History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.
-B. C. FORBES
Is there a life after Olympics? Beyond active participation?
History is full of people who have defied the limitations not only of their physical bodies to achieve the impossible but also endured mental and emotional difficulties to overcome them. Sports has always re-written and re-defined our knowledge of what a human body can do and achieve. The Olympics over time and history is full of stories of not only such valour but of the spirit and values that the olympics itself lives by, that of :
Imbibing the olympic message of “faster, higher, stronger” , inclusions and giving a level playing field to everyone.
The history of the Olympics has given us stories of champions, super stars, un-sung heroes and of humanity itself. The life cycle of an Athlete from picking up a sport, to passionately training for it, to selections for olympics, the preparations leading to it and then the post games blues are all a story within any of their sporting lifetime. We look to revisit those from the history of Indian Olympics and see what their lives have been “after the Olympics”.
Where are our players and what is the life they are leading after the Olympics?
Are they basking in the after glory? Medals or no medals or we have some failed and fallen heroes amongst them, if so, what has lead to it? These are questions we ask with the belief in making a contribution and change into the lives of our Olympians while we know we can do what as can as an educated and empowered society.
So what could be a few things we are required to be aware of in our pursuit to help the people who put our country on the sporting map.
- Endorsements, aids and sponsorships during their active careers.
- Grants, aids, funds, pensions etc post retirement from playing competitive sports from govt and pvt sectors.
- Job opportunities and educational backgrounds during and post active sporting years.
- Access to their own stories and glory via royalty’s, copyrights etc that can be used to create inspiring content based on their life and stories. And, using it as motivational tools for kids and upcoming sports players.
- Keep a registered account, tracing and tracking of all our former olympians to be able to create a pool of resources for and from them.
And the most important one being
6) Integrating them back not only into our sports industry and community but also into their own daily life and routine without active sports through proper guidance and counselling.
Elite Sports Players
An active elite sports player has mostly only lived a life within the bubble of their training and sports related activities, often overlooking their basic education too. At most times, they also lack social skills required to interact with a community at large because they have spent their formative years in their own spaces involving fellow players or coaches or experts, officials etc. For us a society it becomes vital to be able to help them make a smoother transition and help them deal with issues like:
- Loss of identity
- Financial burdens and stress
- Physical changes and transitions from active to sedentary lifestyle
- Inability to cope with daily family pressures or social skills
- Lack of confidence, soft skills etc.
- Biological changes if at all to their bodies as their sport would have demanded esp for female athletes.
Olympians are a very different ball game when it comes around to looking at them as an athlete. We may call them, pinnacles of sporting success on a lot of fronts. In the field where there are no cricketers these are the superstars that reign on their turfs. Olympic success may not necessarily be measured by medals. India has been participating in Olympics since it started but Olympic glory, in conventional terms, has always eluded India till we started seeing frequent medals, starting with Col. Rajyavardhan Rathore’s silver in Athens 2004 and Mr. Abhinav Bindra’s Gold in 2008. Olympians though are a very different cotrie altogether.
There a very strange mix of people. I could have termed it as curious but I called them strange. They are high-performance athletes who have dedicated their lives in the pursuit of excellence of their sport and risen to the highest levels with a consistency to match. On human terms it makes them loners and people who pursue a single-minded goal consistently for years at an end. They might be cherished by the society in general but people hold them in mixed regards. On their performance they are praised while on their non-performance they become social outcasts. Since in India we have a culture of provision of government jobs to the top floor of a national championship automatically all Olympians are in government service or an equivalent service which pays them well and takes care of the day to day routine. On a good performance at other championships they receive cash prizes as well as rewards in kind.
For a career sportsman, who has always imagined himself to be the man of the action, it is very difficult to accept that their performing days are over especially, in the light of the fact that their support may be the only vocation which they have a proficiency in. If they accept that finally they will not be able to compete to the same level as they used to, they might bow out gracefully and take up courses to better their knowledge and understanding of the sport. For the Olympians who are in denial of their waning performances, they eventually start suffering a lot of defeat in the competitive arena and also take up a psychological beating, which in turn reflects on their everyday behavior within the sport as well as society in general.
Therefore one of the first key services that should be provided by society as well as organisations, for Olympians, should be a support group, where Olympians of different sports as well as different eras can come together sit and discuss their lives and their journeys. This would bring together a group which understands that they are not the only people who are going through a certain set of problems but this is a common problem to all Olympians who have now stopped competing. Prestige, egos and a very famed self-image, are often causes that need to be remedied for Olympians who have gradually gotten accustomed to being recognised as the forerunners of sports within the societal framework.
Such support groups can also serve as a test bed for psychological support and therapies solutions which can be envisioned on a nationwide scale with support from the International Olympic Association. The Olympians Association of India is also proactively working towards establishing a similar service which could benefit Olympians of all ages and statures.
Alternative Earning Stream
It is imperative that an alternate source of earning be established for Olympians which can augment any other job profiles which they have. The common job profiles might be that of district, state and city level sports officers or within the state police or as heads of different departments in the government set up like Railways or ONGC. In the case of looking at alternate options for earnings Cricket serves as a good example by including high-performance athletes as coaches, selectors, mentors, commentators, experts on talk shows etc.
Creation of a network with specific mapping on the expertise and proficiency of Olympians on the subject knowledge they could be called in as policy formulators, commentators as well as ambassadors of their game to different parts of the country.
Source of Knowledge
In general Olympians are people who have a lot of knowledge on the playing aspects of the game this leads to them also acting as a source of knowledge not just on what should be done or not done on a practical front but also on a policy level. These elite sportsmen are people who can look at altering the format, playing styles, athlete rules as well as bringing in best practices and contact from different walks of life into everyday practice of the game. Using them as a source of knowledge for extending the gameplay, making it more contemporary as well as a complete rethinking of the game itself, while sticking to the original idea, is something that should be contemplated and thought of on a practical front.
Facilities, Recognition & Branding
It is very often that Olympians are a brand onto themselves. They often create ripples of excitement with their distinctive styles and the manner in which they carry themselves. Just like Prakash Padukone ushered an era of the craze of Badminton, while Geet Sethi brought in snooker, Viswanathan Anand pioneered chess, there are a lot of sports people who have spearheaded nationwide efforts in making their sport known and going mass market. Though their efforts bring in manufacturers, entrepreneurs as well as allied sundry industries together under one umbrella they also facilitate an enhanced understanding of the sport which they excel in.
With such exemplary sportspeople bringing so much to the table they can be recognised and used as places for different branding exercises on various fronts and in capacities which usually are not thought of. I am very sure that Milkha Singh had never expected a biopic to be made on him which could bring track and field back into the limelight with him as an icon. It’s not just made an entire generation look back to discovering who Milkha Singh was and the glory that he brought but also to reconsider athletics as a viable career option.
We can also look at ageing Olympians as a sector which demands services to be rendered to them. These might be low-cost insurance, travel, shopping as well as fast-track applications for different needs, as a service rendered by private as well as government authorities. This could be considered as a policy formulation which is required by Olympians as well as decorated athletes and coaches, in civility.
They may not come from the richest families or class but they have worn the tricolour on their chest. There are very few who know and understand what wearing the tricolour on their chest and facing the five rings means to a sportsperson and the weight that the responsibility carries. Life after Olympics is an afterthought because nobody really thought their moment of glory will ever end. But when reality hits, it hits the biggest stars and in life everybody is equal. The least we can do is to honour their effort and the legacy that they would leave behind in propelling the nation forward.