|Sikhs in Sports
A few years back I visited India and part of my luggage on return was a large box of books I had accumulated during my travels but if I had had it my way I probably would have brought back more. Unfortunately, I still haven’t read all of them but did come across one book entitled ‘Sikh Olympians & Internationals’ written by Harbans Singh Virdi, the cover is decorated with those famous interlinking 5 (continental) rings & silhouettes showing Sikhs performing riding, shooting, archery running, playing hockey and weightlifting. This is an excellent book that was issued in 1992 during the Barcelona Olympic games. It shows that Sikhs excel in all ‘walks of life’, e.g.: striving to succeed in international events.
Sikhs have a strong heritage of sports. Guru Nanak travelled great distances, he taught mankind the path of virtue & righteousness. We must all thank the Sikh Guru’s for creating a distinct character for Sikh society. Guru Angad Dev Ji established 3 means to achieve this goal:
1. Through the Gurumukhi language, he recorded Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s teachings
2. Guru Nanak had already given the concept of ‘free kitchen’; Guru Angad Dev Ji carried forward the idea and expanded it.
3. Guru Angad Dev Ji not only strived for the cultural & social development of Sikh society, but he also attached great importance to physical development.
In 1540, Guru Angad Dev Ji built Gurudwara Mal Akhara (Mal meaning ‘Ghol’ or to wrestle and Akhara meaning arena or place). Here Sikhs would keep themselves in top shape. The Sikh Guru’s were excellent in sports, e.g.: Guru Arjan Dev Ji (the 5th Guru) was a fine Archer & great horse rider. The 6th Guru, Guru Hargobind Ji, exhorted the Sikhs to learn the art of swordsmanship, develop skills in fencing and horse riding. Guru Gobind Singh Ji was an excellent archer and swordsman. His two sons Ajit Singh & Jujjhar Singh were good sportsmen. Most of the Gurus not only prepared the Sikhs as good soldiers but as good sportsmen too.
Sikhs at the Olympics - a great heritage
It was great to discover that Sikhs have been participating in the Olympic Games since 1924.
Milkha Singh established new records in the 200 & 400 metres in the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo. He followed this up with a gold in the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff in 1958. Soon after he began to be called the ‘Flying Sikh’. He was extremely popular in the 1960 Rome Olympics. ‘The moment he would enter the stadium, people would cheer him enthusiastically’. People came to him and asked him about his religion and were very interested in knowing more about Sikhism. Milkha Singh is one of the great sporting heroes of our time.
following table shows you the range of coverage & diversity of sporting
Statistics to the early 90’s reveal that 85 Sikhs have represented India in 8 Asian Games and 3 at the Seoul Athletic meeting in 1982. A further 75 Sikhs have represented India in the Olympics, Asian Games, World Cups, International hockey tournaments & on tours. The list above does not show the increasing number of Sikhs that are now in non-Indian teams, e.g.: With Kenya, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia & Indonesia.
The list of names & sports given in this article are not definitive, i.e.: they are just a sample of the many Sikhs that have taken part in international events. The following list shows the diverse range of sports Sikhs can adapt to.
Now that you’ve seen some of the early statistics, lets ask the question, ‘What hopes do we have for future sporting talent?’
There are a number is issues here. Firstly, much depends on the educational climate. One could argue that the first UK generation spent time settling down but I believe it has more to do with being given opportunities to ‘come forward’ and being given an opportunity to ‘exercise!’ talent. For example, USA colleges and universities operate a highly successful scholarship programme – often UK students travel across the pond to achieve both academic and sports success. Other factors include the attitude of institutions. Just how many Sikh’s have been selected for football apprenticeship scheme?
Interestingly, it’s only over the last 10 years that we’ve seen the
emergence of non-white cricket players being selected for the national
England cricket team!?
also a pity that the last 20 years have now made sports big business with
TV channels publically jostling for prime-time advertising, sponsorship
and exclusive rights. Is this the reason why the Asian Games are not given
as much prevalence or priority as the Commonwealth or Olympic Games?
Dr Savinder Singh