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Asian Games

Kerala's sporting heroes left uncelebrated, undervalued and ignored

After the Hangzhou Asian Games, Kerala's athletes, sadly, felt ignored by their state government, pushing some to explore new allegiances in pursuit of long-overdue recognition.

Keralas sporting heroes left uncelebrated, undervalued and ignored

FILE PHOTO: Ageing like old wine, PR Sreejesh played his 300th match for India. (Source: Hockey India)


Aswathy Santhosh

Published: 14 Oct 2023 1:23 PM GMT

In the recently concluded Hangzhou Asian Games, India achieved a historic medal haul, with the athletes showcasing their talent, dedication and determination to make the country proud. Kerala stood out with 12 medal winners, including gold and silver medallists. However, the celebrations were marred by a disheartening narrative of negligence from the government towards its champions, leaving the athletes disillusioned and hurt.

One of Kerala's brightest stars, P R Sreejesh, who was expected to be celebrated as the pride of the state, found himself publicly humiliated by the Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan. However, Sreejesh did not ask for prize money. Instead, he mentioned the recognition and respect that had eluded him. Sreejesh, upon his return to Ernakulam, expressed his disappointment, saying, "I did not even receive a congratulatory WhatsApp message from the panchayat president. They talk about financial issues, but sending a simple message on WhatsApp is free."

Nothing new

Unfortunately, this isn't an isolated incident for Kerala-born athletes. Following the Asian Games, H S Prannoy, the highest-ranked men's singles badminton player in India, declared his decision not to represent Kerala any longer. He expressed his frustration with the mistreatment he received from the sports fraternity in the state. Prannoy announced his decision to represent Tamil Nadu in the upcoming Indian National Badminton Championships.

The very next day, Eldhose Paul and Abdulla Aboobacker, the gold medal winners in the triple jump at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Athletics Championships, respectively, also decided to sever ties with Kerala. Eldhose, the first Kerala athlete to secure gold in the triple jump, pointed out that he received no acknowledgement or message appreciating his historic win at the CWG in 2022. Abdulla Aboobacker, another gold medallist, echoed the sentiment, saying, "While medal winners from other states received plenty of recognition, I was expecting at least a small prize and a message."

Kerala's athletes felt undervalued and overlooked by their home state, leading to a significant shift in their allegiance. These athletes, who have worked tirelessly to bring glory to Kerala, sought recognition and support that seemed to be missing.

The answers

In response to the growing discontent, CM Vijayan listed the financial support provided to athletes in the past during a press conference. He stated, "The state government provided 10 lakhs to all Malayali athletes and team members who participated in the Olympics. For (Asian Games) gold medal winner, P R Sreejesh, we awarded Rs 2 crores and a promotion in his job." While this list of financial assistance is commendable, it is evident that the athletes' primary concern was not the money, but the acknowledgement and appreciation they deserved.

The saga of Kerala's Asian Games medal winners shed light on the emotional toll that athletes take when their hard work goes unnoticed, even by their own government.

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