With the London Olympics scheduled for an opening on the 27th of July, and all the qualifying rounds having come to an end, debates have once again started on who will win medals for the country this time. The hopes are high, and the voice of 1.2 billion Indians is slowly reaching a crescendo, to support the dream of the Tri-colour touching the heavens in the heart of Britain.
Shooting and wrestling are two sports for which the medal hopes are well known; however, what has dramatically changed ever since the last Olympics (in Beijing, China) is Boxing – a game considered to be too tough for Indians. It has now become a potential source to satiate the hunger for an Olympic medal. With seven boxers qualifying for London, these hopes are not meaningless; and the country could possibly see one or two of these pugilists doing the country proud at the Olympics. “We have just come from the qualifying rounds in Kazakhstan, where seven of our champion boxers have qualified for the Olympics. Two days from now, we will again be in Kazakhstan, for a combined training with the players from other countries. This kind of experience will certainly yield fruit at the Olympics,” says G.S Sandhu, National Coach, from NIS, Patiala. Of these seven boxers, five are from Haryana, a state dominated by other contact sports like Kabaddi and Wrestling. They are – Vijender Singh, Jai Bhagwan, Manoj Kumar, Sumit Sangwan and Vikas Krishan. The question is, what has changed in the last few years that has made Haryana such a force in the country in sports; including new areas like Boxing? Even Punjab, the prosperous cousin of Haryana, has failed to produce sports icons in recent times. “ The reason behind Haryana’s success in sports is the youth – which is raw, rigid, powerful, healthy; and more than anything else, committed to sports. In addition, there is a vibrant sports environment, sports is a medium to get government jobs, the youth are willing to stay in the State, and of course the government’s policy to promote sports in the State,” points out Sandhu.
Environment for sports
“In the 80s, the Sports Authority of India established an Academy at Bhiwani; and to me, the credit for this transformation in sports goes to that iconic step. Now you can see that all the top boxers in the country have got trained from Bhiwani; and it’s proving very beneficial for the nation, as we are receiving a trained raw material to forge into something of worth. Villagers in Haryana still have that much needed rawness for sports. Almost all the kids work in the fields, from their childhood. They become rough and tough, and are to bear punishment and pain – a much needed quality in Boxing. Even their parents, I have seen, are very supportive, and take interest in their child’s development and progress in the given sport,” says Sandhu. Sandhu is not speaking anything unusual, as one can easily see kids playing Kabaddi and Wrestling in almost all the villages in Haryana. There is a clay Akhada in every village, where, right from childhood, a child gets wrestling practice. “The environment for sports is indeed one of the main reasons why Haryana has done well in contact sports. It’s villagers still have that required rawness and ruthlessness, which is required to built an iconic player,” says Rajkumar Sangwan, an Arjun Awardee boxer from Bhiwani, who is currently running a Boxing Academy in Gurgaon.
Haryana is an agricultural State, and 70 per cent of the population is engaged in agriculture for their livelihood; and that’s the main reason why a child, right from childhood, gets to do physical labour in the fields. “Indeed it’s true, we work in the fields right from the age of 7 or 8. Our parents make us work in the fields, in the tough months like June and July, for the whole afternoon – and that is the reason we get tough. Food habits, like consuming desi ghee and milk, is another reason why most of us have good physique,” says Manoj Kumar, who hails from an agricultural family in Kaithal district.
Want a government job? Join sports
“The lure of a government job is the main reason behind Haryana’s success in the field of sports. Haryana youth is not very fond of studies, and hence most of them either go to the Army, Police, or other paramilitary services; and now sports has become a quick medium for getting a government job. Once a player, no matter what sport he is into, wins at the national level, he is bound to get a government job. Be it Sushil Kumar, Vijender Singh, Akhil Kumar, or Yogeshwar Dutt – all have got government jobs on the basis of their performance in their respective sports,” explains Sandhu. It’s not the small jobs like a constable in the Haryana Police, or a TT in the Railways, that these sports personnel are eyeing now; some of them have already achieved higher posts – such as DSP, on the basis of their performance at the national and international level. “Vijender bhai and Akhil bhai are DSPs; and this is not a small post. Indeed, in Haryana, a sports person wants a government job, so that in the later years of his life it can take care of his family. Now our government too is taking care of our needs and priorities, and I think that is the reason why Haryana has left other states much behind,” says Jai Bhagwan, a boxer from Hisar.
Encouraging government policies
“Indeed the state government has done a lot for the betterment of the players. Players have been provided state-of-the-art training facilities, and of course offered government jobs when they excel. After doing so much for the players, I don’t see any reason why we can’t bring medals in the Olympics. Boxing and Wrestling are our best bets; and I think our players will make the country proud. We will send the largest contingent of players from Haryana. 15 players from Haryana, in various sports disciplines, have already qualified for the London Olympics,” says Surender Dangi, Secretary, Haryana Olympic Association (HOA). “Apart from jobs and state-of-the-art training facilities, the Haryana government offers prize money, and has initiated many other encouraging programmes under which even the players’ villages will be benefitted. “Haryana CM Bhupender Singh Hooda has made sports an industry in Haryana – where players can earn class one jobs, prizes worth crores of rupees, and a sound and secure future for their families. The State government has initiated schemes by which the panchayat of a winner’s village will get Rs. 51, Rs. 31, and Rs. 21 lakhs (for gold, silver, and bronze at Asia level), for development. I hope our players will make the country proud at the Olympics. We are resting our hopes on Wrestling and Boxing; and I think the girl wrestler Geeta Phogat has potential to win the gold,” explains Dangi.
Haryana players who have qualified for the Olympics
Sumit Sangwan 81 kg
Vijender Singh 75 kg
Vikas Krishan 69 kg
Manoj Kumar 64 kg
Jai Bhagwan 60 kg
Yogeshwar Dutt 60 kg
Amit Kumar 55 kg
Geeta Phogat 55 kg
Krishna Punia Discus Throw
Seema Antil Discus Throw
Omprakash Shot Put
Anuraj (Girls 10 metre Air pistol)
Gagan Narang (10 metre Air rifle, 50 metre rifle three position, 50 metre rifle prone)
When and why did Punjab lose out to Haryana?
“Till 1980, Punjab was way ahead of Haryana in sports. The ‘terrorism period’ till the mid-90s did cost Punjab dearly on many fronts – including sports. Now, the youth in Punjab does not want to come to sports, neither does it want to stay in Punjab. Most of them go abroad for jobs. Kabaddi is one game that has held some interest, and the youth want to play it because it provides quick money. The NRI Punjabis come here and organise Kabaddi tournaments, in which an average player can easily earn Rs. 20 to 50 thousand in a week. Better players earn upto one Rs. 1 lakh. Haryana youth, on the other hand, is still ‘raw’, and has not been exposed to the lures of the outer world. I usually go to villages in Haryana, and I get to see the same old charm of rural sports, which once used to be there in Punjab. These boys from Haryana are hard working, and they know what they are capable of. Actually, Haryana and Punjab have no difference whatsoever; everything is the same, ranging from the race, to culinary habits. But now Haryana has gone miles ahead, and credit goes to its youth as well as its government – whose policies have encouraged sports in the state,” explains Sandhu.