The Simone Biles saga during the first week of Tokyo Olympics was, once again, an eye-opener as to what the pressure of expectations can do to young minds — even if you are the reigning deity of gymnastics.
Just ponder this — the precocious American was barely 19 years old when at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Biles won individual gold medals in all-around, vault and floor; bronze in balance beam and gold as part of the United States team, dubbed the ‘Final Five.’ When she first shot into limelight in 2013 with two World Championship gold medals, she must have been 16 — and this effectively means the process of grooming must have started when she was possibly not even in her teens.
The USA Gymnastics, with whom the super gymnast had developed a trust deficit ever since they didn’t take accountability for the team doctor Larry Nassar’s serial sexual exploitation of young girls, should be accused of exploiting her talent to flaunt their success story but failing to support her when it was needed the most. Scores of young aspirant gymnasts of the US ought to be grateful to Biles for using her persona and be one of the whistle-blowers in her tell-all interview in 2018.
If such institutional exploitation of the likes of Biles is at one end of the spectrum, there are any number of stories across other sporting disciplines where pushy parents are responsible in thrusting their ambitions on their children and thereby making them hate it. There is a thin line between stories of parents going for broke in trying to live their dreams through their children and those pushing their wards to the extreme — so that they could become their calling cards for financial and social security.
The world of tennis is replete with such stories, leading to the coinage of the phrase ‘tennis dads.’ The sordid experience of champions like Jennifer Capriati, Marion Bartoli, Mary Pierce, Jelena Dokic or Bernard Tomic - thanks to their abusive and ambitious dads - are all too well documented.
It’s time the culture of putting mental pressure on kids and youth to purse sporting excellence be termed a no-no. Such pressure tactics are in no way different from the state-sponsored mechanism of grooming preteens or teens into medal-winning machines in certain countries. It’s not something that the state machinery or the media can contain — but they can help in creating awareness on this front!