After threatening to do so for a long time, Hima Das has finally ended India’s wait for a track medal at the IAAF World U20 Championships. The 18-year old from Assam who spectacularly announced her arrival at this year’s Fed Cup right before the Commonwealth Games has been on a steep curve of progress. The U20 medal is just one small step in her career at the moment.
You would think a landmark achievement like this would draw the attention of the country that loves to complain about the perceived lack of medals in tournaments like the Olympics or tough stages like the World Championships. Social media lived up to its hype. Within a few moments of Hima’s historic feat, the relevant hashtags started trending. Congratulations started pouring in. In the age of lightning fast internet speeds, news travels fast.
It does not take more than a few seconds for a potentially viral subject to spread like wildfire.
But exactly what percentage of India’s population gets their news off social media. And even if the number is a significant one, does it absolve print media of responsibility when it claims to be a lot more responsible than social media in this day and age. After all, for print, facts are paramount. New media is, therefore, reduced to nothing less than a child’s whim among most elite journalistic circles.
Major Indian newspapers today did not find the space for Hima Das’ historic achievement on their front pages.
Let’s take a look at the relevant pages for some major newspapers today.
The Times of India
What’s even more glaring is that Hima Das did not dominate the sports pages of these newspapers either. While politics and international news dominated the front pages, tucked away into a remote corner of the sports page, beyond Page 20 for most Dailies, was a small token post of Hima Das.
The sports pages were, meanwhile, dominated by Wimbledon, some happenings in the life of Kuldeep Yadav and opinion pieces on how complacency may have cost Roger Federer the game against Kevin Anderson.
Another major Indian newspaper followed this trend- scrunching up Hima’s 51.46 second run into a small, insignificant column clearly overshadowed by the giant command of Serena Williams and India’s eight wicket win over England.
Yet another daily that found no space for Das despite having three sports pages included in its subscription. One of them is solely dedicated to the FIFA World Cup while the rest, true to the trend, is based on Wimbledon and cricket.
Cricket trumps other sports again
There is something very disturbing about this trend. And that feeling intensifies even more when you realise that the cricket ODI match between India and England got over at midnight- long after Hima Das had run the race of her life and scripted history at the end of it.
Yet, writers and journalists throughout the country had no qualms about giving cricket the necessary attention, some might even call it undeserved. The intention here is to not take away anything from any sport. But for a landmark moment, the scale of which India has dreamed of achieving for long, can there not be the minimum amount of respect given to it?
The cricket ODI match between India and England got over at midnight- long after Hima Das had run the race of her life and scripted history at the end of it. Yet, writers and journalists throughout the country had no qualms about giving cricket the necessary attention, some might even call it undeserved.
To get an idea of the magnitude of Hima’s achievements, the 18-year old clocked 51.46 seconds to claim the top position. Romania’s Andrea Miklos came second with 52.07 seconds while USA’s Taylor Manson clinched the Bronze with 52.28 seconds. Hima was clearly a cut above everyone else as she started with a conservative beginning and ended the race with a spurt of speed just when people thought that she had fallen too far behind to catch up.
Earlier in the tournament, Das had also finished on top in the 400mt semi-finals with a timing of 52.10 seconds. She also holds the Indian U20 record when she finished 6th in the Commonwealth Games with a timing of 51.32 seconds. She is certainly a prospect to watch out for in Jakarta when she will be representing India at the Asian Games. Looking a little further ahead, Hima’s meteoric rise may well bode to be fantastic news for India’s poor showing of athletics at even the Olympics. Das is just 18. She is clearly a star in the making and the biggest testament to that is the fact that she has come a long way for someone who just started formally training barely a year ago.
So why is Hima Das being ignored?
A case could be made for the fact that Das’ race in Tampere took place at 22.40 IST last night. Credit must be given to the initiatives taken by the Athletics Federation of India and its world parent body, the IAAF, to ensure that the athletics event was telecast in India- a rarity in the country because there have not been too many live athletics events screened here.
But this was a world meet. The country understood how important this tournament was, how important Hima’s medal was.
If Hima Das can find a small mention on Page 21 of a major Indian newspaper, there is no reason that can comprehensively explain why that mention of her was not in the front page. She deserves to be celebrated. Right now, based on the magnitude of her achievement, she deserves to be talked about.
Newspaper submission times for the editorial desks vary throughout the country. It may be possible that, in the coming days, the audience of Dailies will be treated to some fantastic columns, opinion pieces and interviews based around the star once she is back in the country. But the fact still remains. Athletes require mass support- probably much, much more than cricketers do.
Before complaining about the lack of medals, let us ask ourselves. Are we doing right by our athletes? Or have we inadvertently managed to diminish their achievements in the light of more glamorous tournaments?