'Moving to Dubai was best decision we made': Indian cricketer Robin Uthappa

The former Indian batsman, who once admitted to having suicidal thoughts, says his family is enjoying their new life in the city


Rituraj Borkakoty

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Photo by Neeraj Murali
Photo by Neeraj Murali

Published: Sat 22 Jun 2024, 1:51 AM

Last updated: Sat 22 Jun 2024, 11:02 PM

After facing several questions on the ongoing T20 World Cup with a straight bat at a press conference, Robin Uthappa was all smiles as he made his way to a private corner of an indoor sports facility at Al Quoz, Dubai, for an interview with City Times.

Hordes of super excited fans slowed him down, grabbing selfies with their mobile cameras; some even wanted to shake his hands and give a pat on his back.

It was not easy to know if any of them were loyal fans of Kolkata Knight Riders and Chennai Super Kings, teams with which Uthappa won IPL titles as a player.

But what was clearly visible amidst all that typical fan excitement was the bright smile that never disappeared from Uthappa’s face as he posed with them.

A member of India’s 2007 T20 World Cup-winning team, Uthappa then settled into a couch for a chat during which he opened up about what it takes for celebrities to share their mental health issues on public forums and why he decided to become a Dubai resident.

You are a Dubai resident now, you hold a golden visa. But why did you decide to move to Dubai?

It was more from the kids’ perspective. We wanted a really solid primary education and knowing how good Dubai is as far as education is concerned and also the safety, not just for kids, but also for women. That was a big priority for us because I am on the road seven, or eight months in a year, so it became a no-brainer. Also, since I am playing leagues outside of India, it makes more sense to live here.

Your family is enjoying the Dubai life…

Oh yes, it’s been 15-16 months now here in Dubai. And they are loving it. I think it was the best decision we made as far as our family is concerned.

You have two kids. They have settled in well…

Yes, my son loves it. He goes to Kings’ Al Barsha, my daughter is a little too young. She is in a playschool now. So yeah, we are loving it. And we are enjoying Dubai. In fact, last year we intentionally stayed here through the summer, because we wanted to experience the summer. So we stayed back, we didn’t travel anywhere. And it was fun, we really enjoyed Dubai now. It feels like home for us now.

You are also commentating on the T20 World Cup for two Dubai radio stations, Talk 100.3 FM and Big 106.2 How is the experience so far as a radio commentator? We normally don’t see international players doing radio commentary…

Wonderful. It’s different in the sense that you have got to describe the play. It’s a great prep for broadcasting for television as well. So it’s been a fun experience for me so far. And yes, very different from broadcasting on television.

It’s a good point you made about Dubai being such a safe city. This is what makes this city stand out in the world now. But since you are a sportsman and your wife (Sheethal Goutham) was also a former international tennis player, how nice is it to see the sports activities that are being promoted by the UAE government here in a bid to encourage the citizens as well as the residents to lead a healthy lifestyle?

It’s incredible, to be honest. I think there is a lot of focus on different sports, there is a huge variety of sports. In fact my son has been doing gymnastics from a very young age, so today he is here not just practising gymnastics, he has gone up a step further, he is playing three different sports at this point. So it’s incredible. Also, being a cricketer, I would love to see more organised cricket tournaments in this country. To have eight Test-playing nations as part of the expat population in the UAE, I think this country should be able to qualify for every cricket World Cup. I think it's a huge talent pool. The UAE have the potential to become one of the leading cricket-playing nations in the world.

Of course, you spoke about sports and the importance of physical fitness. There is also the very important issue of mental health now. You had opened up about your struggles in the past, and you admitted to having suicidal thoughts. It’s obviously a very sensitive issue because a lot of people hesitate to open up about this. So how challenging is it for a celebrity like you to reveal what you have gone through and how you overcame your problems?

I think it depends on what the intention is. If the intention is noble and if the intention is pure then, there is no difficulty in expressing it. For me, I intended to, I just wanted to break the taboo associated with mental health issues because mental health issues are something we go through a lot in our lives, in one way or the other, in one point or the other, we experience it. I think that is something that needed to be broken, the taboo needed to be broken. The stigma attached to it needs to be broken. I think the more light you shed on something that is in the darkness, the less intimidating it becomes, the less scary it becomes, and the more normal it becomes.

Dubai Capitals' Robin Uthappa during the ILT20 match against Gulf Giants at Dubai International Stadium
Dubai Capitals' Robin Uthappa during the ILT20 match against Gulf Giants at Dubai International Stadium

Another big issue in the world of sports is now social media trolls. If an athlete is not able to perform well, he or she faces brutal abuse on social media. We saw the kind of trolling the young Riyan Parag faced until the start of the 2024 IPL. He overcame that phase, silencing all of them with the sheer volume of his runs. What advice would you give young athletes on dealing with social media trolls? It seems nobody can escape that now. So how do they deal with it?

I think everyone has their own way of dealing with it based on how that personality is. Do what works for you. Be yourself and do what you feel is the best for you. I think Riyan is doing what works for him, different people will need to do what works for them. So do what works for you.

Finally a word on Hardik Pandya, please. He not only faced online trolls but he was harassed and booed by Mumbai Indians fans at the stadiums for replacing Rohit Sharma as captain. The fans' reaction was extreme. How painful was it to see a fellow cricketer going through such a painful experience?

I think everybody has the right to their opinion. Having said that it was very hard for me to watch from the outside because for someone who has battled mental health issues to witness someone being put in such a horrible spot for choices that he made for himself was actually quite hard. There were a lot of moving pieces in the whole affair, and there were a lot of other people who were also involved, so there is empathy for all parties involved, but I don’t think it’s right for anyone to go through that level of criticism, that level of trolling. I think it was inhumane.


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