Meet shuttler Rajeev Bagga - An Arjuna awardee and Deaflympian of the century
Despite mistreatment at the hands of Indian sports administrators, Rajeev Bagga performed at the highest level and was ultimately bestowed with the Deaflympian of the Century Award.
The Deaflympics which started in 1924 plays host to numerous deaf athletes competing in a range of sports once every four years. India currently stands 28th on the list of all-time medal tally at the Deaflympics with 18 gold, 8 silver and 3 bronze medals to its name.
One of the contributors to this medal tally is Mr. Rajeev Bagga. The now 55-year-old is an Arjuna awardee and World Deaflympian of the Century and has bagged a total of 14 gold and 4 silver medals for India at the Deaflympics in badminton.
Rajeev Bagga was a brilliant sportsperson from a very young age. Growing up in various Army cantonments, he had access to multiple sports facilities all around him. He drifted towards playing racquet sports after being introduced to them by his father, Brigadier SR Bagga. Incidentally, his mother was also a state-level badminton player while his brother played squash at the national level.
A sudden change of fates
At the age of 12, Bagga suffered from a severe case of meningitis which significantly damaged his ability to hear. This was the first of many obstacles he faced throughout his illustrious sports career. It was also the reason he could not pick up sports like squash and tennis due to the inability to hear the ball upon being struck by his opponent and the difficulty in judging the game as a whole. Due to these reasons, it was deemed better for him to shift to badminton where he could rely less on hearing and more on sight to gauge the sport he was playing.
This was the beginning of Rajeev Bagga's tryst with badminton success as he managed to build on his knack for racquet sports. He made his way into the Indian badminton circuit by winning the Maharashtra State Level Championships 5 times consecutively. He also won the national championship in 1991 in the open category.
Beating Prakash Padukone and All England Success
One of the most noticeable aspects of Bagga's career is that he has competed in the open category in several tournaments. While most of his professional medal success has come at tournaments meant for deaf athletes, he exceeded all expectations in major tournaments such as the All England Open and Indian national badminton tournaments.
He also holds the unique record of being the only deaf person to reach the main draw at the All England Open Championships. Bagga managed to defeat Indian badminton legend Prakash Padukone at the National Championships prior to his achievement in England.
His other achievements include winning the men's singles title twice as well as the men's doubles in 1990. He has captained the Maharashtra badminton team in the 1990s and has represented India in various BWF championships such as the Commonwealth Games, Thomas Cup, Malaysian Open, Swedish, Swiss and Austrian Opens, and Asian Badminton Championship.
BAI's ignorance costs Olympics entry
Unfortunately for Rajeev Bagga, a considerable part of his career suffered at the hands of sheer incompetency and ignorance of the BAI. The first major incident was that Bagga was denied a clear and valid chance to represent India in the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics.
Owing to his victorious outing at the 1989 Deaflympics, Bagga was recommended by the Deaf Sports Association to the International Olympic Committee for a wildcard entry at the 1992 Olympics. However, BAI President Fazil Ahmed refused to sign the wildcard endorsement and stated that the BAI should have been approached first by the Deaf Sports Association. This unnecessary clash of ego cost Bagga a chance of a lifetime.
Bagga was also dropped from the Badminton World Cup squad as he requested to take part in the World Deaf Games before returning for the World Cup in New Delhi. Bagga missed the national camp and was even denied the opportunity to be the flag bearer due to his exclusion from the team.
The shift to England
A few years later, Bagga moved to England and continued representing India at the Deaflympics. The 2005 Deaflympics was the last time the country would see Bagga in an Indian shirt as he switched nationality soon after that and became a British citizen. Part of this was due to the pathetic manner of treatment meted out by the BAI again who made Bagga pay for his own travel expenses at the Deaflympics.
While mistreatment and ignorance are a frequent sight with Indian sports administrators, our athletes have always made it a point to give in their all for the country no matter the circumstances. Rajeev Bagga is one such individual who has given his all for India, the country of his birth, from the day he picked up the badminton racquet for the first time. He displayed complete professionalism through the peak of his career and ensured that he bowed out with his head held high, having won 3 gold medals for India at the Deaflympics in 2005.
Having been bestowed with the laurel of Best Deaflympian of the Century, Bagga is deservedly living the retired life in England as of today.