All athletes are passionate, hardworking and competitive. They go through extensive training, avoid distractions and lead a completely different lifestyle. But in India, sportsmen are differentiated on the basis of their sport. Sadly, athletes opting less popular sports here get ignored by government and sporting bodies.
Regardless of putting immense effort in the game and winning international tournaments, these athletes don’t get acknowledged as legends. Besides cricket, barely any sport is widely celebrated by the nation. It’s unfair how an IPL hero earns crore and lives a prosperous life, while a National level Kabaddi Champion sells vegetables to feed her children. Such sportsmen live the lives of poverty, misery and bygones, despite winning Olympic medals for the country.
So, we bring you 12 sporting heroes who never got their due and were failed by the nation.
Sita Sahu won a double bronze at the 2011 Special Olympics. Two years down the line, she was reported as selling golgappas with her family in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh. It was only in 2014 that the Madhya Pradesh government rewarded Sahu her well-deserved sum of Rs 3 lakhs. The NTPS gave her family Rs 6 lakh for the achievement.
Shanti Devi, the 40-year-old former player of the Bihar Kabaddi team sells vegetables at the Sonari Aerodrome Market at Jamshedpur to feed her family. Devi won two consecutive National Kabaddi championships in 1982 and 1983. She also won the silver medal in Guwahati National Kabaddi League and bronze in All India Women National Kabaddi Championship.
Known as ‘the bearded horse’ for his great control of the game, Mohd. Yousuf Khan was considered one of the best all-rounder players in Indian football history. He played a huge role in India’s win in the 1962 Asian Games and was awarded the Arjuna Award in 1966. After bringing much fame to the nation Yousuf Khan faced penury in his last days, suffered from Parkinson’s disease and died due to a fatal heart attack.
Sarwan Singh was Indian representative in the 1954 Asian Games in the 110 meters hurdles event. He covered the 110 meters in 14.7 seconds, making him the gold medalist. After astute poverty hit him, Singh started driving a taxi away from home. Unfortunately, poverty even took his gold medal.
Makhan Singh is the only Indian to have beaten Flying Sikh, Milkha Singh, in the 400 meters race at the 1962 National Game in Kolkata. Besides beating Milkha Singh, he was a part of the Indian men’s 4×400 meters relay and 4×100 meters relay teams in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He lost his leg in a tragic accident and had to suffer the wrath of poverty.
Maria Irudayam is the only man to have won the Arjuna Award for Carom. He won the state title in 1981 and conquered the National Championship in 1982. It was in 1991 that he won the Carom World Title. He is also called the Sachin Tendulkar of Carom. He re-won the World title in 1995. Currently, he runs the Periyamedu Carrom Practice Centre in Chennai, but even after all this he lives a life of mediocrity.
Paan Singh Tomar, an Indian soldier, athlete and a rebel, was a seven-time national steeplechase champion in the 1950s and 1960s. He also represented India at the 1958 Asian Games, Tokyo. His national record of nine minutes and two seconds in the 3000-meter steeplechase event remained unbroken for ten years. He had to leave his sporting career and became a rebel for his family.
Shankar Laxman The first goalkeeper to captain an international hockey team, he played 3 successive Olympics finals for India. Sadly, a member of the gold medal-winning hockey squad of 1956 and 1958 Olympics, Shankar died at the age of 73 living in abject poverty and suffering from Gangrene.
Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav wrestled his way to the bronze medal in the freestyle 57 kg category at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, becoming the first winner of an individual medal after India’s independence. He was called ‘ pocket dynamo’ by fans. He was even deprived of his pension and died in a road accident.
Virender Singh, or goonga-pehelwan, as he is known in the wrestling circles, won India the only gold medal at the Deaflympics in Sofia (Bulgaria) in 2005 and followed it up with a silver medal at the World Deaf Wrestling Championships in 2008 in Yerevan, Armenia. At the 2009 Deaflympics in Taipei, he settled for a bronze and added another bronze at the 2012 World Deaf Wrestling in Sofia. He now works as a clerk with Haryana power corporation.
Bir Bahadur, former footballer who was known as Forward Cheetah, was part of the team that twice ended runner-up in 1966 and 1969 in the National Football Championship, Santosh Trophy. Now he sells chaat in the streets of Hyderabad and struggles for a living.
Major Dhyanchand was an iconic Indian hockey player who is remembered as a magician of Indian Hockey. He was honored with Padma Bhushan in 1956. His birthday, August 29, is also celebrated as National Sports Day in India. Dhyan Chand has scored more than 400 goals during his international career which ended in 1948. He was ignored by our nation and died penniless in utter poverty.
These were just a very few names. There are many such stars about whom the nation has forgotten. They were let down by us as a nation, even though they made all efforts to make us proud.