Thursday, June 08, 2006

Geet Sethi - The song we forgot to sing

There are things that are surreal and then there are things that are beyond explanation. Let me tell you the surreal bit first. There exists an Indian sportsman who has been winning world titles since the early nineties. This sportsman has won the highest number of world championships in the world, in his discipline. He won his first world title in his twenties and then won his eighth title at the ripe old age of 43. He has set world records galore. He is also an Asian games gold medalist for India. This surreal phenomenon’s name is Geet Sethi.

Now for something that is beyond explanation. A country that starves for its sportsmen to succeed does not bother to felicitate the greatest and winningest (pardon the incorrect English) sportsman it has ever produced. A man who has been bringing glory to his sport for nearly two decades. A man who is India’s best hope of winning a championship, when he is nearing an age when the candles on his birthday cake might cost more than the cake itself. How conveniently have we forgotten, or chosen to ignore, Geet Sethi.

People probably would say that Geet Sethi is not the greatest sportsman that India has produced. How many people know him? How many people know Billiards? Tendulkar or Kapil Dev or Sunil Gavaskar should have that honour. I have a few points to make here. The first is the fact that people do not know of billiards is not Geet’s fault. It takes an equal amount of hard work and practice to be a champion, be it in cricket, shooting, tennis or billiards. And the greatest sportsman of the country can never be decided by consensus, as that weighs way too much towards the most popular sport in the country.

The second point is that most people of our generation know billiards because of Geet Sethi. Sachin or Kapil, had they not played cricket people would still have been crazy about it. Players like Geet Sethi have had an impact on the sport they play in for years. Sethi’s impact has been felt for nearly two decades. I can safely say that had Geet Sethi decided to be a corporate executive, people after Michael Ferreira’s era would not have known anything about billiards, and unless Pankaj Advani comes up in a big way the generation after ours wouldn’t talk of it either. Lance Armstrong, Michael Schumacher, Chilly Rathore and Geet Sethi have made their discipline popular; they are synonymous with the sport they play. Does anybody bother to know whose record did Lance Armstrong beat to be the highest winner of the Tour de France? The absence of Sachin does not make cricket any less popular, Dhoni and Pathan would do, but Geet’s absence might kill billiards in India.

Thirdly, Geet Sethi is probably the only champion to have come out of India. He is the only person who has won eight world titles. Kapil’s Devils won India a world cup, Geet Sethi won India a gold medal in the Asian Games, and more countries participate there than in a cricket World Cup. Add to that the fact that he has world records for the highest break in the cue sport.

But the thing that makes Geet Sethi the greatest sportsman in my mind is the fact that he has done so much for the sport. I think it was 1997 when Gold Flake decided to stop sponsoring the billiards world championship and due to lack of sponsorship the event couldn’t be played that year. Come 1998, Geet Sethi roped in a sponsor, Florsheim, and organized the world championship in Ahmedabad single-handedly. By the way, he also won the championship beating the then world champion Mike Russell.

One can keep writing about the great man. But today, a week after he has won his 8th world title I very humbly ask: isn’t Geet Sethi a champion we should have celebrated? We, the citizens of a country thirsty for sporting successes? Shouldn’t the media talk more about him? We should have been singing paens, celebrating this hero. But alas, Geet Sethi is a song we have all chosen to forget. Sorry, Geet!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree Geet Sethi is one of the brightest sports star in India and World. Hats Off to Him !!!