Recently from Brazil came welcome news. The iconic Maracana stadium is to be renamed in honour of the country’s legendary footballer Pele. The move follows a vote by the Rio de Janeiro state legislature to change the venue’s name to that of the world’s best footballer.
The Maracana, inaugurated in 1950, is one of the most famous football grounds in the world. This temple of football has seen the world’s best footballers such as Pele himself and Garrincha, Zagalo, Socrates, Zico, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and others display their amazing skills with the ball.
The Maracana held the 1950 and 2014 World Cup finals, as well as the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics. So it is fitting that to be renamed after one of the great legends of football.
And closer to us, from Pakistan came the news that the KRL stadium (Khan Research Laboratory Stadium) in Rawalpindi will be renamed after Shoaib Akhtar. It is not a huge ground like the Maracana. But the renaming is a tribute to the man who has recorded the fastest ball ever bowled in cricket history.
In other countries there are some grounds named after politicians. But they also honour their players. There are grounds named after Vivian Richards, Don Bradman, Brian Lara and even Larry Gomes, The USA has the maximum number of stadiums named after famous baseball and basketball players and Olympic champions. No wonder their athletes feel inspired. They know that their achievements will be recognised and remembered.
But we in India are going in the opposite direction. In 2019, the historic Feroz Shah Kotla ground in New Delhi was renamed. But after whom? Not after a sportsman but after a politician. It is now known as the Arun Jaitley Stadium.
The Feroz Shah Kotla was established as long ago as 1883. On this ground India has lost very few Test matches. It was here that Sunil Gavaskar scored his 29th Test century to equal Sir Don Bradman. It was here that Anil Kumble took ten wickets in an innings against Pakistan. It was here that Sachin Tendulkar scored his 35th Test century. Many such memorable feats have been achieved on this hallowed ground. Should it not have been named after any of these players?
But this is a sorry trend that prevails in India. Almost all sports stadiums are named after politicians. There are many stadiums named after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. There is a stadium named after EMS Namboodiripad, Atal Behari Vajpayee and M.A. Chidambaram besides Arun Jaitley. Recently the stadium at Motera was named after Narendra Modi.
In Hyderabad we have the main cricket stadium in Uppal named after Rajiv Gandhi. The older one located at Basheerbagh is the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium. There is the GMC Balayogi stadium in Gachibowli and also the Kotla Vijay Bhaskara Reddy Indoor Stadium. When will a sportsman be honored?
Has Hyderabad not produced great players and coaches? There was a time when most of the leading football players of India came out of Hyderabad. The most successful football coach of India, Syed Abdul Rahim, was from Hyderabad. He brought about the Golden Age of football in India.
Under his coaching India came fourth at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Also India took two Asian Games gold medals in 1951 and 1962. In the 1962 Games in Jakarta, India beat teams from Japan and Korea. India also finished runner up in the 1959 Merdeka Cup. Those feats cannot be achieved by the Indian teams of modern days even after being coached by highly paid foreign coaches.
But the unrewarded and underpaid Rahim did what nobody else could. When he died of cancer at the age of 53, he had not been given any award or recognition by the Indian government. Even in his hometown of Hyderabad not much was done for him.
It would have been a fitting tribute to this great coach if a ground in Hyderabad had been named after him. How will the future generations of players know about our great stars of the past if they are not honoured and their names associated with prominent structures? How will the future generations be inspired by the deeds of the heroes of the past.
How many people in Hyderabad nowadays know what Rahim, a humble school teacher, achieved for India? And he was not the only great achiever. Another man who has not been honoured is Ghulam Ahmed. He was the first player from Hyderabad to be named captain of the Indian cricket team. It is no mean feat to be the captain of India. He was a gentleman cricketer who formed a deadly spin combination with Vinoo Mankad and Subhash Gupte.
Surely one ground could have been named after Ghulam Ahmed too. But we only bend over backwards to please politicians. We have a culture which consists of fawning over political leaders. We do not honour our sportspersons. Only when they fail to win medals we ask why they cannot win trophies and titles like the USA or Germany or Britain.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.