Below-par showing in Tokyo, social media trolls taking a toll on athletes

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By Chetan Sharma

New Delhi– Athletes and mental-health issues seem to almost go hand in hand, with many sportspersons dealing with it on a regular basis. These issues are not just confined to sports such as cricket or tennis — as we saw last year when three Australian cricketers and Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka succumbed to mental pressures — but cover the entire spectrum of sport.

The competitive atmosphere takes a toll on athletes, who are pushed into depression when the outcome is not what they had desired. Losing is not the end of the problem, but trolling on social media — which has become the latest tool of intimidation — is.

Indian boxers, who came up with below-par performances at the Tokyo Olympics, found out how ruthless social media trolls can be after they lost their bouts.

Two-time Asian champion, boxer Pooja Rani (75kg) said she is feeling really bad after losing the bout. The Haryana boxer was just one win away from clinching a medal in Tokyo but lost her quarterfinal bout.

Since then, she has been trying hard to mentally overcome her defeat. Speaking to IANS, Pooja said, “It is easy to say we will win/focus on the next Olympics. But it is not that easy; one has to start from zero. Again, perform in small events to keep yourself ready for major events, then fight to qualify for the Olympics. I need to relax a bit, I guess.

“I was so angry with myself when I lost in the quarterfinals. I knew that I could win but… dream crashed. I am not feeling mentally fit right now. The pain of losing so near the medal is really disturbing. I am planning to go somewhere to relax myself (sic),” said Pooja.

Another boxer, Vikas Krishan Yadav, urged people to not “hate” him after he lost in the first round. Asian Games gold medallist boxer Vikas, who lost his Round-of-32 welterweight bout, apologised to his fans for his below-par performances, saying he “deserves all the bashing but not hate”.

Vikas has now undergone surgery to fix the shoulder injury which will keep him out of action for the next few months. The 29-year-old, one of India’s most celebrated boxers after winning bronze at the 2014 Incheon and 2018 Jakarta Asian Games besides gold at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, had taken painkillers before the first-round match against Sewon Okazawa but the injury was so severe that he could use only one hand to punch.

“I respect peoples’ views. They have all the right to bash me because I was not able to perform. They wanted me to win gold and that is why they are angry. I want to say sorry to them and promise them that I will come back stronger. Injury has forced me to not perform well but now my surgery is also done. I will start training once getting fully recovered.

“People trolling me on social media. Please don’t hate me. I know I had promised that I would win a gold. I am really sorry,” Vikas added.

When contacted Amit Panghal, who didn’t live up to the expectations as well, refused to comment. “I am not in a position to talk right now. Please give me some time. Please.”

There are other athletes who said they were having mental-health issues post-Olympics but were not willing to come on record to speak about it.

A shooter said on condition of anonymity that, “It is easy to criticise or slam somebody. The field is open. Please join us and win. Nobody wants to lose. Social media is brutal sometimes.” (IANS)


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