With Major Dhyan Chand’s name finally being nominated for the Bharat Ratna, another hockey legend Balbir Singh Sr feels going by his achievements he too deserves the country’s highest civilian award and hopes to get the recognition in his lifetime.
Balbir, 90 and a three-time Olympic gold medallist, looks back with satisfaction at his long tryst with the game but feels he has not got the honour he deserves.
The gentle and soft-spoken Balbir, who has only got Padma Shri for his efforts, said it does hurt to get the snub but “awards and rewards are prerogative of the government”.
“If my records and achievements as a player, as a captain, as a coach, as a manager and as an administrator are taken into account, then one should get (Bharat Ratna). But I want to state here that it is either up to God or the prerogative of the government,” said Balbir.
“I hope to get (the highest award) and that too in my lifetime,” he added.
Balbir said all his life he has followed the teachings of Guru Gobind Singh and often the words of Lord Krishna echo in his ears that ‘one should perform his duties, without desiring for results’.
Widely regarded as world’s greatest centre forward, Balbir got emotional while recollecting the words of one of his friend Ram Swarup.
“He used to tell me that it is not satya yuga (era of truth), but kalyug (era of vice). Nobody appreciates your achievements unless you blow your own trumpet. But honestly, I don’t know how to blow one’s own trumpet,” he said.
While Balbir expressed his grief for the lack of recognition for his work, his family was more vocal and said the former captain deserves the Bharat Ratna more than any other sportsperson.
“He has created world history. I am very passionate about him. I want the Narendra Modi government to do justice this time. Let the system be transparent. At the moment, it is not transparent because if it was, comparing the performance of all the players, one could choose the right person,” Balbir’s daughter Sushbir Kaur said.
“Why should youngsters work hard if after so many achievements this is what one gets. If a legend can be ignored, what will be the fate of an average sportsperson?” she questioned.
“Here is a person who is waiting for 62 years to get his due. When it comes to awards and rewards, some other people walk away with it. I want justice. I hope, wish and pray that they give justice during his lifetime,” Balbir’s daughter said.
A close associate of Balbir and vice-president of Chandigarh Hockey Association, S K Gupta too opined with Sushbir and said being a triple Olympic gold medallist, a victorious Olympic captain, chief coach and manager of India’s only World Cup winning team in 1975 and as one of the 16 ’iconic Olympians’ across all disciplines since 1896, the start of the modern Olympic era, Balbir deserves more.
“It is unfortunate that he has not been given his due. He deserves a Bharat Ratna,” Gupta said.
Balbir was honoured by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during the 2012 London Olympics alongwith other great sportsmen like legendary sprinter late Jesse Owens.
Balbir remains the holder of Olympic and world record for the most goals scored by an individual in an Olympic men’s hockey final. He scored five out of the six goals against Holland in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
He captained the Indian team that won the title in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Besides the iconic centre forward, had also won gold at the 1948 London Olympics.