New Delhi, July 18: Senior India female shooter Heena Sidhu believes a sport can only get popular if it has heroes and their stories are being narrated to the younger generation. Heena bats for highlighting more success stories of athletes' to inculcate the spirit of sportsmanship.
The advent of social media in the last decade and film fraternity producing biopics to highlight the success story of top sportspersons has brought about a radical change in the mindset of the people. According to the Asian and Commonwealth Games medallist ace air pistol shooter, India will keep emerging as a sporting nation.
Talking to MyKhel, the former world No. 1 shooter, who was conferred with the Arjuna Award in 2014 said the success stories of sportspersons have convinced the parents to encourage their kids to pursue the sport as a career alternative. The Mumbai-based shooter, who hails from Ludhiyana (Punjab), has been nominated along with a few other athletes for Khel Ratna. The Khel Ratna awards will be announced in the coming days.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
MyKhel: I've read somewhere that you've tried other sports as well before taking up shooting. So, what made you incline towards this sport?
Heena Sidhu: Yes, during my formative days I was pursuing other sports too but when I qualified for the Olympics and got the real feel of the sport, I decided that I will have to take it up seriously and pursue my career in this sport.
MK: How are you preparing for securing the Olympic quota?
HS: I am not thinking about the Olympics right now, I am spending some time away from the shooting. I am detoxifying myself because the next event is far away so I am using the spare time to keep my mood light. I am still not thinking about the Olympic quota berth, which is up for grab, as of now. I am on a break and not thinking too much about it. I will get into the groves after the break and prepare for the qualification events.
MK: Congratulations on being recommended for the Khel Ratna Award. What is the meaning of this recognition to you? You were conferred with Arjuna Award in 2014, was that delayed?
HS: I am happy with the nomination. It feels great to be chosen for the highest sporting honour. Yes, my Arjuna Award was bit delayed. One year the federation said Heena is too young, so let's give it to a veteran shooter Rajkumari Rathore after winning the Asian Championship Gold. By then I had a total of three medals for I had already won medals at Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and an Asian Championship team gold. But she was preferred because she was a veteran shooter and this is was I was told by one of the committee members. So, at the end of the day, it is all decided by a group of people who are sitting inside the committee who are going to decide. They have their own set of favourites and their own biases while selecting the players for such awards. I wish there was a computer system in which you could feed the names and achievements of the sportspersons and they are being chosen on their merits.
MK: You have been participating in 10m air pistol and 25m pistol events. Are you still practising both the categories or the focus has shifted to just one?
HS: No, I have been focussing on 10m air pistol since December, last year. I do love sport pistol and I would love to go back to it one day but now is not the time. I am working on a few things in air pistol and sport pistol was making it confusing. So, maybe after the Tokyo Olympics or maybe for just nationals, I would try my hands at sport pistol.
MK: Shooting isn't yet a part of CWG 22. You've been quite vocally criticising England for not showing any interest towards putting an effort to include the sport because they don't have too many medal prospects.
HS: Yes, they are catering to their public, what is being liked and appreciated by the people in their country.
MK: But don't you think, there will be no dearth of Indian spectators in England?
HS: Yes, but still, shooting is a lonely sport it's not much of a crowd puller. That's why they've included cricket (Women's T20) because it would attract more spectators. However, in 2010 Common Wealth Games we had fantastic support from the public. And that's how the youngsters get inspired when they watch the sportspersons participating in front of their eyes and going on to winning the medals. That is a big morale booster for the young and budding talents.
MK: Has there been any message from the sports minister about talking to the commonwealth games federation to review their decision? Some are saying we should back out from the games in the protest which is practically not possible.
HS: We have backout on a couple of occasions in the past and it won't be something that we haven't done in the past. I don't remember the actual cause but those were on similar lines. I think because India is such a big force amongst Commonwealth nations, we can throw our weight behind to get our demands fulfilled. But then why should other sportspersons suffer at the expense of the other, but then again these are the times when you need to stand united. Today they are barring shooting, next time there would be another sport. So we need to have a common ground.
MK: You are one of the vocal sportspersons in India and you never shy away from putting forth your views. But that is not the case with other sportspersons. Why do athletes in India do not openly speak up on social issues and express their views?
HS: Even I wonder why the athletes in our country hardly put their views. It could be because they are so much busy in their sport and they hardly find any time to focus on what else is happening around the globe. I think the athletes in India are wired that way, just focus on your work and do not comment upon politics. The athletes also fear to make comments in public for that might distract them and/or eventually hamper their game. Some times they are scared of the federations or politicians and hence they are afraid of speaking up. I feel they should stand up for what they believe and speak up.
MK: How do you deal with failures?
HS: If I fail to perform to my potential in a tournament, then would go back to the drawing board and I would have a proper debrief with Raunak (coach and husband) about what went wrong. Sometimes it feels really bad, it hurts a lot but eventually, you need to get over it because cribbing about it will hamper your game. I think the best way to forget it is to go back home and start working on what went wrong because it's sort of empowering as you know where you need to improve.
MK: Did things improve for the sportspersons in the last four-five years, how?
HS: I think the face of Indian sports started changing since 2008 i.e. post Beijing Olympics and things improved further in the run-up to the 2010 CWG. Then 2012 London Olympics happened where we won six medals. So the change has been happening for quite some time and was are witnessing the effects of it. I don't think it's the guys at the top who are only responsible for changing the face of Indian sports. It's the cycle that we have started winning medals, showing stories of our athletes. Media and Bollywood have played a crucial role in this by highlighting the achievements of the athletes. So it's the whole system which was in place which has helped us reach where we stand today. One person cannot bring about so many changes.
MK: What is your message to the young girls who aspire to be the next Heena Sidhu?
HS: It's a long journey, you have to be patient and work hard but you also need to enjoy the process along the way. If you don't enjoy what you are doing then, of course, the result won't come. Firstly, you need to find the dreams that give you happiness and then you need to follow your dreams and also enjoy the process.
MK: What is the importance of failure in an athlete's life?
HS: Failures are important, success is there to be enjoyed for a few minutes and then forgotten. (But) failures are things that stick with you and teach you. It's the failures teach you to get better. Although, you have to be humble enough and learn from the failures.
MK: How long are you going to pursue shooting?
HS: I am not to pursue shooting, I have a lot of time with me. I'll be 30 next month so I have good eight-to-nine years of professional career left. You want to get rid of me (chuckles). No, no, I am not going anywhere. See it all depends on whether you are enjoying your sport, if you feel like it's a burden then you can take a break or just retire. But as long as you enjoy it, you want to keep playing it.
MK: What according to you is the reason why India is doing so well in this sport?
HS: As I said, it all boils down the heroes. A sport only grows because of its heroes. (Imagine) if there was no Sachin Tendulkar, cricket wouldn't have been such a popular game in the country. A sport doesn't have a face, it doesn't have recognition, it doesn't have a medal, it is the people who give the sport a face and name. This is how you humanise the sport and encourage a generation to pick it up and pursue as a career. It's only because of the medals Shooting has brought India at various international platforms it grew despite not being a spectator-friendly sport. All this has helped in changing the mindset of the parents. They are now allowing their kids to pursue a certain sport and make a career out of it.