It is with pride that the media claims credit for the financial assistance its reportage has facilitated being extended to an otherwise forgotten hero of Indian boxing. Kaur Singh, an ex-serviceman is in difficult circumstances, finding it hard to repay a loan taken to pay for medical expenses incurred treating a cardiac ailment. However, the publication of his “story” has opened many a purse-string. The union minister for sport, and the chief minister of his native Punjab have announced considerable financial relief, and an industrialist has offered to pay for all future medical expenses. Alas, Kaur is a trifle skeptical ~ for which he cannot be blamed. He had been promised a financial reward for winning a gold medal at the Asian Games in 1982, but never received a penny: apparently his “case” got buried following a change of government in Punjab. And as other sportsmen would confirm, they and promises made to them are often forgotten once they depart the competitive arena.
What is sad in Kaur’s case was that he was a military hero too, having been decorated with a medal for distinguished service ~ in addition to having been an Arjuna awardee and a Padma Shri to boot. He had been in a private hospital, but received no visitors from the Army or the Punjab Police which he served after completing his term in olive green. This is no “sob story”, only a pathetic reminder of how there is no system which monitors the post-competition affairs of “retired” athletes. Now that a minister with an Olympic medal to his name handles sport, such a mechanism could be put in place…
What is more than a trifle misleading is that in order to “sell” the Kaur Singh Story there has been much exaggeration of his “match” with the legendary Muhammad Ali ~ they never boxed competitively: as an amateur Kaur participated in an entirely different world from Ali’s professional “fight-game”. In 1980 Ali visited India, and along with sparring partner Jimmy Ellis conducted an exhibition at the National Stadium, a couple of Indian boxers were added to the “show” to give it local flavour, as a reigning national heavyweight champ Kaur was part of the tamasha. No doubt it was a proud moment for him ~ but far from the career-highlight recent media reports make it out to be.
Kaur Singh had his hour of glory two years later, when he was the only Indian to win a gold medal in the Asian Games boxing contest. He had won a gold at an Asian championship earlier and went on to take part in the Los Angeles Olympics.
Compared with his display at the Asian Games of 1982, his being in same ring as Ali was a mere foot-note ~ a pity his prowess had to be thus “sensationalised”.