The unsung heroes of sport

Without the support of the family, we might not have had the Amritrajs, the Padukones and the Anands, who constitute a small subset of our sportsmen — the world-class ones.

Saina Nehwal has spoken of the sacrifices her father had to make, foregoing promotions and turning down transfers to ensure she had the best training.   -  K. V. S. Giri

Some of our greatest sportsmen have emerged from a strong, unbiased, focused organisation that has not really been given credit. No “best-run association” award for them, no special considerations in the Union sports budget, no Padma Shri or Padma Bhushan.

Yet, without this unit, we might not have had the Krishnans, the Amritrajs, the Leanders, the Padukones and the Anands, who constitute a small subset of our sportsmen – the world-class ones. I speak here of the family. Often the mother, sometimes the father, but usually both.

Maggie Amritraj, the mother of tennis stars Anand, Vijay and Ashok; Sushila Viswanathan, chess wizard Viswanathan Anand’s mother; Ramesh Padukone, badminton ace Prakash’s father. T. K. Ramanathan, the father of tennis artiste Krishnan and grandfather of Davis Cupper Ramesh are national heroes, even if unsung ones.

Sportsmen have given credit to their parents for the early impetus and encouragement, and should acknowledge the hours spent in ferrying them to and from practice, ensuring their academics didn’t suffer, while sacrificing their social life and much else. In India, this has been particularly true of individual sports.

“I still find it quite extraordinary that one woman, one mother out of all the millions of mothers in India and all the thousands of millions of family units in the world, should have had this driving, obsessive determination to turn all three of her sons into tennis champions,” wrote Vijay Amritraj of Maggie.

A couple of generations later, the story remains the same. In fact, individual sports continue to survive on the efforts of parents and siblings. Ask Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza or P. V. Sindhu. Nehwal has spoken of the sacrifices her father had to make, foregoing promotions, turning down transfers to ensure that she had the best training in Hyderabad.

“My mother accompanied me to the courts every afternoon, and my father started playing with me on weekends. Thus began the Mirza family’s love affair with tennis,” Sania wrote in her autobiography.

On his retirement, Sachin Tendulkar spoke of the role played by his parents in keeping him grounded (quite often literally, as he was an inveterate tree-climber).

Did Maggie Amritraj once decide which of her sons should win the national title? Did Michael Ferreira once claim he lost a world billiards title because he was upset his son was not selected for the Davis Cup? Perhaps. But their contribution – and that of others like them – put India on the world sports map, and that needs to be acknowledged.

Success in sport is not due to a single factor, of course. Still, the role of the family is one of the most important. The support is unconditional, involves sacrifice and provides an emotional cushion to cry into. After coaching their wards in their childhood, sensible parents understand when it is time to bring in a professional coach. They also understand when to let go, how far they should continue to be involved and when to give their wards a talking-to. The essence of parenting and coaching overlap!