India should celebrate Commonwealth Games medal haul but syringes cast a cloud

The India flag is proudly waved at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. (AFP)
Updated 17 April 2018

India should celebrate Commonwealth Games medal haul but syringes cast a cloud

  • India finished third in the medals’ table, with 26 golds, 20 silvers and 20 bronzes
  • But two athletes are sent home for breaching the No-Needle policy.

Most parts of the country celebrated the new year on April 14-15, and the Indian Premier League (IPL) provided the perfect holiday entertainment with two thrilling matches on Saturday.
Jason Roy led Delhi Daredevils to a last-ball win in Mumbai, and Yusuf Pathan then helped Sunrisers Hyderabad put one over his old team, Kolkata Knight Riders, in another tense finish.
But come Sunday morning, it wasn’t those two games that occupied most sports fans. Hundreds of thousands had woken up at dawn and brewed their tea or coffee in preparation for two badminton finals at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. India were guaranteed gold in the women’s singles, while the men’s final featured Kidambi Srikanth, who had just displaced Denmark’s Viktor Axelson as the world No.1.
Saina Nehwal, who won gold at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010 and bronze at the London Olympics (2012), was once the torchbearer for women’s badminton in India. But in recent seasons, PV Sindhu, five years younger at 22, has taken over the mantle. When injury wrecked Nehwal’s medal hopes in Rio de Janeiro (2016), it was Sindhu that stepped up and won silver. She’s currently ranked No.3 in the world. Nehwal is No.12.
But Sindhu has a problem. After the loss in the Olympic final to Spain’s Carolina Marin, she lost World Championship gold to Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara last year. Faced with another summit clash, she stumbled again, as Nehwal prevailed in straight sets. The level of interest in the contest was best illustrated by a tweet from India’s most-loved sportsperson. “Two of India’s daughters fought it out in the #GC2018Badminton final for a Gold Medal,” said Sachin Tendulkar. “Extremely proud of you both. Setting a perfect example for budding players.
“Congratulations, @NSaina on emerging victorious and well fought, @Pvsindhu1. #GC2018.”
What followed dampened the mood somewhat. Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei has three Olympic silvers and was once acknowledged as one of the game’s greatest practitioners. Now 35, he’s ranked sixth in the world, but on the big stage, he had far too much nous and craft for Srikanth to handle. The Indian, who had beaten Lee as India took the team gold, won a tight first game, but was taught a sobering lesson in tournament play in games two and three.
Despite that, India finished third in the medals’ table, with 26 golds, 20 silvers and 20 bronzes. Only in Manchester (2002), when they won 30 golds and 69 medals in all, and New Delhi (2010), when a record haul of 101 medals included 38 golds, have they won more.
The shooting ranges — seven golds, and 16 medals — provided the richest haul, while wrestling and weightlifting accounted for five golds apiece. The boxers took home nine medals, with one of the three golds going to the indefatigable Mary Kom, 35 and now a mother of three.
The breakout star, however, was Manika Batra in the table tennis arena. She took home the singles gold and led the women’s team to the top step of the podium, in addition to winning silver and bronze in the doubles events.
But it wasn’t all tickertape parades. The men’s hockey side, for so long the symbol of Indian sporting pride, disappointed again. Far from convincing in the group phase, they lost the semifinal to New Zealand and the bronze-medal match to England.
There was ignominy too as Rakesh Babu (men’s triple jump) and Irfan Kolothum Thodi (men’s 20km walk) were sent home for breaching the No-Needle policy. Syringes were found in the room they shared, and their explanation cut no ice. The team managers were also severely reprimanded as a result.
That episode also took some of the sheen off a historic track-and-field gold, from Neeraj Mishra in the javelin. It was only India’s fifth in the history of the games, though an asterisk hangs over one of them, the 4x400 gold in the women’s relay in 2010. Sini Jose, Ashwini Akkunji and Mandeep Kaur, three of the quartet that won India’s first track gold since Milkha Singh (400m) in Cardiff in 1958, tested positive for steroids soon after and were banned for two years.
Even as the medal haul is celebrated, India, who have an unfortunate history of employing coaches from Iron-Curtain nations that had organized doping programs, need to remain vigilant. Keeping the IPL off the back pages is something to celebrate, but the wounds of that Delhi betrayal still cut deep.

