Asian medallists still wait on promises of job, rewards
2018 Asian Games gold medallist VK Vismaya (Kerala) and 2023 Asian Athletics C'ship silver medallist Sarvesh Kushare (Maharashtra) are among many Indian athletes who are united in their unhappiness with how they are treated in their home state, compared to states like Haryana and Tamil Nadu.
Maharashtra's Sarvesh Kushare is India's best bet in High Jump at the 2023 World Athletics Championships (WAC) starting this week in Budapest, Hungary, but he thinks that even if he wins a historic medal, there shall be no recognition from his state.
"My Asian Athletics Championships medal was of no use," Sarvesh told The Bridge about his month-old achievement, when he won a silver medal with a jump of 2.26 metres, the 6th highest mark in Asia and 25th highest in the world for this year.
"National and international medals have no value in Maharashtra, sportsmen are not important here. I met the sports commissioner twice in Pune, I spoke to our MLA Chhagan Bhujbal, who is now a minister. I wrote a letter to the sports minister. None of these helped, so I have given up," said Sarvesh.
The 28-year-old is among 27 individual athletes who have qualified for the 2023 WAC in Budapest, starting from August 19. The upcoming tournament is going to be the biggest in his career so far. But even as he prepares for a historic jump, he cannot help but cast a jealous eye at some of the others in the Indian contingent he has travelled with.
"In Haryana, athletes are supported so well with prize money, jobs, rewards. But in Maharashtra, forget about help, no one even talks about us... I was happy with the love and congratulations I got after my Asian medal last month, but that's where it ends. No one seems to want to actually help," he said.
Vismaya's 5-year wild goose chase
But Sarvesh is hardly alone in being a victim of the injustice of circumstances in Indian athletics - where the adulation, or at least the materialistic element of adulation, heaped on athletes depends not on the significance of their achievements but on the basis of which state they are from; and also perhaps on if there are any electoral votes to be won at the time of the promise.
VK Vismaya, women's relay team gold medalist from the 2018 Asian Games, was promised a job by the Kerala government during a felicitation ceremony after she returned from Jakarta. Five years have passed since then. No such job has materialised.
"All my three teammates Hima Das, MR Poovamma and Saritaben Gayakwad, got jobs immediately when they returned to their home states. But even after five years, I am going from office to office to get an update on mine," Vismaya, one of the members of a once-storied Indian relay team, told The Bridge.
"I have not received the promised prize money for my Asian Athletics Championships medals from 2019 and 2021 either. In Kerala, international medal winners are treated the same as national medal winners. They also ignored Shreeshankar's Commonwealth Games medal last year," she added.
Vismaya said that sports in Kerala is in a decline because of how the state government treats athletes like her, and that talented youngsters these days do not hesitate to shift to other states.
"In Tamil Nadu, even the athletes who participated in the Olympics are getting gazetted roles," she said.
Like Vismaya from 5 years ago and like Sarvesh from the present, many Indian athletes keep falling on the wrong side of the balance of rewards spread unequally across India's 28 states and 8 UTs.
Even two months before the 2023 Asian Games in Hangzhou, the announcements of rewards have started to look more and more like a bidding war - Madhya Pradesh will appoint Asiad medalists as DSP of police, Punjab will award all participating athletes with Rs 8 lakh each...
And this disparity among states is hardly new. After the 2018 Asian Games, West Bengal rewarded Swapna Barman, India's first ever medalist in heptathlon, with Rs 10 lakh and a government job. Odisha rewarded Dutee Chand with Rs 3 crore for winning medals in 100m and 200m events.