The 18th edition of the Asian Games in Indonesia saw India registering their best ever medal tally (69), surpassing their previous best of 65 they achieved eight years back in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China. Sports like wrestling, shooting and athletics were obvious winners, but the tally wasn’t limited to that.
Asian Games, over the years, has been featuring some miraculously strange sports over the years and one cannot argue if we place Sepak Takraw in the list. In case you are not aware of what the sport is, it is the combination of volleyball and football, played on a badminton-like court. The rules are simple, you have to send the ball to the opposition’s zone and are allowed to use any part of the body barring hands. This sport has been featuring at the Asian Games since 1990, but India had to wait for a whopping 28 years to get a medal.
An Indian Sepak Takraw team comprising of as many as 12 members brought home a historic bronze, but as it turned out, it wasn’t enough for the athletes to their life back on track. As soon as the Indian team came back from Jakarta, celebration broke out, but as soon as the players realized the reality, a certain Harish Kumar got back to helping his father by selling tea in a small stall (situated at Majnu-ka-tilla in Delhi); which is the only source of income for his family.
He has been working with his father since a tender age and has two sisters, who are both visually impaired. Hence working on a tea stall hardly helps his cause. Meanwhile, also hasn’t received any certainty from the government over a stable job. In an ideal situation, Harish and his teammates would go on to become national heroes (since it is India’s first medal in Sepak Takraw), but not in India it seems.
Athletes, barring cricketers and some footballers, live a layman’s life in our country, let alone getting the facilities and limelight they rightly deserve. You ask who is to blame for these kinds of situations? And we believe it is the duty of our government to at least keep these athletes motivated.
Like many other Indian athletes, Harish had a very humble beginning. He used to make the balls by cutting rubber from the tires. And one fine day was spotted by the Sepak Takraw coach, Hem Raj. Harish is pretty good at this sport, but to say his struggles are binding him to a limit would be a big understatement.
Meanwhile, the next task for Harish lies in Thailand when the teams will battle for the World Championship next month. And for a countless time running, Harish will look keep all his troubles away from the sight, in a battle to win gold.