On February 14, I along with my peers participated in the National trials on which would depend our qualification for the Commonwealth Games two months later. As is my strength, I tried out for Rings and Parallel Bars which were the two events that I hoped to represent my country in and, if things went according to plan, maybe even win a medal.
A few weeks later, we went to the Gymnastics World Cup where I was one among only four gymnasts from the country to qualify for my event finals. And that was a feat I achieved in not one but two disciplines- both the disciplines I had been a part of- Rings and Parallel Bars.
Things seemed to be on track with 2018 set to be the most crucial year of my life. But that’s when it all started turning stale.
On March 4, with three days left for the deadline of submitting entries to the Commonwealth Games Federation, I was told that I would not be going to Gold Coast as I had not been named in the contingent.
At that moment, I felt like my entire world had come crashing down around me.
As a child, when you take the decision to dedicate your life to sports, it’s a simple choice. The innocence of a young mind does not worry about consequences. At that point, the most important thing is to just one day, reach a stage where you become good enough to represent your country. For everyone who has started out young, the imagination of that day is what keeps us going.
So, it comes as an immense shock when you are rudely denied the opportunity to make a debut on what would have been the biggest stage of your career so far.
The thing about Gymnastics in India is the lack of a transparent structure. I think that is what happens when you do not have a proper Federation at the helm of things. The sad consequence here is that it is the athletes who end up bearing the brunt of the inevitable mismanagement and chaos.
I was born in a city where a vast majority of its residents believe in miracles. An area called Hadagadia Sahi in Puri, Odisha. Life had never been easy for my family and me, but we somehow managed to scrape by. As a child, my earliest brush with Gymnastics had come from my maternal uncle who had been a long time worshipper and practitioner of the sport.
People come from all over the country to visit Puri. More often than not, it is when they desire something. The widespread consensus here is that a wish made with a pure heart will ultimately reach the beloved deity here and bear fruit. But it is something that you must want. You have to work hard to make your wishful fantasies turn into reality. What the deity does is make the circumstances just right for you so things can work out.
So there I was. As a child, representing India was all that I wanted. And it is the combined result of some factors that I have been successfully able to do that a lot of times in my life so far. I think I have proved myself worthy enough to carry the expectations of my countrymen.
If my exclusion from the Commonwealth team had been the result of some lack of effort on my part, I would have wholly stood by it. As an athlete, as a person who voluntarily decided to dedicate his life to a single sport, seeing India do well on the major stages is all that I want.
But, tell me- how fair is this? After the selection trials in February, we were told that only the scores in the All Round category would be considered when it came to shortlisting gymnasts for the final contingent.
India is still a toddler in this field. Gymnastics is relatively new in the country. It has only been eight years since Ashish Kumar won the first International medal for the country in the area, four years since Dipa Karmakar won the second, and merely two years since she firmly established India’s status as a force to reckon with a Produnova at the Olympics.
It’s a precarious time but right now, Indian gymnasts are on a wave of success, and it is indeed commendable that things have been going so smoothly without a proper Federation at the helm of things. However, as a country, we are still not quite as good as the best of the world when it comes to the All-Round category in Gymnastics.
So, here’s the question. Exactly, why has the squad been chosen based on their all-around scores? And why wasn’t that intention made transparent before the Selection Trials? Had I known that choosing not to appear in the all-round category would result in such a massive setback, I would have competed.
Recently, I won the All-Around title with a score of 77.75 at the Hong Kong International this January. But even if we agree on how that isn’t the point, this lack of transparency is alarming.
First of all, a project officer has been appointed as the Chief Selector. His lack of understanding of the sport is quite evident, and I might go as far as to suggest that this exclusion is deliberate and the result of a personal grudge. According to him, I am not good enough to win a medal which is why he could justify leaving me out.
The contradictory part here is that he, in a way, agrees with me when it comes to India’s chances of winning a medal in the all-around category. He thinks the chances are next to impossible and he has been quoted by various media outlets as saying the same. You see where logic ultimately takes a backseat?
Growing up, I have seen the sacrifices of people around me. All that was done only so that I could live a life of relative ease and concentrate only on doing my best for India and Gymnastics. My coach, Mr. Ashok Mishra who had also been my uncle’s coach, set aside individual training sessions for me just because he recognised the potential I carried. A lack of proper infrastructure and training equipment never deterred us from those tiresome sessions.
There used to be days when my parents gave up eating three square meals a day just so that I had enough to eat. All of that was just to keep my mind at ease, so I only needed to worry about pushing myself to do my best.
I owe these people a debt. I owe them a fantastic performance at a world stage. But that dream of mine will be difficult to turn to reality if I am not even given a chance to prove myself.
Things have taken a slightly positive turn, however, with the official CWG federation instructing the Indian Olympic Association to not interfere in the selection trials. These are things that should be done by people who have an understanding of the sport. You cannot sit anyone at the helm of things and then expect medals.
At competitions like these, every athlete comes with the intention to do their very best. Faced with these circumstances, if India fields a sub-par team, it is a feeble reflection of the country’s handling of a sport that undoubtedly has enormous talent indulging in it.
So far, my coach and GoSports have been advocating my cause, but I steadily feel this sense of hopelessness which I cannot explain.
Today is the last day to send the official entries to the Commonwealth Federation. I was born in the land of miracles. I grew up believing in them. As things stand, only a miracle can help me now.
Update: After the Commonwealth Games Federation intervened asking the Indian Olympic Association to step down from the selection process, the Gymnastics Federation of India announced the team representing India at the Commonwealth Games. Rakesh Patra has been included in the team consisting of Ashish Kumar, Yogeshwar Singh, Pranati Nayak, Pranati Das and Aruna Reddy.