Kariman Abuljadayel has sights set on more Olympic glory and inspiring a nation

Updated 20 July 2018

Kariman Abuljadayel has sights set on more Olympic glory and inspiring a nation

  • Saudi sprinter made history at Rio Olympics becoming the first woman from the Kingdom to run in the 100m
  • Abuljadayel hopes to inspire more women into taking up sport in Saudi Arabia

Kariman Abuljadayel has not finished making history. The Saudi Arabian sprinter made a name for herself as the first woman from the Kingdom to run in the 100 meters at the Olympics. That race in Rio de Janeiro two years ago did much to change the perception of female athletes in Saudi Arabia, coming four years after Sarah Attar became the first Saudi Arabian woman to take part in the global games.
What could prove to be more of a boon for women in the Kingdom than even Abuljadayel’s and Attar’s remarkable runs are the changes currently taking place in the country. Last month the ban on women driving was lifted, just a few months after females were allowed in sports stadiums and the inaugural all-women’s run took place in Riyadh in March.
Abuljadayel said she hopes that these moves will prove to be game-changers, not just in terms of equality, but that they will also be a springboard to success for aspiring Saudi Arabian sportswomen.
“I feel like the idea of allowing Saudi girls to drive is giving them independence, empowering them to dream and (helping them) achieve that dream,” she told Arab News.
“It will facilitate them getting to sports events and help in many areas. And will being able to attend sports events boost women’s sport? Definitely.
“I want girls to appreciate the opportunities that Saudi Arabia is creating and not take them for granted. They need to take these opportunities and experiences to help them grow.
“I believe it is only a matter of time before we will be a society fully promoting sport.”
If the latter goal is embraced with the zeal with which the 24-year-old Abuljadayel exudes and attacks every training session, she believes great things beckon for Saudi Arabian sport, despite the country’s unremarkable Olympic track record. The Kingdom has claimed only three medals — one silver and two bronze — in 10 appearances at the Olympics. Saudi Arabian women were first allowed to compete at the Games at London 2012 following pressure from the International Olympic Committee.
Abuljadayel said: “Gold is not impossible. We’ve seen many countries winning gold. But in order to win gold, you need to go the extra mile.
“It’s (about) hard work, dedication and patience for years. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
“Eventually if you really want to be the best in the world, of course you can be the best in the world. I live in a society right now that provides other Saudi girls with these kinds of opportunities.
“It’s up to them to take them and take (sport) to the next level.”
Abuljadayel lamented the fact she was denied such opportunities, and described being unable to attend sports events in her homeland as “a huge miss.”
Yet even so, the 24-year-old would not be deterred from pursuing her passion for sport.
“Along with my friends I was part of a football team and we organized matches in our school in Riyadh. All proceeds from the matches went to the workers in our school,” she said.
Abuljadayel never dreamed of participating in the Olympics. But then came the watershed moment in the summer of 2012 when the ban on Saudi Arabian women taking part was lifted, shortly before the London Games and 800 meter runner Attar joined judo player Wojdan Shaherkani to make history.
Attar provided one of the stand-out images of the those Olympics when, resplendent in a white hijab and vibrant green, long-sleeved jacket, she became the first woman from the Kingdom to compete at the Games. The then 19-year-old received a standing ovation and worldwide acclaim for her landmark achievement, despite finishing last in her qualifying heat by some distance.
Abuljadayel was so inspired that she joined the track team of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, where she studied architecture. Just four years later she was one of four females competing for Saudi Arabia at the Rio Olympics.
She finished seventh in her 100 meter heat, but she was also widely lauded for her pioneering feat.
Now Abuljadayel hopes to enhance her reputation by qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. And, if she does, she will not just be content to take part like she did when she was in Rio.
