Let’s not repeat what was done to Fredericks

Let’s not repeat what was done to Fredericks

Manuel Fredericks. Picture credit: facebook.com/ Manuel Fredericks

It has taken India a very long time to recognise Manuel Fredericks and confer him with the Dhyan Chand Award for lifetime achievement. Clearly, we could have done better for the former goalkeeper who was in the bronze medal-winning hockey team in the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The least the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and successive governments could have done was given him the Arjuna Award. Agreed that hockey is a team sport and everyone cannot get an award. But did he have to apply nine times before being finally considered for any award?

It was a well-known fact that Fredericks was not in the best of situations financially for a long time. Forget about awards, it is bewildering that he hardly received any financial help. He has been managing to make ends meet by coaching school children and with a meagre pension. His case is the perfect example of how we neglect our national sporting heroes.

The selection of Arjuna Awardees has been ridden with bad decisions and undeserving winners. Not very long ago, it was a three-member selection committee and there was usually a big furore over the winners every year. Fortunately, it is a 12-member committee picking the winners these days.

It is also baffling as to why three-time Asia-Pacific Rally Championship winner Gaurav Gill had to wait this long before finally being given the Arjuna in motorsport. He was the champion in 2013, ’16 and ’17 and should have been conferred the Award much earlier.

Another case is that of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, whose birthday on August 29, which is celebrated as National Sports Day. The Khel Ratna, Arjuna, Dronacharya and Dhyan Chand Awards are presented on this very day. Luckily, there is at least a day to remember his brilliant exploits on the hockey turf.

It is surprising that he has not been given the Bharat Ratna, considering that his feats remain unparalleled and he was largely responsible for India’s first three hockey gold medals in the Olympics, in Amsterdam (1928), Los Angeles (1932) and Berlin (1936). He got the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian honour, in 1956. But he clearly deserved the Bharat Ratna, no matter how late.

When cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar got the Bharat Ratna in 2014, the hockey fraternity was up in arms and felt Dhyan Chand deserved it more than the master batsman. That was probably the wrong way of looking at it. Tendulkar definitely deserved the award, no question about that. However, what stopped the government from conferring it to Dhyan Chand earlier or later than 2014 is quizzing.

It is not always the fault or slip-up of the recommendation committee or the Ministry that deserving candidates get left out. National federations and state associations sometimes fail to send in the nominations on time in order for the athlets to be considered for an National award.

Take the case of sprinter Dutee Chand. The Odisha Government sent her nomination late and was thus rejected by the Ministry. Her nomination was also rejected because it was not in order. This is exactly the kind of lackadaisical approach that deprives a sportsperson of recognition.

Even when it comes to recognising sportspersons’ achievements and simply awarding them promotions, governments sometimes fail. For instance, sportspersons who are with law enforcement agencies like the police quite often go unrecognised. High-achieving sportspersons and employed with the Haryana or Punjab police are given generous promotions. It is difficult to think of other states that reward sportspersons as well as Punjab or Haryana.

There is one bit of truth that we have to wake up to. If there is no timely incentive for good performances, it could very well have the negative impact of keeping youth away from sport. At a time when Indians are making their mark in international sport, we could do well to reward them suitably.

Is anyone listening?

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