Recently, a quote from Neeraj Chopra became a topic of discussion across the country, for the sole reason that it had the name of a Pakistani athlete.
Neeraj said that before his throw in the final, he found his javelin with Arshad Nadeem, which caused him to rush through his first attempt.
And all hell broke loose, which was disappointing and sadly, predictable. Jabs were thrown at 'liberals' and those who 'defend Pakistanis'. Later, things turned communal, as not one person among those making these comments stopped to think if there could be a context to Neeraj's statement.
Things got to a point where Neeraj had to issue another statement where he elaborated on the rules and expressed his sadness over the hatred being spread against Nadeem on social media.
First of all, and there is no other way to put this, it is rare to see this kind of courage and accountability among Indian athletes, so one must congratulate Neeraj on taking what was a necessary step.
Secondly, he must also be credited for pointing out something very important in the same interview, which was missed in all this needless drama.
He said that the "incessant number of functions" after his victory in Tokyo made him fall sick, to the point that he will not be able to participate in a Diamond League, which was something he was looking forward to.
“We can’t be satisfied with one Gold, We need to think at a global level”— Sparsh Sagar🇮🇳 (@sparshS17) August 26, 2021
Nation owes an apology to @Neeraj_chopra1 for all the cringe he had face to face in the form of events and ceremonies
"These things need to change in Indian sport.We can't be satisfied with one gold medal. We need to think at a global level." - @Neeraj_chopra1— Pranshu Singh (@pran28singh) August 25, 2021
जिस सादगी से आपने इतनी बड़ी बात को कहा है, काफी सराहनीय है, सर।🙏@ianuragthakur @KirenRijiju उम्मीद है @IndiaSports इस पर ध्यान देगी।🙏 https://t.co/hx9FYxydBF
This is incredibly significant for two reasons. One, in many ways, Neeraj is the most important athlete in the country right now. For this to come from him will (or should) make people introspect a little.
What happens when an athlete wins something important? We hold functions after functions and interviews. People in power give them gifts, and the entire country goes into this hyper-nationalistic zone where it forgets that there are still many others who don't even have the proper gear to perform in.
To be clear at this point, there is no problem with showcasing pride or celebrating victories, both are much deserved by the athletes. The problem is that we get so carried away, we lose touch with reality.
Two, our tendency of not dreaming big. In Neeraj's words, "We can't be satisfied with one medal". Absolutely correct. When an Indian wins an Olympic medal, efforts should be made to better this record.
That can't happen if they are constantly attending events, can it? If we put a cap on the number of functions, we will not only be giving a breather to the person who has just won possibly the most important match of their life but also be able to reallocate resources which go into organising these kinds of high-profile events.
With our Paralympians fighting it out in Tokyo, these discussions are more important than ever. But we, as a country, are pointed in an entirely different direction which only goes South.
If every tweet on religion and nationality was replaced with one on the Paralympians representing us, things would look vastly different, and better.
What's fascinating (in the most unfortunate manner), is that the moment one of them gets a medal, the chants of "India, India" will begin again, and everyone will feel free to derive happiness from the success of a person they did not care about a few days ago.
It would be an understatement to say that our priorities are not set straight. And for an overwhelming majority of people, the intentions are not placed well. Those are things that need to be fixed, don't take my word for it, but you'd want to listen to the Olympic gold medalist.