Guns and Medals


On 24th May 2-time Olympic winner who won Bronze medal in 2008 Beijing Olympics and silver medal in 2012 in London Olympics, arrested in connection of the murder of 23-year old upcoming wrestler Sagar Dhankar. Sushil was involved in a brawl at Delhi’s Chhatrasal Wrestling Academy where he had beaten up Sagar who succumbed to his injuries later. Though it begs the question how such a high level athlete could fall to such disgrace,Sushil, a Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna’s awardee, is certainly not the first athlete to be accused of violent crimes. In our common imagination guns and medals don’t go together unless it is a shooting event; however such incidences where athletes are found to be involved in crimes are not uncommon. 

There are some big names in the sports world who are accused of murder, armed robbery and rape in India as well as worldwide. 

1)  Paan Singh Tomar- We all remember him from the Tigmanshu Dhulia’s film with the same name. He took to life in 1970’s after being harassed and threatened by his more powerful relatives.

2) Harjinder Singh of Muktsar in Punjab-  He was a national level discus thrower who became a dreaded criminal aka Vicky Gounder. He was killed in an encounter by Punjab police in 2018.

3) Prashant Bishnoi- He was a national level shooter arrested in 2017 for running an international arms and wildlife parts smuggling operation. 

4) Deepak Pahal- A  25-year old Pahal turned gangster from a junior boxer at the national level. He currently has Rs. 2 lakh reward for his role in four murders, extortion and in planning and execution of the escape of other gangsters from police custody. 

Around the world, there are also many well-known names in the sports world associated with violent crimes. In the United States many NFL players are accused and convicted of violent crimes. According to CNS analysis, between 2010 and 2014, 6.8% of NFL players were arrested for such crimes. 

1) Robert Razier- He became a member of black supremacist club “The Brotherhood” cult led by Yahweh Ben Yahweh. He later admitted to killing 7 white people and was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

2) O.J. Simpson- He was arrested and later acquitted of a double homicide in one of the most high profile criminal cases in recent history where he was accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman.

3) Oscar Pistorius aka “The Blade Runner” – double amputee Pistorius became the first person to win an able bodied World Championship in 2011. He also participated in the Olympics in 2012. Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend at his home in Pretoria in 2013. His trial caught much media attention. 

4) Mike Tyson- In 1991 he was arrested for the rape of an 18 year old pageant winner in hotel. He was sentenced to 6 year for the crime of which he served less than 3 years. 

Though the list of such sportspeople who took to crime or have criminal records is not long, it certainly begs a question why these athletes did what they did. In the U.S. it is claimed that huge amounts of money which these athletes get from big leagues and fame causes them to get belligerent. 

                       Reasons for criminality

However, in India, reasons could be different such as frustration and insecurity for athletes who failed to perform at high levels. For many in India, sports is the only qualification they have and when they fail to achieve what they wanted they take to crime. Lack of other job opportunities also contributes as a source of insecurity. Lure of money from crimes also gravitates some towards crime. Some psychologists say that sportsmen, especially those from contact sports are aggressive by nature because such sports are outlets of primal aggression and also prone to emotional outbursts and get easily carried away by emotions. Lack of proper guidance and wrong company also cause these athletes to fall into the wrong path. Example of Vicky Gounder is illustrated in this respect. Gounder’s family sent him to government Sports College in Jalandhar in 2004 but thanks to the bad company there, Gounder diverted towards the world of crime.

However, these reasons are not generalisations . Each sports person who commits crime has his own reasons for it. E.g. Paan Singh Tomar took to arms because of the apathy of police and government officials to his plight.

                     What could be done

Here are some suggestions which are often recommended by psychologists.

1)Character building and moral values should be an integral part of the grooming of athletes from a young age.

2) Sportspeople should also be taught about channelising their emotions through emotional intelligence. 

3) Mental Health aspect of these athletes should also be taken care of. 

We can hope that  such instances where our heroes turned to the world of crimes and violence where not only they lose their fame but it also turned our feelings of respect and awe for them also turned to dust.Besides it brings shame to the nation.