When The Indian Olympic Association Backed Out On Our Own Medal Winning Athlete

Posted on October 8, 2014 in Sports

By Shreya Sharma:

Biased judgements and unjust decisions have made headlines time and again. What is not seen that often, though, is the courageous refusal of a lady to silently accept this injustice.

Sarita Devi

On 30th September 2014, L. Sarita Devi went into the semi finals of the Asian games, against South Korean wrestler Park Jina. Fighting in women’s lightweight category, Sarita was clearly the dominant player throughout the game. Disappointment dawned upon Sarita and her supporters when Park was declared winner by the judges, after the game. What followed was even more disheartening. When the athlete requested the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for the $500 fee needed for filing a case against the judgement, IOA refused. Sarita had to borrow the required amount from her coach, Lenin Meitei, and an Indian journalist. The protest request, however, was immediately ruled out by the judges. What we saw that day was the unjust and biased decision by the judges pitted against IOA’s shameful act of distancing itself from the athlete.

The next day, at the prize distribution ceremony, Sarita chose to openly refute the decision of the judges. She refused to accept her bronze medal, handed it over to the silver medal holder, Park, and left the podium in tears. The act of this tearful rebel has been criticized by some, and appreciated by some others. We should ask ourselves — when was the last time we heard of a sportsperson staging such a protest? When was the last time we cared to question the IOA? When was the last time a sportsperson put his/her career at stake so that the future generations don’t have to face the brutalities he/she faced in this field? It is hard to recall a name.

In 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two black American athletes, offered a ‘black salute’ as they stood on the podium as winners at the Mexico Olympics. Sarita has done something equally impactful. Would the scenario have been different if Sarita were a top notch, well known player? Would the people have taken her more seriously had she been a male? Would her protest change the dynamics of the way people look at sports associations and sports forums? These are the questions which Sarita has left for us to unfold.

Sarita’s case is not the sole case of bias at the 2014 Asian games. A similar tragedy was faced by L. Devendro Singh, another boxer from India who fought against a South Korean opponent. Also, this is not the first case of IOA’s unexpected behaviour against their own players. Former track ace PT Usha and present boxing champion Mary Kom have also recounted their tales of being ill-treated by the Indian officials.

Sarita’s defiance can be seen as a shout out to the world that Indians don’t just go to participate in events, they go to earn respect for their hardwork. The respect and the recognition being denied will no longer be accepted as sheer fate. A sore loss would be chosen over sporting an unjustified loss. The Indian Olympic Association needs to see sportspersons as more than mere tickets for travelling abroad. What does the Association stand for, if not for supporting its own players? The International forums need to play fair if they wish to sustain their respect. Till when will they be able to sustain their credibility if repeated cases of biases take place?

Sarita did her part by taking a stand at the podium. Whether this protest makes any difference or not, lies in our hands.