The story that followed the Indian women’s recurve team’s gold medal performance in Wroclaw treads a depressingly familiar path. If you’ve not been following it, let me recap:
On Sunday, the women’s team of Bombayla Devi, Deepika Kumari and Rimil Buriuly triumphed in Wroclaw for their second successive World Cup win, and all the more remarkable for knocking off Korea in the gold medal match. Watch that first (it’ll skip to 32m in). That’s the superb bit:
On Tuesday morning they finally arrived back in India to… not much. Not exactly a heroes welcome. More to the point, not a single member of the Archery Association of India was there. To quote the Indian Express:
The triumphant Indian women’s recurve team, which clinched the World Cup Stage IV crown in Poland, returned home in the wee hours today to a lukewarm response.
The archery team, comprising Bombayla Devi, Deepika Kumari and Rimil Buriuly, were later felicitated at the residence of President of Archery Association of India (AAI), V K Malhotra.
The archers were, however, a little disappointed that no top officials had come to receive them. “We are a bit disappointed. If we compare with other sports, there are lot of people receiving the players at the airport. This is a very big achievement, we defeated Korea. It would have been great had we received a big welcome but its okay our job is to do better and we will do it,” Rimil said.
Malhotra, who is also the acting president of Indian Olympic Association (IOA), praised the women archers for their winning effort.
“It is a great effort by the archers. They have made India proud,” Malhotra said.
The senior BJP leader, however, said that they wanted the team to get all the attention and so no top official had gone to receive them at the airport.
“We were having the welcome lined up for the team at my residence. Also the trainers had accompanied the team. I didn’t want only the officials to be shown on the channels. It should be the archers only, it is their day,” Malhotra said.
Asked about rewards, Malhotra said: “That will be discussed with the federation.”
Well, it wasn’t enough of a big deal for the national governing body to meet them at Indira Gandhi International, but it certainly was for the Indian press who had turned out in droves. As Wisden put it:
While top officials from the Archery Association of India were conspicuously absent when the team landed… media persons were out in full force, television cameras jostling for prime positions and reporters shoving mikes down the throats of the champion trio. This jamboree spilled over to the felicitation ceremony as well, at the end of which every news channel present wanted exclusive interviews with Deepika, clearly the star of the team.
You will want to watch this short video.
As The Hindu pointed out:
Hungry for more, the news channels persisted with their relentless questioning at the felicitation and demanded one-on-one interviews. One cameraman followed every move of the archers, forcing Deepika to request him to move away even as she had breakfast with the team coach.
Instead of acceding to the request, the cameraman taunted the 18-year-old, saying Deepika should actually be grateful for such media coverage.
The insensitivity of India’s media corps to someone clearly exhausted and upset is callous enough, but unsurprising. During the unheralded earlier rounds, the press went with ‘Deepika Kumari misfires during Archery World Cup‘, and some particularly noteworthy language in this article from IBN Live, where (men’s recurver) Priyank Tyagi was ‘overpowered’ in his quarterfinal, whereas Deepika Kumari ‘succumbed meekly’.
The Indian team’s success is particularly remarkable because of the relative lack of resources available, certainly compared to the teams they have been beating:
While the win was special, the treatment meted out to the archers by the federation is anything but that. Speaking to Times Of India from Wroclaw, Deepika Kumari revealed that most of the team members were nursing shoulder injuries and despite many requests to the federation for a physio, the officials paid no heed.
“None of us were fit today. Most of us have shoulder injuries. It rained here a couple of days back. Because of the cold, our shoulders were stiff. Since we don’t have a physio with us, we had to help each other out. We have been taking care of each others’ massages and things like boiling water etc. In case a serious injury takes place, we are ill-equipped. Physios were provided in the camp. But no physio accompanied us here. I don’t know how much more vocal can we be to get the basic requirements in place,” she said.
Another article revealed that they were still using the same equipment they used for London 2012:
“We have no new equipment since the London Olympics. It has been a while since the camp was shifted to Aurangabad and we have been asking for the equipment. Shooting with used bows is not a major issue, but it becomes really difficultly to get grip with the old arrows. Hopefully, we will get the new equipment before the World Championships next month,” said Manipur-born archer Bombayala.
Archery equipment seems to be a problem in India, as an article from December 2012 makes clear:
Speaking about London Olympics 2012, Talukdar said there were many factors which adversely affected his performance. He also blamed Archery Association of India (AAI) for his poor performance saying the equipment were provided to them only a week before going for London Olympics.
They didn’t get enough time to adapt to the new bows. Besides, all the Indian archers fell ill after reaching London following change in climate which also affected their performance.
Talukdar said AAI only expects medals and does not provide facilities to players. “Keeping high expectation from players is fine, but for that government should also provide proper facilities,” he said like equipments, high-class trainings and good coaches. That we never get. Simply practicing without proper technical training and other supports is not easy for any archer to bag gold in international matches. Korean archers not only get archery training but they also are provided physiotherapist, masseur and psychologists for counselling.”.
It should be pointed out that India sent full-strength squads in compound and recurve to Poland, and the recurvers have a top Korean coach. Indian (male) cricketers have also been on the sharp end of the press after arriving back from exploits abroad. Nevertheless, an article about Deepika Kumari’s family provides some starker perspective on Indian sporting backgrounds, and there is just the tiniest shadow of caste hanging over this whole thing, if you start reading around.
Sadly, the treatment of Deepika may have more to do with deep-seated perceptions that women have no place in Indian sport, in a country ranked by TrustLaw as the worst G20 country in which to be a woman. The recurve team are not the first succesful Indian women sports stars to battle appalling behaviour from their governing bodies and a maliciously expectant press corps. Depressingly, they probably won’t be the last.