On August 10, reports surfaced in mainstream media that Pinky Karmakar, the torchbearer of the 2012 London Olympics, is now working as a daily wage worker at a tea garden in Dibrugarh. In a statement to ANI, she said, “I didn’t get any facilities. I don’t understand why. I was selected by UNICEF. My dreams have been shattered.”
The reports further suggested that she actively participated in social activities when she was 18-years-old and used to teach women in her locality. She also took part in several sports activities in school and was selected by United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund’s (UNICEF) Sports for Development (S4D) program. Under the program, she went to take part in London Olympics as a torchbearer.
The misinformation of Pinky Karmakar being an athlete
The news was picked by several mainstream media agencies who projected her as an athlete. One website called Inside Sport called her a flag bearer and published a report titled “From high of Neeraj Chopra’s Gold, Olympics Shame for India – 2012 Olympic Flagbearer- Pinky Karmakar found working as a daily wager in Assam”.
The misinformation is rooted in a report in the Times of India from August 8, where the newspaper covered her ordeal. TOI mentioned that she was welcomed back to India after London Olympics as a medal winner. TOI quoted her saying, “I had big dreams, but now there is nothing left to hope. After my mother’s death, I had to drop out of college due to acute financial hardship and start working as a labourer in the tea garden.”
However, after realising that the story was perhaps misleading and causing misinformation, the news agency ANI withdrew the same.
Inaccurate representation of facts. The below tweet stands deleted. pic.twitter.com/tz3tTzpsjA— ANI (@ANI) August 10, 2021
The difference between flag-bearer and torchbearer
During Olympics, there are flagbearers, and then there are torchbearers. Though both have their own importance, there is no similarity whatsoever between them. According to the Olympics, Flagbearers are like the captains of the team who carry the national flag of their country at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. A flagbearer is always an athlete who is participating in any one or more of the events at the Olympics.
people seemed to have confused torchbearer as flagbearer. Torchbearers don’t have to be sportspersons and many people hold the torch around the world as it passes via many regions. She was selected by UNICEF for the final round of relay in UK it seems.— Rahul Roushan (@rahulroushan) August 10, 2021
On the other hand, torchbearers are people who carry the Olympic Flame as Torchbearers to the stadium. They do not have to be athletes, and anyone with a notable background can be one. In Tokyo Olympics, Takashige Sho, a magician, was one of the torchbearers. In 2008 Olympics, Bollywood actor Aamir Khan was one of the torchbearers. In the same Olympics, Football star Bhaichung Bhutia had refused to participate as a torchbearer to show support to the Tibetan cause.
Torchbearers do not represent their home country
TOI quoted Pinky who claimed that she was promised “remuneration” for representing India at the torch relay. She claimed, “Till date, I have not received anything. The truth is that the daughter of a labourer has remained a labourer.”
Technically, torchbearers do not represent any country, but they represent the spirit of the Olympic Games and the host country. According to the Olympics, the torchbearers for every Olympics are selected by the host country’s Olympics association. For example, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay Prefecture Task Forces (PTFs) and the four Presenting Partners of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay selected around 10,000 torchbearers for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Also, Torchbearers are supposed to take care of their own expenses including travel.
Keeping the said point in mind and the fact that UNICEF was the one who selected Pinky as the torchbearer for London Olympics 2012, it is odd that the people are blaming the Government of India for the difficulties she is facing in her life.