desi athletes represent 3 diffrnt countr


mauja maan di
desi athletes represent 3 different country's at olympics 2008

Abhinav Bindra shooting

Weightlifter Jasveer Singh of Canada


Manjeet Kaur


Shooter Manavjit Singh Sandhu from India


Rower Manjit Singh from India

Wrestler Sandeep Kumar from Australia


Canadian hockey player Sukhwinder Singh in action
When close to 10,500 sportspersons from 205 countries march through the Beijing National Stadium at the opening ceremony of the 29th Olympics on August 8, about a dozen of them would have created history even before the games are declared open.

They will be bound by a common identity, that of being a Punjabi, even as they represent three different countries— India, Canada and Australia—for the events of shooting, hockey, rowing, wrestling and weightlifting.

Incredibly enough, as many as six Punjabi expatriates have booked their tickets to Beijing as compared to five Punjabi players—including four shooters—who are part of the Indian Olympic squad.

For instance, India’s hockey team may have disappointed fans by failing to make a cut for the Olympics, but Punjab will not be missing in action as four Canadian-Sikh players will be representing the country in hockey face-offs.

In fact, the Punjabis at Beijing will only be showcasing a glorious but little-known saga of the community’s tryst with modern Olympics.

Since 1928, when India had its first outing at the games, with its hockey team winning its first-ever gold medal at Amsterdam, sportspersons of Punjabi-origin have represented as many as 10 countries at successive Olympics, in a host of team and individual events—a feat perhaps no other ethnic group can boast of.

It is a testimony to the community’s global presence and sporting culture that Punjabi-origin players have donned the colours of all major regions of the world—Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania— symbolised by the five Olympic rings.
While India is yet to win its first gold medal in an individual event, Alexi Grewal, US-resident son of a Jat Sikh immigrant, created history when he won the gold in the cycling race at Los Angeles in 1984. In 2004 Athens, Mohini Bhardwaj, an Indian-American gymnast, won a silver medal for the US.

In fact, the history of this community’s participation in the Olympics is linked to the deep-seated passion for soldiering and sports, and the successive waves of their migration overseas.

While World War I and II campaigns exposed the Punjabi soldiers in the British army to distant lands, the Raj period played a major role in tapping and honing the sporting spirit. “A passion for sports has been intrinsic to the Punjabis and they have retained it like an article of faith wherever they migrated,” says Milkha Singh, the legendary ‘Flying Sikh’.

Nothing epitomises this extraordinary interplay of the British patronage and the Punjabi spirit more tellingly than Sansarpur, a small village on the fringe of the Jalandhar cantonment, which was first initiated into hockey by British officers in the 1920s and subsequently earned global fame for producing 14 hockey Olympians since 1932.

While nine of them, including maestros like Udham Singh, Balbir Singh and Ajit Pal Singh, represented India, four of its natives played for the Kenyan hockey team during its four Olympic outings, starting 1956.

Unfortunately, Sansarpur has long lost its magic touch, but Bindi Singh Kullar, who has his roots in the village, has been keeping the flag of its hockey tradition flying high, albeit in North America. He will be at Beijing for his third Olympic outing as member of the Canadian hockey team.

In the annals of Olympic hockey, Punjabis have played for eight countries— India, Canada, Great Britain, Kenya, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Tanzania and Uganda. Their dominance on the hockey turf was at its best in the ’50s and ’60s, as testified by sepia-toned photographs of the past Olympics.

In the 1968 Mexico games, there were 13 Sikhs in the Indian team under the joint captaincy of Prithipal Singh and Gurbux Singh. An even bigger glory came in the 1972 Munich games where 30 Sikhs represented the hockey team of India, Kenya, Malaysia and Uganda.

The India-Kenya match was virtually an all-Sikh affair with as many as 15 Sikh players on the field at the same time—10 of them for Kenya and five for India.

Both teams had Sikh captains, Harmik Singh (India) and Avtar Singh Sohal (Kenya). The hockey tradition among Sikh immigrants goes back to the early 20th century.

Even as the golden era of Indian hockey ended in the ’70s with the exception of a gold medal in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, boycotted by the Western countries, a Punjab-born London-resident Kulbir Singh Bhaura, the first Sikh player to represent Britain’s hockey team in the Olympics, was part of his adopted country’s hour of glory in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and also in the 1988 Seoul Olympics where it won the bronze and gold medals respectively.

While Soma Singh and Kalbir Singh Takhar were the last Punjabis to represent Britain’s hockey team in the 1996 Olympics, a six-lakh strong Punjabi-Canadian community has given impetus to field hockey in the maple country.

At the Beijing games, Indian hockey fans can cheer for the Canadian team which has four players of ‘their own’—the most ever to play for Canada since it fielded its first Sikh player in the 1976 Montreal games. The foursome—Bindi Kullar, Ravi Kahlon, Ranjeev Singh Deol and Sukhwinder (Gabbar) Singh—are, along with their other teammates, undergoing training in Vancouver.
All have their roots in Punjab, though, barring Gabbar, the other three were born and brought up in Canada. Although the Canadian hockey players don’t enjoy perks akin to other Olympic participants, it is the community’s zeal and love for the sport that keeps them going.

The players are unanimous in lamenting a common point that they have to keep an extremely busy schedule, what with practice and employment. Unlike their counterparts elsewhere, the members of the Canadian team have to make do with fewer facilities.

“It is frustrating that field hockey is still considered a game of the immigrants and thus gets less attention,” says Kahlon. But that doesn’t dampen their spirits. To prove the point, Kullar, who has been on the Canadian hockey scene, both at the junior and the senior levels, since 1996, proudly reveals his gruelling time table.

