Guaranteed silver may, or may not, have been elevated to glittering gold at Rio before this commentary rolls off the presses. While that would indeed be a crowning glory for heroic PV Sindhu, even finishing second-best in the women&’s single badminton competition would have been an unparalleled accomplishment. Yet, in the “original” spirit of the Olympic Games, success is not be measured only in terms of what is presented on the victory podium; rather the yardstick should be whether the athlete has striven for excellence. And as far as the Hyderabadi shuttler and her coach P Gopi Chand are concerned the supreme effort is all too evident. Emerging from the shadows cast by the more-fancied Saina Nehwal, Sindhu displayed qualities for which Indian players are not exactly reputed.
It was a brand of controlled aggression that saw her beat higher ranked competitors on her way to the gold medal round. She was on a welcome high in the semi-final when she first collared, and then decimated the Japanese star Nozomi Okuhara. A memorable performance: it must “register” even more than being the first Indian woman to win at least silver at the most prestigious sporting festival on the planet. The morning&’s newspaper had raised Indian hopes after its medal-drought at Rio was broken by wrestler Sakshi Malik claiming a bronze, then the “evening news” converted hopes into dreams courtesy “Sterling Sindhu”. The fingers were proverbially crossed as this commentary took shape on the keyboard.
Alas, for Indian sport that tremendous Thursday also had its tragic element, with the Court for Arbitration in Sport slapping a four-year ban on wrestler Narsingh Yadav for substance-abuse. It would be incorrect to describe that verdict as a “rude shock” because sports-medicine experts in the country had consistently apprehended such an unfavourable outcome — the sabotage theory had few takers, it actually projected Indian sport in pitiable light.
To now question Yadav would be futile, he would have been asked to vacate accommodation in the Games Village, travel home in disgrace. Questions, however, must be asked on what prompted his being sent to the Games when a cloud still lingered. Was the potential for winning a medal sufficient cause to “cut corners”? Most of all, was the National Anti-Doping Agency subjected to political pressure when it performed a U-turn and gave him a “clean chit” that a higher authority did not accept? Will the boss of the Indian wrestling federation, a BJP stalwart, now charge the international adjudicator of bias, what is the fate of the Prime Minister&’s assurance of “justice”? That is an issue the sports minister would have been required to address — except that Vijay Goel has already blotted his copybook at Rio.