh Singh, Mohinder Gill,Parduman, Kanwal Thakur, Devinder Ahuja, and Dinesh Khanna.
Sound physiques, supple and flexible bodies, extremes of climate, a good and balanced diet and spirit of adventurism make Punjabis superb athletes.One of the reasons for the overwhelming success of Punjabis both at the national and Asian levels has been the presence of a lower middle and middle class in the pre-Partition Punjabi society. It was this class that formed the backbone of the sportspersons in the state because it aspired for new levels of achievement.
Whether it was Milkha or Ajmer (athletics), Parveen Kumar or Gurdip Singh (throwers, athletics), Parduman or Joginder Singh (throwers, athletics), Manjit Walia or Sunita Rani (athletics) , Kaur Singh or Palwinder Singh (boxers) , Tara Singh or Parvesh Chander(weightlifters), Mohinder Singh Munshi or Balbir Singh of Police (hockey), Devinder Singh Garcha or Gurmail Singh (hockey), Ajinder Kaur or Rajbir Kaur (women's hockey) — all came from lower middle or middle class families.
There was a time when Punjabi throwers, middle and long distance runners and even sprinters, dominated the scenario of Asian athletics. This continued until the 1970 Asian Games. It was during this spell that Punjab also produced some good jumpers, including triple jumpers— Mohinder Gill and Labh Singh.
But the advent of terrorism in the late ‘70s cast its shadow on sports in Punjab. Playfields and sports stadia, which used to overflow with both budding and experienced athletes, were soon deserted. The upkeep and maintenance of the infrastructure touched its nadir. Organisation of sports events took a severe beating. The result was obvious. Punjab's decline in the sphere of sports started. No effort was made to stem this rot. All exercises of reviving sports remained merely on paper.
Another factor that gave a setback to the promotion of sports was when the employment of outstanding sportsmen and women was discontinued.
Punjab, which boasted of the country's top soccer teams like Leaders Club, JCTMills, Punjab Police, Punjab State Electricity Board, Hoshiarpur Police and a few others can now only boast of the JCTMills, Phagwara.
However, the biggest setback for Punjab was disbanding of the sports base of the Border Security Force, Jalandhar. Until the early ‘80s, the Border Security Force had some of the best hockey players—Ajit Pal Singh, Baldev Singh, Tarsem Singh, Vinod Kumar and Parminder Singh — and outstanding soccer players, including Ajaib Singh, Kesho Kirpal, Narendra Gurung, Bal Gurung and Lehmber Singh. The BSF also used to take pride in its volleyball (Nripjit Singh Bedi, Sukhpal and Balwant Singh Ballu) and basketball team (Anil Punj, Nirmal Chaudhary). It also had some good athletes.
The BSF,Jalandhar, always used to be the main and critical rival of Punjab Police in sports. Both had in common the association of Ashwini Kumar, once acknowledged as the doyen of Indian hockey.
After BSF, the decline of Punjab Police, too, started. Punjab Police also does not enjoy the supremacy in the state and national sports as it did until the early ‘80s.
Though an attempt was made to revive sports by recruiting outstanding sportsmen at the college and university levels, but terrorism had its impact on this force also. Recruitment as well as training of sportsmen and women suffered.
The PSEB, Markfed, Punjab Mandi Board, PUNWIRE, Punjab Alkalies and others, who had recruited outstanding sportsmen discontinued their recruitment policies. The result was obvious. Outstanding basketball players from Punjab, especially girls, started looking for job avenues elsewhere.
The same thing happened to other sports, including volleyball, hockey, track and field and handball. Punjab's dominance started diminishing. So far no attempt has been made to check this sports drain. The beneficiaries of this drain have been various institutions, including Oil Board, Revenue Board and also the banks who have recruited outstanding players from Punjab as well as other places.
As the sports activity was on the decline, the authorities increasingly used the ill-maintained sports infrastructure for purposes other than sports. This was further discouragement to the sagging Punjab sports. In Guru Nanak Stadium, the venue of the opening and closing ceremony for the coming National Games, a film star nite was organised, where the synthetic track, put up at a massive financial cost, was substantially damaged.
The five-year allocation for sports was Rs 48 crore and what ultimately was given to the fund-strapped Sports Department was perhaps even less than one-fourth of this promised budget.
The most promising aspect was that as the Government back-up and support for sports took a back-seat, the private sector and other organisations stepped in. Now, out of the eight hockey nurseries being run in the state, all but one are in private hands. Two of these nurseries —the one at Bhaini Sahib and the one in the border belt — are run under the patronage and support of religious sects. One academy is being run by the Surjit Memorial Society, while another one is being sponsored and financed by Ramesh Chander Memorial Hockey Society. Yet another one at Sansarpur, the acknowledged home of Indian hockey, is financially supported by the JCTMills, Phagwara.
If Punjab has started looking up again,
it is more because of the support from these private institutions and
non-government organisations than from the government.