India’s sporting community mourned the loss of an “inspiration” after hockey legend Balbir Singh Sr died on Monday, calling him a rare role model whose achievements will motivate the next generation of athletes.
The three-time Olympic gold-winner died after battling multiple health issues for over two weeks. He was 96.
The demise was condoled by not just Olympic sport athletes but also cricketers and politicians.
India’s only individual Olympic gold medal winner, Abhinav Bindra paid a glowing tribute to the legend.
“Saddened to hear of the demise of one of India’s most celebrated Olympians, Balbir Singh Sr. Athletes and role models such as him come very rarely, and it was an honour to know him, and I hope his example will continue to inspire athletes from around the world!” Bindra tweeted.
International Hockey Federation President Narinder Batra said along with Singh’s accomplishments, his down-to-earth demeanour will also never be forgotten.
“A measure of a player’s greatness is not just in the skill he exhibits on the hockey pitch but also in the fondness and affection with which he is remembered across nations many years after he last graced the game. Balbir Singh Dosanjh’s life is ample testimony to his greatness,” he said in his condolence message.
“I will cherish the simplicity, humility and pride that he brought to bear in his own charming way. His ready wit and willingness to share his vast knowledge were stand out features.
“Indeed, Balbir Singh ji leaves behind a rich legacy that cuts across all sport and physical boundaries,” he added.
Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju said, “Deeply saddened by the tragic demise of India’s legendary Hockey Player Balbir Singh Sr…I pay my heartfelt tribute and pray for the eternal peace of the departed soul.”
Former India hockey captains Viren Rasquinha and Sardar Singh also offered their tributes to the former centre-forward, regarded as independent India’s biggest hockey player.
“Very sad to hear of the demise of legendary Olympian Balbir Singh Sr, 3 time Olympic gold medallist. He was always smiling, so mentally alert and such a thorough gentleman. What a fine role model,” Rasquinha wrote on his twitter handle.
Sardar remembered Singh as someone who always motivated him to achieve laurels for the country.
“It is a very sad for hockey. He was a role model for me and several hockey players in India and abroad. Whenever I used to meet him, he always used to motivate me to win medals for the country,” Sardar told PTI.
“With his death my one life-time wish will always remain unfulfilled now. It was my dream to get a picture clicked with him and his three Olympic gold medals but it is not possible now,” he added.
Another former hockey captain and goalkeeper of current national men’s side, P R Sreejesh and skipper of the women’s team Rani Rampal said the news of his demise was painful.
“I was rather shocked to hear the news of legendary Olympian Balbir Singh Sr untimely demise. My heart felt condolences to his family. I pray that the almighty gives his family the strength to withstand this tragic moment. May his soul rest in peace. #RIP,” Sreejesh wrote.
Rani added: “Pained to learn about the passing of our three times Olympic Gold medalist and legend Balbir Singh Senior sir this morning.
“His contribution towards Indian hockey is unforgettable. He will continue to inspire our generations to come. My deepest condolences to his family. RIP.”
Athletes from other sporting disciplines, including cricket captain Virat Kohli and senior off-spinner Harbhajan Sing too expressed sadness.
“Saddened to hear about the passing of the legend, Balbir Singh Sr. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family in this time of sorrow,” wrote Kohli.
“A doyen of Indian sports Shri Balbir Singh Senior is no more. When you look back at his achievements,you just remain awestruck 3 olympic gold medals,five goals in Olympic final. Manager of World Cup winning team Possibly among India’s greatest sporting icons.May his soul rest RIP,” Harbhajan tweeted.
Track and field legend PT Usha described Singh as an “athlete par excellence and role model beyond words”.
“His bestowed hands may strengthen my passions more. My condolences to his family, friends and fans!” Usha tweeted.
Shooter Heena Sidhu added: “My deepest condolences to the family of the legend Balbir Singh ji. I have come close to meeting him so many times but always missed it. I was a big fan and was hoping to get a picture with him one day. Sadly he now resides in our memories only. Till we meet again.”
“It was an honour to know him,” said Commonwealth Games gold-winning boxer Akhil Kumar.
Not just sportspersons, politicians too paid their respect to Singh.
“Pained to learn about the demise of Padma Shri Balbir Singh Sr ji, a legendary hockey player, who left indelible imprint on world hockey with his stick,” wrote Home Minister Amit Shah.
CPI leader Sitaram Yechury also expressed grief at the death.
“Balbir Senior watched the tricolour go up in independent India’s first Olympics in London in 1948 when India beat England 4-0 in the finals. He was a hockey legend. Condolences on his passing,” tweeted Yechury.