“I get up at 5.30 in the morning to be at my job at 6. At the end of the day, I rush straight to the field to practice with the team, only to reach home at 10.30 in the night,” says the 32-year-old.
The Batala-born Sukhwinder (Gabbar) Singh, 30, too has to drive a cab, and be present in the field to keep him fit for the trip to Beijing.

Having landed in Canada in 1998, he found his hockey talent honed by Sharanpal Sanghera, coach of the Brampton Club. It is a “dream come true” for Ranjeev Singh Deol (32), who is excited to participate in the Olympics.

Hockey seems to run in his blood; his father, Surjit Singh Sr., represented Kenya in three consecutive Olympics, starting from 1956.
Though field hockey is not a high profile game in Canada, yet it is drawing more Punjabi-Canadian youngsters, particularly from Vancouver.

Two-time Olympian and one of the coaches of the Olympic team, Nick Sandhu, expects his team to better the 10th position—Canada’s highest rank in the previous Olympics. “Better performance means more chances of increased funding in future,” he says.

A touch of Punjabi flavour is evident in individual events as well. In the 2004 Athens games, Andrew Singh Kooner represented Canada in the boxing ring, with a tiny, laminated image of the Sikh Gurus tucked in his sock in every fight.

Carrying on the tradition, Nawanshahar-born weightlifter Jasveer Singh has become the first Punjabi settler in Canada to represent the country he migrated to in 2002 at the Beijing games. He has been the beneficiary of an emerging trend among the wealthy NRI sports-promoters to sponsor the immigration of talented players from Punjab.

His potential as a champion weightlifter of the Punjab Police was recognised by the Canada-based Purewals known for pumping huge money into organising rural sports tournaments in their native village in Punjab.

The Purewals sponsored Jasveer’s immigration to Canada and funded his training at British Columbia. “I am proud to be shouldering the expectations of my adopted country as well as the community,” says Jasveer.

At Beijing, the Punjabi community will add another first to its Olympic legacy. Phagwara-resident Sandeep Kumar, 25, has become the first Australian of Indian origin to represent Australia in any Olympics. Kumar is one of the fourmember-Australian wrestling squad bound for Beijing this August.
“This is my father’s greatest dream come true,” says Kumar, who had made it to the Indian under-16s sub-junior team in 1996, and then to the under-18s World Championships.

He was inducted in the Indian senior wrestling team in 1999, the year he joined Punjab Police. But over the next couple of years, his wrestling career seemed to have come to a standstill.

Around this time, an acquaintance of Kuldip Singh Bassi—a known sportsperson and coach who runs the United Wrestling Club in Melbourne—organised a sponsorship for Kumar to migrate to Australia. He reached Melbourne in 2002

With Bassi as his coach, he started participating in competitions around Australia, and for the last three years running, he has consistently been winning the Australian Wrestling Championship, in the 84 kg division, beating a title holder who was an Olympian and also a Commonwealth gold medalist.

Back home, the goal posts have clearly shifted on the Punjabis’ participation at the Olympics. Until the ’90s, the Punjabi community dominated the Indian Olympic squad in hockey and athletics. Not so any longer.

In fact, the only sports in which they have booked their berth at Beijing thus far are shooting and rowing. Of the nine Indian shooter Punjab— Abhinav Bindra, Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Avneet Kaur Sidhu and Mansher Singh.

Chandigarh-based college-goer Manjit Singh, 20, has become the first non-army rower to represent India in lightweight double skull event at the Beijing games.

At least two Punjabi athletes—Manjeet Kaur, who was part of the 4x400 women relay team at the 2004 Olympics, and middle-distance runner Mandeep Kaur—are expected to qualify for the Beijing games, according to the officials at the Athletics Federation of India.

But, given that shooters would form the bulk of the Indian Olympic squad, the top guns from Punjab would be carrying the burden of the country’s expectations for an Olympic medal.

Leading the pack would be Abhinav Bindra and Manavjit Singh Sandhu, who had hit the bull’s eye and won gold medals at the 49th World Championship in Zagreb, Croatia, last year.

At 25-year-old Bindra’s plush farmhouse near Chandigarh, the walls of the living rooms and his private shooting range are plastered with a mélange of medals and colours that he has won in various national and international competitions. The ace 10-metre rifle shooter had earlier missed a medal at Athens by a whisker.

“I am aware of the country’s expectations from me but I am expecting a lot of from myself this time,” says Bindra who has been dividing his time between shooting practice in Europe and psychological training in South Africa.

Trap shooters, Sandhu, Mansher Singh and Avineet, are training abroad and would be participating in a couple of international competitions before heading for Beijing. A sharp decline in the number of Punjabi players in the Indian Olympic squad has been a matter of concern with the sports authorities.

“We have the talent and the infrastructure. But what is lacking is long-term planning to tap the sporting potential in Punjab,” says Olympian Pargat Singh, director, sports department, Punjab. Chief National coach at NIS Patiala and former ace shot putter Bahadur Singh, who represented India at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, points to Punjab’s dwindling performance even in various national level athletics meets.

But Milkha Singh perhaps has the last word on the waning sports culture among the Punjabis. “There has been a lack of dedication and commitment in the current crop of sportsmen to excel for the country,” he says, and goes onto add, “the name of the game now is money, not national spirit.”

Despite such concerns, August 2008 will be a time for global Punjabis to celebrate their sporting zest on behalf of three countries, in the true spirit of the Olympics epitomised by its motto: ‘One world one dream’. Get ready for balle balle at Beijing.