Over the years, we Indians have seen plenty of athletes, from different sports and disciplines, making the country proud on the biggest stages, fighting extreme adversity to reach the top of their sport and bringing home the top honours. However, for most of these Indian athletes, the celebration and glory don’t last long as they […]
Over the years, we Indians have seen plenty of athletes, from different sports and disciplines, making the country proud on the biggest stages, fighting extreme adversity to reach the top of their sport and bringing home the top honours. However, for most of these Indian athletes, the celebration and glory don’t last long as they don’t find enough support and recognition within our country. In a series about the unsung heroes of Indian sports, we are trying to shine the light on some incredible athletes and their achievements, and the unfortunate turns their journeys took.
5 Unsung Heroes of Indian Sports
First up in our list of unsung heroes is Sarwan Singh, the 1954 Asian games gold medallist in 110m hurdles. To this day, he remains the only Indian to have bagged a gold medal in 110m hurdles at Asian Games.
Sarwan Singh won the gold completing the race in an impressive 14.7 seconds. Big things were expected of him from there, but due to a lack of backing he couldn’t go on to win more honours for the country.This talented athlete ended up driving a taxi and working as a daily wage labourer for survival, with the worst moment coming when Sarwan Singh had to sell off his 1954 Asian Games’ gold medal to make ends meet.
A really unfortunate turn of events, one that could have been avoided if this athlete had received the support he desperately needed!
Mohammed Yousuf Khan
Indian football enjoyed its glory days in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and one of the chief architects for this glory was Mohammed Yousuf Khan. The all action footballer played a huge role in India winning the gold medal at the 1962 Asian Games. For all his contributions, he even deservedly received the Arjuna Award in 1966.
However, that was that in terms of recognition for this champion athlete, who continued to make the nation proud despite having suffered 3 head injuries over the course of his career. The authorities and government ignored Mohammed Yousuf Khan, forcing him to live out the rest of his life in complete poverty. A central government monthly grant of Rs. 2000 and police department pension of Rs. 3500 was never going to be enough for him to sustain a decent life, especially after he was diagnosed with the Parkinson’s disease.
Struggling to make ends meet and cover his medical costs, Mohammed Yousuf Khan passed away after a heart attack in 2006.
His story, like several others, is unknown to most Indians. And the governments over the years have chosen to ignore most of these unsung heroes, forcing them into a life of poverty and anonymity. All of us need to make sure that going forward, no Indian athlete becomes another Mohammed Yousuf Khan, and all their achievements are celebrated and remembered.
Shankar Laxman, also known as the Rock of Gibraltar thanks to his exceptional goalkeeping skills, represented India in 3 straight Olympic hockey finals – 1956, 1960 and 1964, helping the country win 2 golds and 1 silver medal. He was the first goalkeeper ever to captain an international hockey team, and the led the country to a gold medal at the 1966 Asian Games. Shankar Laxman was even awarded the Arjuna Award and Padma Shri by the Indian government.
Sadly, that was the extent of the government and authorities recognising the achievements of this champion. After he retired from the Indian Army as Honorary Captain in 1979, Shankar Laxman lived a life of extreme poverty. He struggled to make ends meet, and when he was diagnosed with gangrene, the legendary hockey star did not even have the means to get the treatment he needed.
Despite several appeals to the authorities and even the government, Shankar Laxman received no help apart from a meagre Rs. 25,000 from the Madhya Pradesh government. The “Rock of Gibraltar”, who had stood firm in goal and taken independent India to several glorious moments, lost this battle to gangrene as India failed to support the champion in return.
After he passed away, Makhan Singh’s wife said in an interview – “In India, money and fame are reserved for cricketers”.The life of Makhan Singh and many other athletes like him just confirm this sadly.
Makhan Singh was the only Indian to ever beat the legendary Milkha Singh. He was also the winner of a gold and a silver medal at the 1962 Asian Games, apart from being multiple National Games medal holder and Arjuna Awardee.
However, despite making the country proud on multiple occasions, Makhan Singh found support and help from the authorities hard to come by, turning to driving trucks, and living his life in poverty.
He passed away in 2002 due to a cardiac arrest, post which his wife had to resort to selling off his medals.
Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadav
The man who gave independent India its first ever Olympic medal with a bronze at the 1952 Olympics, Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav would have never thought the country would soon forget all about him.
While he came back to a hero’s welcome, Jadhav was soon let down by the system, with no support coming his way from the authorities. He joined the police force in 1955, and even there he was met with despair, as after serving for 27 years in the department, he was left to struggle for his pension.
Left to fend for himself by the federations and authorities for all those years, Jadhav was forced to live in poverty during his final years. He passed away in an unfortunate road accident in 1984, after which his wife failed to receive any support from the government or the federation.
Such a sorry state of the heroes that made the country proud and put India on the sporting map of the world!
We hope things change for the better, and the young children thinking about a career in sports don’t have to give up on their dreams just because the system keeps letting our sporting heroes down.
If things are to change, and India is to be a successful sporting nation, all of us need to make sure all the athletes in the country get their due credit, and fame is not reserved for just the cricketers. Let’s hope that future athletes don’t see themselves becoming a part of a list of unsung heroes, and actually get the recognition they deserve.