I did not play for my country, but I did play for my state--cricket, basketball and athletics. My first state tournament was at the age of 12, representing Karnataka in the first ever Under 15 Cricket Nationals. My last was representing Karnataka in basketball for the Senior Nationals at the age of 20, before I moved to Mumbai to pursue my postgraduate degree.
Our lives as sportspersons were filled with sordid tales.
We often travelled in unreserved second and third class compartments to and from unknown little towns of India where nationals were being held. I remember once waking up in the middle of the night because the compartment had sprung a leak and rainwater was leaking onto my holdall on which I slept on the upper bunk. Our daily meal allowance of ₹10 when we were on the train didn't get us much. We often pooled in the amount with others to try and make the allowance stretch enough to get us three decent meals in a day. There were times when we travelled in steam trains, blackened with coal dust by the time we reached our destination. Times when we sneaked into first class toilets to have a quick shower on journeys that would stretch into two or three days because our associations could only afford tickets on slow express trains.
We didn't complain except on rare occasions, such as the time we were forced to wear low-cut round-neck t-shirts that were designed by a lecherous team manager...
I cannot recall the luxury of a proper bed in the accommodation provided to us at tournaments. At times, there were iron cots but most often we slept on the floor--on our holdalls. I still remember the squalor of the toilets that we had to use, some makeshift and built with thatch. I think it was our love for the game, and our youth and innocence that made us accept all these inconveniences as part of the rigour of being a sportsperson. Also a shared goal of victory and team spirit. And we did win national tournaments and made it to the last two or four in most of them, bringing our state much fame and glory.
We didn't complain except on rare occasions, such as the time we were forced to wear low-cut round-neck t-shirts that were designed by who we later realized was a lecherous team manager...we managed to get collared t-shirts the next time around.
We learnt how political the system was too...who would be in, who would be out. When I was 15, a journalist asked me what I had done with the prize money (₹5000; ₹333.33 for each player) we had been awarded by the state government for winning the junior cricket nationals. I said we had not received any money, and ended up being sidelined by the state cricket association--I would never play cricket for the state again.
The tragic underbelly of corruption and unfairness continues to cut across sports and continents. How difficult it must have been for Sammy to say what he did...
I thought my experience was in the past. With basketball, an experience of those who participated in lesser known sports. With cricket, an experience that women went through because, let's face it, women's sports did not receive as much focus and attention.
So when I heard Darren Sammy speak about his disappointments after the ICC World T20 Finals, I was troubled and saddened. Even as my own experiences flooded my mind, I realized at many levels, little had changed. The tragic underbelly of corruption and unfairness continues to cut across sports and continents. How difficult it must have been for Sammy to stand up and say what he did...and yet how brave. From their initial slow build up to Bravo's Champion song that predicted what was likely to come in the finals, the West Indies were a team transformed by will and determination...and adversity. Sitting in a pub in Bangalore as the last over played with Queen's "We Are the Champions" being blasted out loud, the irony of the lyrics was glaring: "We are the champions, my friends, And we'll keep on fighting 'til the end." And then the moment found Sammy and his now famous impassioned speech. Newspaper headlines have used words like 'lambasts', 'blasts', 'hits out' to describe what he said. They miss the point. The messiness of sports is now out there in the open. I hope it will encourage sports enthusiasts and associations to move beyond sentiment and emotion, and help fix the system and stem the rot. That's the "fighting 'til the end" we can and must do...and our payback to Sammy and his team for a brilliant performance.
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