Saturday, November 24, 2001

Embittered Kooner lashes out at materialism

IF one word could describe the sentiments of veteran sports personalities with regard to the present scenario of Indian sports that word would most probably be disillusion. This word aptly describes the sentiments of Kamaljit Kooner, the first Indian woman athlete to win a gold medal in an international competition.

Kamaljit Kooner
Kamaljit Kooner

Her memories are tinged with disappointment at the downslide of Indian sport . The former athlete who won a gold medal in the 400-metres event way back in the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games, speaks fondly about ‘the good old times’ when games were played for the sake of sports and not for any material gains.

Says Kamaljit, "the athlete of yesteryear was an innocent, he had a one-track mind. The Olympics was his Mecca and the greatest joy of his life was to win a race no matter which and where, while the athlete of today is quite cunning. He is street smart, he does not revere his guru; in fact he keeps changing them and he wants tangible returns for every race he runs".


She laments the fact that the sportspersons of today lack the total dedication that the athletes belonging to her era had towards both the game and their teacher. "I won the gold at the Asian Games not only because of my performance but also because of a total belief, almost a blind faith in my coach. If he said that I could win the race, I actually believed I could". She feels that this belief which is missing today as a result of a value system which assesses everything with the yardstick of money, is one of the basic reasons why Indian sports is going down.

"The government is doing more now for sportspersons than it ever did before, it is desperate to find a magic formula to produce champions. There are so many seminars being held, so much debate on various issues but still we do not figure anywhere in international sports," says Kamaljit. According to her the reason for this is a lack of sincerity and rampant corruption in the field. Sports, she complains, has been politicised and the recent controversy surrounding the Arjuna Award proves that. "I think Milkha did the right thing", she says.

The holding of the National Games in Punjab evokes a mixed response from the veteran athlete. "People say the state will benefit but it is not very clear to me how it will. The infrastructure has come up but its maintenance is the key issue. Infrastructure is installed but is not maintained thereafter. Imported equipment lies around, rotting."

The Indian sports scenario will indeed remain bleak unless we manage to motivate players to play for the sake of sports alone. The players will have to aspire for excellence rather than material gains. "Unless the Indian sportspersons make a sincere effort to rediscover sports, we have little to feel good about" sums up the athlete. — GK