A few years ago the Indian Sports Ministry made a sudden change in their policy, no longer allowing some of its tops athletes to play for India. One of the athletes severely affected by this ruling was my sister, Shikha Uberoi. Shikha was born in India, went to school there, still holds residence there and had been successfully representing the country for a couple of years before she was slapped with this new ruling.
I often get asked what my opinion on this rule change is and until now, I've avoided really answering the question. I recently got asked about this subject on twitter and it just set me off. The question was, why can Somdev Devaram play for India when he has played and studied in the US collegiate system?
So here is my opinion, raw, honest and unedited.
I think the ruling by former Sports Minister MS Gill was so stupid, brash and ill-considered. An untimely idea to implement when there is lagging sports achievement. Not only has it hampered India's current athletic achievements but also its future sports stars. I think it is time that we open our eyes to certain truths before making statements about Somdev Devvarman and making rules like MS Gill did.
First of all current the current President of the INC, Sonia Gandhi is Italian and still holds an Italian passport (this is a disputed matter, may or may not be true). A non-Indian is ruling the country and her son Rahul who is a successful political figure is also Italian. A foreigner is raping, I mean leading India. Second, scores of great Indian leaders from Mahatma Ghandi to Nehru have lived, studied and worked abroad before doing anything significant in India. Does that make them un-Indian? Should we ban them from representing India?
So many Indian athletes live and train outside India's borders. Why? Resources, excellent knowledge and quality that India just doesn't have. Although, what is so ironic is that they are all using wisdom from our own Sanathan Dharam like Yoga, meditation and Ayurved to create athletes. In 2009, with the help of new sports minister Mr. Maken, Rs 678 crore was given to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) to enable the core group of elite athletes to train and compete abroad. Does that make them unIndian? “Across the world, elite athletes get the highest-quality diet, scientifically tailored down to the last calorie, for their sport,” says Manisha Malhotra, CEO of Mittal Champions Trust, another not-for-profit organization that works with Olympic athletes. “Here we have no concept of such a thing. Whether you are a wrestler, boxer, marathon runner or weightlifter, you get the same dal-roti-paneer at the training centres.” (citationl)
The ruling and the attitude that MS Gill implemented and athletes fighting uphill battles with their own associations such as the recent row Bopanna and Bhupathi had with AITA, will only push athletes to continue to go elsewhere to be the best. When you have such a poor showing year after year at every Olympics.."in terms of population size and medals won, there is no worse Olympic performer than India....thats over 383 million people per medal, the highest ratio of all competing nations at Beijing." (citation). Why make such drastic rules to make it worse? Even struggling economies don't make such harsh rules. Greece and Italy can't even pass austerity bills even though it is a very possible solution. India is in desperate need of athletes! Why not embrace and support the professionals you already had (have)?
Cricket? Cricket has consumed 90% of the pie and unfortunately only a bakers dozen of nations actually play that sport at an elite level. A country earns its respect in the eyes of the world through its athletes. With the amount of tennis lovers and we have in India, it should be a tennis powerhouse. Allow people with OCI's and dual citizenship to play for India. I'm not saying to go the extreme of Kazakhstan, paying off players to represent the country with all expenses paid training, salaries and houses but at least don't chop down what you had going for you!
Don't attack athletes, who were born in India, represent the country, its heritage and culture with dignity and grace and want to play for a country the they call home. Athletes bring a country hope, pride and give the youth motivation. Attack the people who continue to pimp out India country from the inside out, fight them, ban them, rule them out!
Oh and while we are on the subject, if it is such a big deal that an Indian athlete trains and lives elsewhere, what about actors? A coveted Bollywood actress who can't even speak the language, who isn't even Indian by the 2nd degree, who has changed her name to sound more 'Indian' is accepted, loved, adored and given crores of work, brand representation, and is selling Indian products to you. No issues there??? Is it because she is white? Fair and Lovely aint a billion dollar industry for no reason! Sounds like a serious case of Colonial Hangover to me. Take an Ayurvedic remedy and wake up, its 2012!
India, stop attacking the ones that love you, the ones that feel proud outside Indian borders to be Indian, the ones that live Indian and who are constantly making you look good.