Emotions ran high over the three days of the 31st Sikh Australian Games this year as teams competed for the big win. But for the players, it wasn’t just the feelings of winning or losing the Games, it was also a feeling warmth and joy as the community from all over the country came together for one spectacular event that showcased Sikh pride in all its glory.
We spoke to six medal winners – Tarneet Kaur (Women’s Basketball), Simranpreet Singh (Men’s Basketball), Nitin Verma and Sachin Nayyar (Tennis Doubles), Sujneet Johal (Under 19’s 1500m Race) and Harmandeep Singh (Touch Football) – to get their perspective on what is now a landmark sporting event in the community.
Was this your first time participating?
Tarneet: I’ve been participating for the last four years and have always played netball, but this year, I played basketball as well.
Simranpreet: This was my seventh time taking part, and I’ve always played basketball. For the last five years, though, I’ve been playing soccer too.
Nitin and Sachin: Yes!
Sujneet: No, I’ve participated once earlier and loved it. It’s just because it’s such a good community gathering and it makes sense for me to also be involved in sports. It gives me purpose for all the three days, you know? This was my second time, the last time was when it was held in Sydney six years ago.
Harman: Actually, I was a part of the Games when they were held in Sydney in 2012. All in all, it’ll be four times now.
What was your favourite part of the experience?
Tarneet: I loved seeing the huge crowds and the spirit of service. The langar was phenomenal. And it was so great to see that people were watching the events regardless of whether their children were participating or not. I think it was also really well-organised this year.
Simranpreet: It’s always nice when you can have a large Indian community coming together, and you can see everyone having fun like a big family.
Sachin: I loved that there was a cultural touch. On one side, you could see the competitive games being played, and on the other, young kids performing to traditional Punjabi songs with bhangra and gidda. It’s wonderful how our community can do something like this on such a grand scale.
Nitin: I was amazed at the fact that there were no hiccups, everything was properly planned, like the transport facilities. The buses were a real comfort to people travelling between the venues. Also, some of the games don’t have international/national recognition like kabaddi, but at an event like this, you get to see the regional Punjabi games at a professional level. Seeing all the communities come together to represent Punjab at such a level, it’s like a mini Olympics!
Sujneet: I think it’s just amazing to see that, despite everyone being so busy in their lives and having their own issues to deal with, we can take out the time and make an effort to come together and celebrate being ourselves and being Sikh. And what bonds us more than playing together? The games, langar, folk dances – it was fantastic to see such a grand celebration of just being us and celebrating our identity.
Harmandeep: I’d say my favourite bit was the atmosphere. What I really like about the Games is that it brings a lot of people together, from all over Australia. I have family across the country so this was a great opportunity to meet them again. At our house, we had cousins from Melbourne staying over and we’d stay up chatting the whole time which you can’t usually do because they’re in a completely different city. You get to catch up with old friends and meet new people.
Describe to us your most memorable win or match
Tarneet: Winning a match is can cause such a weird mix of emotions! There’s an adrenaline rush from playing, anxiety and fear of things going wrong. It was a very close game so it was hard to tell whether we would win or lose, so we were very nervous. But mostly it’s all a blur. All you do is focus on your own game and work together as a team to get it done. My girls played extremely well, and in the end, it was pure luck that we won, but it was phenomenal. I mean, I cried after the winning match because I couldn’t believe the result. It felt great because my parents were proud, and the trophy is pretty good as well (laughs).
Simranpreet: Our basketball team won against New Zealand in the finals and it was… intense. They have defeated us before in other events, and even in the Games leading up to the finals in this tournament, so we were incredibly nervous. But we told ourselves that we would give it our best shot and work as a team and most importantly, just play the game. It was a relief when the final buzzer went off and we realised we’d won (laughs). It was a long game.
Sachin: To tell you the truth, the game was hard. We did struggle because of the intense heat. But we definitely enjoyed the match.
Nitin: Yes, the final was awesome. We actually lost the first set which made us nervous since it’s a game of three sets (best of three). Obviously, losing the first set put a lot of pressure on us and we had to rethink our strategies. But it was a great feeling. I feel like I’ve gotten a lifetime achievement award.
Sujneet: I think the first thing was “how can I breathe again”. I wanted to participate in other running and athletics events but I missed them, and that was the only event left. So, I did it! But I guess the winning moment… I just remember trying to catch my breath and then hugging the girl who came first in the under 17s division. It felt great, but more than that, it felt amazing to see my parents’ faces. They were screaming hoarse! Knowing that I made them proud just made me unbelievably happy.
Harmandeep: We versed Woolgoolga and we won 5-3, and earlier in the day we had lost to them 4-3, so it was great to get on top, especially in the final, where it really mattered. It was a pretty close game, and fast paced as Touch Footy usually is, so it was quite exhilarating. It was also stressful during the actual game because we were constantly wondering about how much time had surpassed, so when it finally finished, we heaved a massive, massive sigh of relief. The excitement came later when it actually sunk in that we won Touch Footy competition for the very first time.
How does it feel now that the Games have come to an end?
Tarneet: A bit sad, to be honest. Every year it’s the one thing I look forward to because it brings us all together. People come together and eat and play together, and you get to meet friends you don’t have time to meet otherwise. But I was also relieved because you spend a couple of months training before the event. And of course, I was ecstatic about the win!
Simranpreet: At the end of it all, I was absolutely drained, both physically and emotionally. But it was so much fun! You don’t think too much about it in the months leading up to the Games because time flies in training and competing, but when it all gets over, it feels rather strange. So yeah, glad it was over because I can rest now, but it was worth it.
Sachin: I think we were very happy, and not just because we won, but because we were part of this mammoth event! We’ve loved seeing the solidarity among people. It was not just a sport to us, it was a beautiful experience.
Nitin: Yes, altogether we had a great experience. The opportunity to play against various people across various parts of Australia, that was pretty good.
Sujneet: I know you’ll think it odd, but it was quite a warm feeling. It’s a combination of things: playing a team sport alongside other Punjabi girls, making great friendships, and the self-satisfaction of individual sport. Plus, the dancing and singing…it just left me feeling really good inside.
Harmandeep: I was a bit, I don’t know… I wish they weren’t over because we had such a good time. Maybe ‘disappointed’ isn’t the right word, but definitely felt a bit down. I don’t know how to describe it.
Pick your best memory from the Games this year.
Tarneet: For me, it would have to be the moment before the Games when you put your hands in with your teammates, that’s my stand out memory of the Games… (pauses), and the jalebis from the langar.
Simranpreet: I think the most memorable moment for me is after the three long games on a Friday, when I finally managed to go to the chiros and got a really nice leg massage. The chiros were free for players and assisted them in recovery, and I’m pretty sure each player who went to the chiro definitely benefitted.
Sachin: I saw a lot of kids at the Games doing sewa, and the enthusiasm with which they were distributing the bananas and water bottles to everyone… it was a very proud moment for me to see the kids welcoming everyone with open arms.
Nitin: I was amazed by the way they arranged the food – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And despite the humongous crowd, they served it so good-naturedly. It was truly astonishing to see.
Sujneet: I think the thing that touched me the most was the opening ceremony where the kids started off, and then there was such a classic, old school Punjabi folk dance. It was so traditional and nostalgic, I honestly teared up when I saw it all happening. It felt like we went back in time and were in the old, original Punjab. I don’t think I’ll forget that feeling for quite some time.
Harmandeep: My favourite memory has to be the bhangra in the opening ceremony performance. I thought it was fantastic to start the event on such an energetic note, you know? It was so colourful and fun to watch, especially for the audience, and there were some 175 kids performing, that was really great to see.