For the Record
Punjabi pride is wounded as Guinness denies Fauja oldest marathoner tag
Punjabis across the world are aghast at Guinness World Records’ ( GWR) refusal to acknowledge 100-year-old BritishIndian Sikh Fauja Singh as the world’s oldest marathon runner even after he ran all 42.195 km at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 16, supervised by professional referees.
GWR Editor-in-chief Craig Glenday, however, insists Fauja’s claims cannot be authenticated and will remain “open” until he can produce his original birth certificate—a document that most likely never existed. Fauja was born in a poor farmer’s family of Punjab’s Beaspind village, near Jalandhar, on April 1, 1911. Neither his British passport issued in 2003 nor three earlier Indian passports dating back over 40 years have been accepted. And contrary to the company’s own guidelines, which state that alternative ID will be accepted, senior GWR representative Anne-lise Rouse told INDIA TODAY, “Passports and other mid-tolate-life representations of age are notoriously unreliable when unaccompanied by original proofs of birth.”
GWR’S intervention has seriously riled Fauja’s admirers who have grown in number since 2003, when he first caught the world’s attention, finishing the Toronto marathon in the 90-plus category in five hours and 40 minutes. His legion of fans suspect there may be an element of racism in the refusal to recognise his achievement. Former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh says, “Guinness should be celebrating Fauja’s amazing feat.” Union Minister of Statistics and Programme Implementation M.S. Gill called on the Prime Minister to acknowledge the centenarian with a Padma award.
The allegations of prejudice do not seem off the mark considering GWR’S failure to produce age records for Dimitrion Yordanidis, a Greek listed as the oldest man to complete a marathon at 98 in Athens in 1976. INDIA TODAY’S repeated queries elicited the following response from GWR’S London office: “We can confirm that Norris Mcwhirter ( GWR fact-finder) approved Dimitrion Yordanidis’ record at the time, and would not have accepted this claim without sight of the necessary paperwork.” The explanation does not wash with Fauja’s trainer Harmandar Singh. “There isn’t even a picture of the man available,” says Harmandar. He maintains that Fauja made no application to GWR and it was the company that approached the runner ahead of the Toronto Marathon, only to publicly discredit him a day after the race.
Fauja is not quite sure what the commotion is all about. “Who is this Guinness fellow?” he asked his trainer. The ‘Turbaned Tornado’ is training hard for the April 2012 London Marathon instead.