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Harpal Singh Bedi, one of India’s legendary sports writers, is no more

G. Rajaraman

NEW DELHI: Born on March 19, 1952, he breathed his last on June 15, 2024. In his death, Indian sports journalism has lost a strong and respected voice. Every journalist who had the privilege of sharing press boxes around the world will have a rich collection of memories. Every sportsperson or administrator who knew him will have their own Harpal Singh Bedi tales to tell.

As a Sikh, he stood out with his colourful turban and flowing beard. But then more than his towering physical appearance, the giant caught the eye with his acute awareness of sport and his genial presence. I have known sports administrators to delay many a press conference until Harpal Singh Bedi was present at the venue.

Harpal Singh Bedi
Harpal Singh Bedi

Known to call a spade a spade both in face to face interaction with sports officialdom and when he wielded his pen, Harpal Singh Bedi was blessed with a terrific sense of humour. A raconteur par excellence, with a treasure trove of anecdotes and tales from far and near, he had the rare gift of being able to crack jokes at himself.

With eight Olympic Games and countless Asian Games under his belt, he was among the most travelled and experienced sports journalists in the country. He was a quintessential reporter, his nose for news making him a delight for the United News of India, the wire service that he worked for with fiery passion.

The best example of his ability to prise out a story out was served during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta when he broke news of Indian Hockey Federation President KPS Gill, a former Director General of Police in Punjab state, missing a flight from New York and being taken in a train which had only him and his staff as passengers with the Federal Bureau of Investigation offering him security.

Harpal Singh Bedi was respected way beyond boundaries, being especially popular with the media and people in Pakistan. Though he was a sports journalist, he was acknowledged as an expert in India-Pakistan relations as much as many foreign affairs specialists. It stemmed from his early days in Jammu and Kashmir as well as his time in the famed Jawaharlal Nehru University.

My personal memories of Harpal Singh Bedi date back to the 80s when we worked for rival agencies. He did not let that come in the way of establishing a great friendship, leading to us sharing rooms on our tour of England for the ICC Cricket World Cup in 1999. He always ‘confessed’ he did not enjoy covering cricket as much as he loved reporting on hockey and other Olympic sport.

Of course, the tour of Pakistan to cover the Indian cricket team’s visit in 2004 was made memorable when he, Rahul Banerji, Anand Vasu and I spent a lot of time together including a dash from Peshawar to the Khyber Pass. We were cramped in a sedan with a couple of Pathans accompanying us for our safekeep.

After his retirement as Sports Editor of United News of India, Harpal Singh Bedi lost no opportunity to express his love for Indian sport, writing for newspapers and websites and appearing as a popular guest on radio and TV shows. His penchant to present the truth as he saw it won him many admirers.

The Indian Olympic Association recognised his contribution to sport by nominating him the Press Attache of the Indian contingent for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Indian sports journalism will be poorer for his loss.

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