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. Athletes opting less popular sports get ignored by government and sporting bodies.
Regardless of giving their all to 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.
1. From winning Bronze to selling Gol Gappas
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.
2. Once a Kabaddi Champion sold vegetables later
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.
3. Helped India win Gold but struggled with a deadly disease
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.
4. Won a Gold medal but sold it later
Sarwan Singh was Indian representative in the 1954 Asian Games in the 110 meter hurdles event. He covered 110 meter in 14.7 seconds, and won a gold medal. After astute poverty hit him, Singh started driving a taxi away from home. Unfortunately, poverty even took his gold medal.
5. From playing National Games to dying in poverty
Makhan Singh is the only Indian to have beaten Flying Sikh, Milkha Singh, in the 400 meter race at the 1962 National Game in Kolkata. Besides beating Milkha Singh, he was a part of the Indian men’s 4×400 meter relay and 4×100 meter relay teams in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He lost his leg in a tragic accident and had to suffer the wrath of poverty.
6. A pro in Carrom like no other
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.
7. A steeplechase champ who faced a tragic end
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 left his sporting career to become a dacoit & was shot by Inspector Mahendra Pratap Singh.
8. Goalkeeper turned captain who faced a dreadful end
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 winning hockey squad of 1956 and 1958 Olympics, Shankar died at the age of 73 living in abject poverty and suffering from Gangrene.
9. Olympic medalist who struggled with money
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. Sadly, he was even deprived of his pension and died in a road accident.
10. From winning gold to clerkship
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. For all the honours he brought India, he now works as a mere clerk with Haryana power corporation.
11. A talented footballer who resorted to selling Chaat
Bir Bahadur, former footballer who was known as Forward Cheetah, was part of the team that finished twice as a runner up in the National Football Championship, Santosh Trophy. Now he sells chaat in the streets of Hyderabad and struggles for a living.
12. Hockey legend who faced poverty
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 scored more than 400 goals during his international career which ended in 1948. Like others, he too was ignored by our nation and died penniless in utter poverty.
These were just a very few names. There are many such stars who were failed by the nation, even though made great efforts to make us proud.