Abuljadayel, who just months before her Olympic debut set a national record in the 60 meters at the World Indoor Championships in Portland, Oregon, said: “It was a milestone that I reached Rio, but I feel like it’s just the beginning of the road. It gave me experience to prepare me for the next step. For me, that’s qualifying for the upcoming rounds. That’s definitely my goal.
“If I go to the next Olympics, I will definitely know what to expect and how to react and the amount of work to put in.”
Before then, however, she has her work cut out adapting to a change of discipline after switching from the 100 meters to the 400 meters. Her coach felt that the statuesque six-footer’s stride pattern would better suit longer distances.
The doughty Abuljadayel seems equipped for any challenge she faces on and off the track, though, including that of being a role model in her homeland and the Middle East in general. Eloquent and animated, she has also excelled academically, becoming an
accredited architect, after being awarded her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“I feel like my experience can help motivate others. Before me there was no one. No one had run the 100 meters,” she said.
“So, if a girl thought: ‘I want to run the 100 meters’ before I did it in Rio, she would think: ‘But no one did it before, why would I?’. But after I ran the race, she would think: ‘Oh, she did it, so can I.’ That’s actually great. I hope I can be a role model.
“But that’s up to people, not me. What I can deliver is results and hope those results inspire people. If it’s in Saudi Arabia, great. If it’s outside of (the country) even better.
“At the end of the day, I am a proud Saudi citizen and I hope my community is proud of me.”
Abuljadayel, who has trained in the US and Berlin, said that her own role model is someone outside of sport — her mother Suraya.
Of her galvanizing impact, she said: “She’s the one that I go to, she’s the one I call. She’s a huge factor in my success. She was there in Rio, at the World (Indoors) Championships and all my competitions. Having this unconditional support for me means the world.”
Abuljadayel, who is currently taking a break from training, enjoyed watching the Green Falcons play at the recent World Cup. She even traveled to Switzerland last month to attend the inaugural Julius Baer Zurich E-Prix, the penultimate race of the 2017/18 all-electric ABB FIA Formula E Championship season, describing it as “inspiring” and “a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Her visit was also symbolic because the championship — which was launched in 2014 — will make its Middle East debut in Riyadh on Dec. 15, the 10-team discipline’s 2018/19 season-opener.
Abuljadayel is “really excited” about the race, particularly because it is set to include activities for women just months after they were first allowed behind the wheel in the country.
“I feel it’s going to be a wonderful opportunity to inspire the millennials and other people in Riyadh to witness such a new and innovative sport that can give you entertainment but with sustainable solutions,” she said.
“The Riyadh race agreement is for 10 years, so this will really accelerate the development of the sport in the Kingdom. It’s held in cities like New York, Berlin and Shanghai and the advent of hosting this in Riyadh opens up lots of opportunities for driving enthusiasts in the country, including women.”


SARAH ATTAR: Attar was the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete at the Olympics. She came last in her 800 meter heat in London but won the hearts of fans around the world. The photo of her crossing the finish line in 2012 is one of the truly iconic sporting images of the past decade. She followed up her London run by moving up to the marathon in Rio four years later. 

WOJDAN SHAHERKANI: Shaherkani took up judo thanks to her father being a judo referee. It was a decision she would not regret as she became the second woman from Saudi Arabia to take part at the Olympics. The 22-year-old was a blue belt when she competed in the London Games and she said: “In the future we will and I will be a star for women’s participation.”

ASEEL AL-HAMAD: Al-Hamad is the first female member of the Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation and is also on the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission. She drove a lap of the French Grand Prix’s Le Castellet circuit in a Formula One car on the day the ban on women driving on the Kingdom’s roads was lifted. “Today is the birth of women in motorsport,” she said.