Year in Review: Indian sportspersons who turned politicians in 2019

Gautam Gambhir
There comes a times when you retire from your regular employment, but the show must go on. If there was one area whose shining lights took this belief very seriously this year, it was the field of sports. Typically, sportspersons are past their prime sooner than people in other professions. And after retirement, they usually try their hand at not-so-active roles in their own sport, such as coaching and commentating. But the year 2019, incidentally a year of national elections, opened another career path for India’s retiring sportspersons — politics. The year showed many, however, that their record on the sports field was no guarantee of success on the political battlefield, too.

But it was not a bitter experience for all — some even received roaring success in their new arena. Business Standard lists some international-level Indian players who made their political plunge in 2019.

Gautam Gambhir

Former cricketer Gautam Gambhir with Ravi Shankar Prasad. Photo: ANI

Gambhir remained, unarguably, an unsung hero during his time as a member of the India cricket team. One of the reasons was the presence of many other star players, including Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and MS Dhoni. Though the swashbuckling southpaw helped India win many crucial matches, including the 2007 World T20 final, where he scored a valuable 77 and ensured India beat Pakistan and claim the title, and the final of the ICC World Cup 2011, in which he scored 97 off 122 balls to win his team the coveted crown.

This year, however, Gambhir started his new innings as a politician, and how! He contested the Lok Sabha elections from the East Delhi constituency on a Bharatiya Janata Party ticket and registered a comfortable victory.

Sandeep Singh

Sandeep Singh, Haryana MLA

The 33-year-old prolific drag-flicker was the only of the three sportspersons fielded by the BJP in the Haryana Assembly election to actually win a seat. In his electoral debut, the former captain of the Indian National Hockey team won from the Pehowa constituency in Kurukshetra, defeating Mandeep Singh Chhattha of the Congress by a margin of 5,314 votes.

Babita Phogat

Wrestler Babita Phogat and her father Mahavir Singh Phogat with JP Nadda. Photo: ANI

After a prolific career in the wrestling ring, Babita went on to try her hand in politics this year. However, the outcome for her was not as encouraging as that for Gambhir and Singh. The Commonwealth gold medalist and her father Mahavir Phogat had joined the BJP in August. In the Haryana election, the ace Indian wrestler contested from the Dadri Assembly seat, in Bhiwani-Mahendragarh Lok Sabha region, which her party had never won. She was not able to turn the fortune around for BJP, losing to independent candidate Sombir Sangwan by a margin of 19,063 votes.

Yogeshwar Dutt

Yogeshwar Dutt

The London Olympics bronze medallist was another unsuccessful attempt of the BJP to get a national athlete into the Haryana Assembly. Fielded from the Baroda Assembly seat, Dutt could not turn maiden move in the political ring into a success and lost to Congress' sitting MLA Sri Krishan Hooda.

Vijender Singh

Vijender Singh

If BJP’s experiment with sportspersons in politics was bitter-sweet, the Congress’ was hardly better. Singh, an ace Indian boxer and Beijing Olympics bronze medallist, was not in for an easy bout when fielded by the Congress from the South Delhi Lok Sabha constituency. Pitted against strong opponents like the BJP’s sitting MP Ramesh Bidhuri and the Aam Aadmi Party’s Raghav Chadha, Singh finished a distant third, managing to get only 156,550 votes. 

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