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Despite representing India, I am still asked "Naukri Kab Karega" | By Anshul Kothari

Despite representing India, I am still asked Naukri Kab Karega | By Anshul Kothari

Anshul Kothari

Published: 4 Feb 2019 12:29 PM GMT

I have lost count of how many times people in India have asked “Sport is part-time; what job do you do apart from Swimming? / What is your main job?” This is where even the most educated people tend to think wrong.

My job is to represent my country and win medals. People assume that representing your country in a sport doesn’t take much effort and it is a piece of cake. 

In order to give more context to the article and taking the example of swimming- my sport. A swimmer typically swims 50km a week plus 4 gym sessions. Assuming 50 training weeks including cold winters, a swimmer swims roughly 2500km a year + 200 gym sessions.

My job is to represent my country and win medals. People assume that representing your country in a sport doesn’t take much effort and it is a piece of cake.

After more than 21 years in the sport, my body has clocked around 53000km of swimming. Then there are tons of other small things like diet, sleep, balancing academics, no socializing etc which need attention. Given that much amount of work is done, there is still no guarantee that a swimmer will be a national champion or make it to the Indian team.

Medals are won or lost by microseconds. There are tons of people waiting to capitalize on your failures and get into the Indian team.

The work behind a medal

The gap between just participating at the state/national level and winning medals at international level is as big as the Amazon River. Every 4 years, a lot of arm-chair experts from various sectors just comment about India’s performance at the Olympics without having any insight into what it takes to reach the elite level. If it was that easy and straightforward, millions of people would be pursuing the sport as careers.

Out of a population of 1.32 billion people, only 570 athletes were selected represent India at the 18th Asian Games 2018. But I still get asked “What job do you do? / How much do you earn from a sport?"

My answer is no amount of money can help anyone to represent India in any sport at the highest level. It takes years of hard work, sweat, discipline, persistence, self-belief and a few other ingredients to earn the coveted India blazer.  It took me 11 years to get my first India blazer.

It was a really long time, just sticking around and chasing a dream.

Often during those 11 years, I was ridiculed by society, relatives, friends. People would often say “How long before you make it big swimming? or say I was being foolish in the pursuit of my dream.” Besides financial support, finding moral support was also becoming hard every year I didn’t make it to the Indian team.

The taunts of people have killed more dreams of teenagers than anything else.  

During my engineering days, when I went to talk about my international medal to the Head of my Department, he retorted, "Sports will not get you anywhere I hope your attendance is in order or else you will be failed.”

This is how even the highly educated people in India treat athletes who win medals for the country.

In 2011, during placement season, I took a bold decision to skip it pursue swimming full-time and people remarked, "Naukri kab karega?”

Then it was 2017 and once again the placement season came at the Indian School of Business and again I took the decision to skip placements to carry on with the pursuit of my dream of representing India at the Olympics.

The petty comments from people have never affected me and I have carried on my pursuit which has seen me play at the Asian Games thrice-a feat only matched by 3 other Indian swimmers. 

Even though sports infrastructure and ecosystem has been steadily improving in India over the past decade, we are still few years behind when compared to top sporting countries such as USA, Australia, China, Japan, UK. It is not easy to pursue an Olympic sport as a career in India but to the few thousands who do, they surely deserve more respect, support and attention.

Professional Sport is not a part-time gig, it is a full-time job with no weekends off, no festival leaves or long vacations.

Next time you meet an athlete from any sport, try to understand what goes behind the scenes in order to win medals.

Also read: If we act today, we might see Swimming Golds for India in 2028 Olympics | By Hakimuddin Habibullah
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