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Monday, December 18, 2006


The 15th Asian Games in Doha came to an end this past Friday, and what a show it was! No expense was, or seemed to have been spared when it came to the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the state-of-the-art facilities that delighted both participants and spectators. And, in a hardly surprising flexing of athletic muscle, so to speak, China walked away with 316 medals; 165 of which were gold.

What about India? Well, we, and I'm speaking with a collective Indian voice, were tied fifth overall in the medals tally with Thailand. Haven't we always been found lacking in the international athletics and general sporting arena? No, not necessarily. There were a couple of ups and downs in the competition. Initially, India made an excellent start with gold medals in chess and kabaddi. Now, I know that sounds a bit funny, you know, because chess is a board game and kabaddi is a game that was invented in the no wonder we'd be good at it, right? But there were also gold medals in Tennis in both the Men's Doubles and Mixed Doubles. And although it wasn't much to write home about, or blog about, which is obviously not the case, there was one story which greeted our nation this morning that was a bit, well, astonishing?

"Report: Indian silver medalist female runner at Asian Games fails gender test" reads a report by the Associated Press. What? And why is this so shocking? I mean, weren't the manly Chinese women's swimming team up to no good, albeit in a different vein? So what went into making this such a front page scandal?

Let's go back to about a week ago. Santhi Soundarajan, the "female runner" from the headline, had finished second in the 800 meters. She had won a silver medal and the nation was heaping praises on her. In fact, the media soon discovered that she came from a small town called Pudukottai, and that it was sheer perseverance and grit that got her all the way to where she was. This only added to the adulation that people felt for her, and she was inducted into the ranks of India's sporting champions overnight. Then, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Mr. M. Karunanidhi, announced that he was going to give her 15 lakhs as prize money. Wow! Things didn't seem like they could get better. But, you know what they say about things that go up...

Jump back to the present, the 18th of December, 2006, and India wakes up to reports of "Santhi fails gender test from Asian Games" and "Santhi stripped of silver medal". Oh my God! The unthinkable had happened. No no, this isn't the first scandal that has rocked the Indian sporting community. Remember those weightlifters who were returned positive test results and have been banned for a couple of years? Or what about the gentleman Indian masseur who was found guilty of sexual assault...a most indecent proposal, if I may say so myself. Come to think of it, what a year it's been for Indian sports in the International community.

But what of poor Santhi? What of the rumors that people in India were already aware of this and allowed her to go to Doha to compete. Were they hoping that no one else would notice? Or was it just a sense of pity because she'd come so far they didn't know how to tell her that her participation in the games was not entirely possible given her, well, her gender, I guess?

I suppose the biggest question is why. Most of the people I've interacted with about this particular bit of news have all asked the same question. But there has been variation. There were those that wondered why it was on the front page, while others did a brief bout of wallowing in national self-pity by asking "Why is it always India?" Still others asked why people had let her carry on if they knew that there was a likelyhood of this happening because let's not forget, it's not only about how the nation is going to recover, it's also about how Santhi, the individual who came from humble beginnings is going to live her own life after this fiasco. Well, and for those of you wondering about what happened to the money, she'll get the money alright. But no amount of money can bring back the glory of achievement snatched suddenly away by the ignominy of scandal...especially one that could have been avoided. Isn't this always the case? Or maybe we should stop asking why this always happens and figure out how to, initially, not let it happen as much, and then, not at all. Only time will tell I'm afraid. Until then, people will do what people will do...put glory and fame ahead of everything else...and ignore the existence of their fellow man...and woman.
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