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Diary of a loyal Indian sports fan

Sometimes as sportswriters we tend to forget why we entered this field; After working all these years, that love of the sport waned and the rat race for numbers took over. So this diary is an attempt to rekindle that love and talk about what is good, bad and ugly in Indian sport.

Sunday 29 May 2022

I had almost stopped playing badminton. The late shift was of course one of the reasons, the other, that I couldn’t find another person to play with. I would still miss the feeling of stepping onto the court, playing some smashing smashes, playing skillful net shots and most importantly imitating my favorite players. But in August 2021, Suhas Yathiraj, an IAS officer, won a silver medal at the Tokyo Paralympics, sending the message to millions like me that work and play can go hand in hand.

Yes, Yathiraj is a professional player and has to work a lot harder in his responsibilities as a DM, but he was a huge inspiration for me to get back into the sport. Now I make it a habit to spend a few hours every weekend at a badminton court about 20km from my home.

Cut to a few days ago. In contrast, an IAS couple in Delhi forced athletes at Thyagraj Stadium to end their training early so they could walk their dog. The events that took place there were totally inappropriate, but have brought the stark reality to light; Sport has been and continues to be neglected. I believe that this couple could have unknowingly done the exact opposite of what Yathiraj did for me.

Although the officers in question have been reassigned to other locations, this certainly cannot be the only instance where someone else’s privilege has killed someone else’s opportunity. Hopefully from now on they’ll be at least a little considerate of the athletes around them and eventually help discover some talent in the future.

Speaking of talent and future, I just realized how impressed I am with the young squad of Indian ice hockey team participating in Asian Cup 2022. After drawing with Pakistan and losing to Japan, the team edged out Indonesia 16-0 to earn a place in Super 4s. There, too, they took revenge on their defeat by Japan, beating them 2-1. All this from a team that has only two recognized stars – Birendra Lakra and SV Sunil – while most of them were making their debuts in the tournament or had only played a handful of games.

Looking only at the game against Indonesia, it was even more encouraging to see that the side were ready to fight to the end, even if a place in the last four seemed uncertain. Scoring 16 goals against a side is no easy feat, especially when their main drag-flicker and skipper, Rupinder Pal Singh, has been ruled out of the tournament through injury.

The coaches, Sardar Singh and BJ Carriappa, ensured the team maintained the same intensity throughout the match against Indonesia, aware of what was required of each member. India must next face Malaysia and South Korea to secure a place in the final and with the momentum on their side, nothing short of a trophy will do.

Regardless of the outcome of those games, however, the team has played well together and few individuals are knocking on doors to be a permanent part of the setup. I personally think Pawan Rajbhar, Manjeet and Dipsan Tirkey have done enough to play regularly for the team. Hockey India deserves some accolades here. Just as the BCCI and selectors have been lauded for fielding two different teams at the same time, this is a similar feat on their part as they seek to nurture the next batch of players and coaches. Hopefully we’ll see similar trends in other team sports!

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