Sports has been an integral part of my life for over 18 years now. It has molded me into the person that I am today and has taught me more than any classroom could ever teach. Having played badminton competitively for the better part of my playing years, I have not only learned various skills on the court but also valuable life skills - be it how to travel and live independently, or manage interpersonal relationships. It has been a holistic development. And now when I look back at these 18 long years, I see all that sports has given me. Having traveled the world for tournaments, I now proudly call myself a global citizen. It is not so because there are numerous stamps on my passport, but because there are many connections that I have built across borders and a lot of cultures that I have learned about, and more than anything.
For all sports persons, their courts and grounds are more of a battlefield than a mere playground. Once in our uniforms, we are ready for battle. Mind me, we always say battle and not war. Not many know, but there is a difference. Putting it into a sports perspective and how I understand it, a battle (game or match) is a do-or-die situation but there is a level of mutual respect, dignity, boundaries, certain regulations, or limitations as well. These are things that sport has taught me. Many agree that politics is known to have a role in sports too. It is a factor known to have killed the spirit of sports too. What I have also learned and witnessed, is that sports bring together fighting nations. It is the one area of life where no matter what our beliefs, religion, social status, differences, we are equal. In a nutshell, this is what sport has given me, and believe me, it means everything.
It wrenches my heart to think of all sports persons who today are at war but not on a playground. Yes, I am talking of the Russia - Ukraine crisis that has been in news for over a month. Players represent their country internationally, fight for and dedicate their medals to their country. Today, they are fighting for their lives, the lives of their families, alongside that of their country. Several players have not been able to participate in tournaments due to logistical reasons and some have even been brave enough to don the hat of a soldier for their country! This shows patriotism at its fullest. The sports fraternity across the world has shown their disapproval towards this state of war and responded by putting restrictions and even bans on the participation of athletes from Russia and Belarus. This makes me think of all the Russian athletes as well. After all, they too are paying a price and I can only imagine the state it puts them in. But I have also been impressed by some brave players, who despite their position in this crisis, have come forward to express their disapproval of the war. This is the epitome of what sports teaches us - to be fair and voice out against the wrong. This shows that players represent their country at all times, intentionally or not, whether from Ukraine or Russia.
Coincidentally, I have had the chance to play tournaments in these three countries several times and it remains special because I had won medals in Ukraine and Russia. I was in Russia during the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the atmosphere there was so full of life! I had not seen a sporting event so grand. Reading the news of the war I could picture myself on the streets of Ukraine and immediately found myself reaching out to some friends there, praying for their safety.
This makes me think of sports and its magnitude again. While their country was at war, there were para-athletes from Ukraine who were performing better than their best at the Paralympics, winning more medals than ever! This made me think, is war a great or a powerful motivator? I want you to close your eyes and think for a minute - can you perform your best, while your near and dear ones are fighting for their lives? Think of those players who did not know when there will be no receiver on the other side of the call! Sleep-deprived with the stress, not able to eat well enough, in short, not at all ideally prepared for a tournament. When it comes to sports, Ukraine is not considered a powerhouse. And yet, they performed, winning the most medals they ever have! This is what sport inculcates in every player. It makes one stronger than they can imagine and prepares for situations one never thought would crop up. It teaches us to be “here and now”.
This draws attention to how athletes from across the globe have begun to raise their voice for all important global matters in the recent years. There is a rise in athlete activists who constantly defy the odds and stand up for things that matter. It has been known that sports authorities do not appreciate athletes opining - especially on a political front, or one opposing the body. With the prevalence of social media, people want to know what athletes have to say and they are now being treated with the well deserved dignity and visibility. Opinions of athletes matter and also carry weight. Some are using their game to speak out while others are using their popularity.
While countries go to war, sports is teaching every to be strong and unanimous. Most of all, it is showing people a ray of light in these dark and difficult times. And so, I believe that today it is the athletes that are holding the mantle of courage by maintaining and protecting the integrity of sports and even humankind if I may say.
About the author
Anoushka Parikh is an international badminton player, representing the country since 2011, and holds a career-best world rank of #43 in mixed doubles. After graduating with a Bachelor's in Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Anoushka interned at Simply Sport Foundation. Anoushka wishes to combine her experience and exposure along with her passion for sports to help aspiring athletes achieve their best.
About Simply Sport
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