PATIALA: Government apathy has achieved what drugs could not: break the spirit and resilience of a world champion archer.
An unending wait for a promised cash award has forced Sukhbeer Singh – a gold medallist in mixed team compound event with Raginee Markoo of Madhya Pradesh in World Junior Archery Championship at Madrid, Spain, in August last year – to consider quitting the sport. The dejection is reasonable. Within 24 hours of his stupendous win, Punjab sports minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi announced to honour the youngster. Sixteen months later, he is yet to do so. Betrayed and out of hope, Sukhbeer has applied for a Canada visa, although he has no clue what he will do for a living in that country.
“I will drive a truck or work in a restaurant. I will do anything. At least I will be at peace. I can’t live with this stress daily. It is affecting my game and making me anxious,” said Sukhbeer, who has been battling financial hardship for long.
“In Madrid, I won with an outdated bow. My father broke his fixed deposit and gave me Rs 3 lakh to buy equipment. Archers of my age from different countries were using superior quality bows, and I was stuck with an old one. But I did not complain because I had self-belief. I have trained with wooden bows, and the one I am holding is upgraded,” said Singh, who has grown up in a drug-infested neighbourhood at Bare Ke village in Ferozepur district of Punjab. Ironically, Sodhi too belongs to Ferozepur.
Sukhbeer’s village is close to Hussainiwala border, where every other day, one hears about drug-related death news. If not for his elder brother Gurlal, an archer himself, Sukhbeer could have fallen into bad company. One day, Gurlal came to know that Sukhbeer had started hanging out with notorious elements. Without wasting any time, he brought him to Patiala.
“I was lucky that I left my village. My brother saved my life, otherwise, I would have ended up as an addict,” said Sukhbeer, who took up archery at the age of 16 and started training at Punjabi University, Patiala. Within a couple of months, he won the gold medal in the individual compound event in School National Games in New Delhi in 2017. The next year, Sukhbeer helped Punjab team win gold medal in Junior National Archery Championship in Bhopal and compound gold medal in senior nationals in Odisha.
“He is a late bloomer, but a natural and a once-in-a-generation kind of talent. If groomed properly, he can win medals at Asiad, Commonwealth Games, World Cup, or even Olympics. I am trying my best to give him all the support I can, but that is not enough,” said Sukhbeer’s coach Surinder Singh Randhawa. Training Sukhbeer for four years, Randhawa has managed to convince him to put his Canada plans on hold.
“His frustration is genuine. For four years, he is living as a paying guest in Patiala. His family is taking care of his expenses, but he has not received any help from the Punjab government or the archery federation. Forget financial support, an athlete needs good facility, proper equipment, but he has received only assurances,” said Randhawa.
“His family had supported him financially, but now they are also fed up. And I don’t blame them, because they are concerned about his future. He had applied for US and Canada visas in February, but then there was the coronavirus lockdown, and I managed to convince him to give his best till Asian Games, and after that if he is not satisfied, I will not stop him,” said Randhawa.
Family of farmers fighting Modi govt
The family of Sukhbeer Singh is camping at the Singhu border near Delhi to protest against the Narendra Modi government’s new farm laws. “Agriculture is our bread and butter. We own 20 acres of land. We farmers provide food to everyone, but are getting water cannons and teargas in return. My father (Sardar Kabal Singh), elder brother (Gurlal Singh), and my uncles are at the ground zero. I was also there for a week but had to return to Patiala for my training,” said Sukhbeer.