Neeraj Chopra with Arshad Nadeem at 2018 South Asian Games
No hate. Just sportsmanship. India's Neeraj Chopra with Pakistan's Arshad Nadeem Image Credit: AFI/Twitter

“I would request everyone to please not use me or my comments as medium to further your vested interests and propaganda. Sports teaches us to be together and united. I’m extremely disappointed to see some of the reactions from the public on my recent comments," said Neeraj Chopra. 

And, just like that the 23 year old Indian Olympic gold medal winner in javelin showed that he had 24 carat gold courage as he called out hate propaganda against a Pakistani athlete. To ensure that no one was left in any doubt, Neeraj did a video and tweets in both Hindi and English.

Chopra, only the second individual gold medallist from India, is special. You have to factor in the rarefied space of the top athletes which he occupies. Yet, while India was delighted at a rare good news story in the middle of the Covid-19 gloom, the media predictably turned the epic win in a soap opera circus.

You had middle aged aunties calling Chopra “India’s most eligible bachelor and wondering if he had a girlfriend”. While this is the normal preoccupation of the great Indian aunt, you cringed because this was on national television.

Lazy media will not research Olympic sports or Neeraj’s javelin event but, will throw out cringe making inanities as questions.

Chopra finally seemed to have had enough as an innocuous answer was twisted and used to whip up familiar hate against a community and a country.

Chopra now has a gold medal and hugely importantly a spine made of steel but, it left me wondering why cricketers, the most feted and the richest sportsmen around, don’t have the courage of any convictions.

Indian cricketers, even those like Sachin Tendulkar feted with the ultimate civilian award — the Bharat Ratna have never spoken on the many issues which face India. Cricketers, current and retired, live in a fame bubble, protected by riches and gatekeepers — a rarefied bubble of privilege protecting them from the reality of India.

Whatever the issue, the one thing you can count on is that India’s top celebrities will stay mum and never ever taking a stand. Tendulkar had the biggest pulpit to showcase his interventions as a citizen — he was given a reserved Rajya Sabha seat.

Hush is the word

For the time he was a member of Parliament, he did not say a word, make a speech or ask any question. His attendance record was dismal. I was left wondering why he accepted the nomination as he said more words in a inverter commercial then he ever said in the House.

Tendulkar did speak up when he wanted the duty waived on a luxury sports car he had been gifted but, should someone India took to their hearts only confine himself to asking for favours and commercials.

Several top Indian athletes were left red faced when their Twitter accounts issued identical tweets supporting the central government. Fans were disappointed and wondered why they did it?

Neeraj also has a lot at stake, he’s a soldier of the army and currently the celebrity flavour of the month, being feted by corporates and cabinet ministers. Yet he seems easy in his skin — effortlessly knowing right from wrong as easily as he had breakfast with Narendra Modi, prime minister of India.

Neeraj is not fazed and proved that he would take a stand against mindless hate. Neeraj also firmly squelched all attempts to use him for hate propaganda, proving to live up to the values of the Olympics.

India continues to pamper its cricketers and they continue to be mum. The cricket superstars have perhaps taken a cue from the Bollywood superstars who have paid a penalty in speaking up. Both lot seem to be bullied in to silence by the feral trolls of social media.

Neeraj gave both a master class in what it means to take a stand against easy hatespeak. A jaundiced breed of superstars should take note. Excuses are easy but, you don’t get to be golden by taking a stand. Silence is not golden.