The country looks on with disbelief as the Indian Government honours legendary Olympic wrestler Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav by launching the KD Jadhav Memorial International Wrestling Championship after refusing to fulfil his dream of opening a world-class academy for 65 years.
Considered to be the zenith of sporting glory, the Olympics have always proven to be an elusive competition for the Indians. The competition which is more than a 100 years old has seen only 28 athletes make it to the medal winners’ podium from India in all of history. This makes every Indian medal winner at the Olympics, a hero back in our country.
A particular name that crops up as we discuss this subject is of KD Jadhav. Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav was a wrestler from the village of Goleshwar, Satara in Maharashtra. A man of great perseverance and endurance, Jadhav was the first man to win an Olympic medal for India at the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics. He had no world class training facility nor could he afford trainers and coaches suited specifically for him, neither personal physiotherapists and doctors to help him which made his achievement all the more worthy of the glory it got.
It was his dream after returning from the Olympics to open a world-class training academy in his village.
He wished to inspire the coming generation about the sport and provide them with all the facilities he never got. He dreamed of training and producing professional athletes from India who would go on to the world stage and make the country proud as he had done.
An achiever from a humble background, Jadhav made his request known to the Government. Planning without execution has always been a meticulous strategy of any Indian Government. His request was formally accepted, and false promises ensued. In 1984, on the 14th of August, Jadhav passed away. 32 years after his Olympic victory, his dream never came true. No promised academies were set up; no funds were given. The chapter was closed.
On the other front, media reports have confirmed today that former Commonwealth heavyweight wrestling champion Sangram Singh announced the launch of the first edition of the KD Jadhav Memorial International Wrestling Championship on September 15, 2017. “We will give opportunities to young, talented wrestlers in the country while at the same time keep our legend’s memory alive. We are aiming to not only improve the profile of the sport but also unearth more and more talents from tier-2 and tier-3 cities,” Sangram said at the press conference.
The 32-year old Sangram who is making a comeback to the mat has pitted himself against American star wrestler Kevin Radford while there are four other undercards, three men and one woman. The one-day event is being held at Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi.
Also present during the launch of the tournament were Olympian boxers Akhil and Jitender Kumar and India’s first Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra who also happens to be an integral member of Narendra Modi’s Olympic Task Force.
“This is a truly momentous day for Indian sport. There couldn’t have been a better way to pay our respects to our country’s first Olympic medalist,” Bindra said. “I have always been an admirer of KD Jadhav,” he added.
Praising the Government’s initiative, Bindra went on to say that,”We must provide more and more opportunities for athletes at different levels. These things will help create an ecosystem for the athletes in India, and we need more of such events and competitions in our country. We need to provide platforms for our athletes to help them prolong their careers. I think such initiatives are going to be very useful in that regard”.
It seems the Government is doing all it can to promote such sports and at the same time honouring their ex-Olympians with the highest regard as was evident by naming the tournament after Jadhav. One can only help then wonder what happened to the dream which Jadhav had 65 years ago and if today the Government has helped his family make it true.
Jadhav’s son, Ranjit KD Jadhav continued the struggle and worked tirelessly to fulfil his father’s dream of building the academy after his father’s demise.
The Government paid their due respect but continued to linger when the funds were requested to be made available. Thirty-three years have passed by, and still, there is no trace of any initiative being taken by the Government. Exhausted and frustrated by the lack of respect shown to the promise made by the Government, Ranjit has decided to take matters into his own hands.
In July 2017, he went on public record and said, “The matter languishes in cold storage even after sanctioning the amount, and now the cost of setting up the academy would be nearly double”. He further issued an ultimatum to the Government by giving them time till the 14th of August, KD Jadhav’s 33rd death anniversary. “If they fail to clear its promise of the academy, from Independence Day, August 15, the family and villagers will go on a hunger strike,” Jadhav declared.
His desperation has pushed him to the point that he has threatened the Government to auction his father’s Olympic medal to raise the necessary funds.
Following his protests, the Government has succumbed and sanctioned an amount of three crores on top of the 1.58 crore it had originally planned to back in 2009. The Government, however, has complicated matters by throwing up the issue of tender and working on an expression of interest basis.
What it has essentially done is that it has now possibly thrown it into the hands of the corporates who are willing to invest crores in this project thereby running Ranjit and his family out of the driving seat. Ranjit will continue the fight regardless and has planned to sell his lands if need be to raise two-three crores to keep control of the academy and has welcomed the government to run any number of inspections they wish to so that he cannot be accused of profiting from this business model.
Recently, individual Olympic medals in India have been celebrated with much gusto and achievements have been sufficiently rewarded. But do the sporting heroes of India’s past receive similar adulation and recognition?
“We don’t want the money, just a chance to run the academy honestly. The government can monitor the running minutely. We request them to change the GR if needed as a special case and give us a chance. I am sure we’ll work towards producing Olympic champions,” he said.
It is despairing, to say the least, that one of India’s greatest Olympic icons was never given his due respect not only while he was alive but even after his death. The pietism continued when the Government decided to use his name and reputation to promote their initiative- an initiative which chooses to focus on wrestling entertainment rather than the evolution of the sport itself.