India's judoka Jasleen Singh Saini, who has a strong chance of qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, has been taking loans to compete in events and ensure that he earns a quota place to make his dreams come true. Despite being promised INR 16.2 lakhs as prize money from the Punjab government for his gold medal in the 2019 Commonwealth Championships in England, two golds in the South Asian Games and three national championships titles, the athlete is waiting for the funds, which has forced his coach Amarjit Shastri to raise money for his protege.
Saini is in the fray to earn a continental quota spot for Tokyo in the Men's 66 kg weight division. He is currently ranked 59 in the world. A continental quota is allocated to an athlete from each continent based on his ranking. Asia can send 10 men and 12 women judokas for the Olympics through this quota. The Indian recently took part in the Paris Grand Slam that was held on February 8 and 9, where he bagged 110 points. He currently has 986 points and has a golden opportunity to represent India in the Summer Games.
However, the delay by the Punjab government in handing out his prize money has threatened to hamper his progress. Saini's next competition will be at Dusseldorf, where he hopes to earn crucial points before the Olympic judo cut-offs on May 30, 2020. The lack of funds though put his participation in doubt, but a heart-warming gesture from his contemporaries Steven Mungandu of Zambia and Adebayo Frederic Olympio of Togo has given him a reprieve as per reports in The Tribune India. The duo, after learning of his struggles, arranged funds for him, and will bear Saini's expenses till the Dusseldorf Grand Slam that starts from February 21.
What makes the deed even more inspiring is that both Olympio and Mangandu take part in the 66 kg weight category, and could be fighting against each other in the upcoming Grand Slam.
The selfless act of sportsmanship is what needs to be highlighted here. Instead of cutting off competition, Olympio and Mangandu have come forward to help a fellow sportsman even at the cost of their Olympic dreams. By fighting fair and square, they have acknowledged and accepted that honouring another player's hard work and giving them an equal chance to compete is the very essence of sports.
They have also given a strong message to the Punjab government who have not realized the years of toil that is put in to even have a shot at the Olympics. By delaying the much-needed funds, they have not only risked trampling on Saini's efforts but might also rob India of fielding a judoka at the Olympics for the first time since 1992. It, thus, is unfortunate, that officials fail to realize the magnitude of their failed promises. For India to emerge as a true sporting powerhouse, it is this attitude towards the players that will need serious fixing.