People are usually of the opinion that Goans have often been taken to be a community of cooks, butlers, musicians, secretaries, etc; their men have been always portrayed in Bollywood films as drunks and females as women of easy virtue. The tiny western state is also stereotyped as a ‘do what you please’ tourist destination populated by happy-go-lucky people where a susegaad approach to life rules.
What is not so well known by many is the fact that despite harboring a population of barely around 1.5 million, Goa has also produced its fair share of academics, writers, doctors, cardinals, bureaucrats, generals, freedom fighters, and achievers in various fields. But when it comes down to the field of sports, Goan prowess is well recognized and who’s to dispute that as ‘Goenkars’ have done duty in droves for the nation, state, and thousands of clubs and teams in various disciplines all over the world.
It is because of the Indian former hockey international player Avitus D’Cruz who took it upon himself to write a pen portrait book on “Goans in Sport”.
There was a time back in the past when Goa unlike the present was actually representing India in the Olympics. Talking of Indian history and looking at it from the perspective of Goa. For those who are sporting history buffs, the first Goan in the Olympics was Peter Paul Fernandes of Karachi, who represented the Indian team for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, along with the legend, Dhyan Chand, and his brother Roop Chand. Dhyan and Roop formed a formidable duo in the forward line which ruled out the Goan Johny Pinto, a marginally better player than Roop.
Sadly the last time we witnessed Goan representing India was back in the year 1988 Seoul Olympics, with Merwyn Fernandes, scoring a hat-trick of playing in three Olympics. In the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Merwyn had the company of Joaquim Carvalho and Marcellus Gomes, while he was the lone Goan in the 1980 Moscow men’s gold medal-winning team. But he had the company of four Goans — Margaret Toscano, Eliza Nelson (nee Mendonca), Selma D’Silva and Lorraine Fernandes — in the women’s team. Lorraine achieved the unique feat of a daughter imitating her father, Lawrie Fernandes, who played in the 1948 Olympics. Another pair of a parent and ward duo earning Olympic distinction is Vece Paes and tennis star Leander Paes, who played in his 7th Olympics in Rio, earning an exalted place in India’s sporting history. Vece was a member of the Indian bronze-medal hockey team in the 1972 Munich Olympics while Leander won the bronze medal in the men’s singles at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Also standing on the pedestal is Neville de Souza, who is undoubtedly the only Indian and Asian to score a hat-trick in the Olympics, achieving the feat against Australia, the hosts of the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. If the Anglo-Indians were prominent in Bengal, so were Goans in Bombay. The Lusitanians was made up of mostly Goans, and players like Lawrie, Walter, Reginald, and Maxie wore Lusitanians colours.
Mary D’Souza was the first Indian woman to the quadrennial event and was the first-ever woman to represent the Indian not just in one but in 2 disciplines, namely, Athletics and Hockey – is also a proud Goan.
Goans have excelled in sports across the world – Seraphino Antao with roots in Chandor, was Kenya’s big hope in sprints at the 1964 Olympics which were held in Tokyo. But unfortunately, he never represented the state.
Only 3 of the over 50 Olympians of Goan origins – representing India, Pakistan, Kenya, Canada and Uganda among the other countries – were born in Goa but immediately left. Fortunato Franco ( Football, 1960 Olympics) , for example, migrated to Mumbai from Colvale at a very young age of 6.Maxim Vaz (Hockey, 1948 Olympics) and Neville (Football, 1956 Olympics) were born in Salvador do Mundo and Assagao respectively, but did their schooling at St. Xavier’s in South Mumbai.
Sadly, today we can see the interest of Goans and involvement in sports have gone down drastically. Gone are those golden days when people with Goan origin made their presence in an international level sports event like Olympics. Hopefully someday very soon we can see our fellow Goans representing our country and get those old days back again.
Cover Image – Frans van Heerden