Budding athletes passing through pangs of COVID impact

New Delhi: Many athletes who have won gold, bronze and silver medals are forced to adapt petty jobs because of their poor financial conditions and their training is also discontinued due to lack of funds. They are medalists, but now they have sorrowful tales to tell.

“Attendance has dropped drastically. We have many talented students who can’t make it to the ground because they don’t have a vehicle or can’t afford bus fare. Many might quit,” coach Purshotam told to Indian Express in an interview. Though he trains athletes for free, yet they are not to be seen in the ground as they do not have transportation facilities and they cannot even bear the bus fare.

Meraj Ali, a 19-year-old athlete was lamenting that he might not continue to participate in 1500m race because of his family’s financial constraints. He lives in one rented room with six members of his family. His elder brother has lost his job and he has two teenaged sisters. His father, who is deaf and mute is a daily wage earner. It is difficult for his family to make both ends meet. Ali has represented India at the Asian Youth Meet in 2017. Now, he is afraid that his dream may be shattered.
“My father had to get a kidney removed last December. He needs rest but has to work to feed us. If things don’t improve, I will have to join him and that would be the end of my athletics dream… We have stopped having tea at home, even milk is a luxury we can’t afford,” said Ali.

Thabitha Philip Maheswaran is an athlete who won two gold medals at the 2019 Asian Youth Athletics Championships in Hong Kong in long jump. Now, she is thinking to discontinue her training to help her family financially. Her father is an auto-rickshaw driver, who is the only earning member in the family. Due to lockdown, her father has to stay back at home and it has become difficult for her family to get three meals a day. She said, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) supports her but they have to cut the allowances considerably due to lack of funds.

Here is another touching story of Lokesh Kumar who is an under 14 (U-14) middle-distance champion from Delhi. He is so passionate about sports that he changes three buses to go to the ground for training; “My father is a rickshaw-puller and my mother works as a domestic help. They don’t get regular work these days. During the lockdown, we didn’t have food so we used to drink warm water and go to bed.”

Ali Ansari, a 19-year-old Bronze medalist at the 2019 Asian Youth Athletics Championships relates, ‘My father had no work during the lockdown and business is at an all-time low. I am the eldest son and I have to support my family. I have a feeling that I’ll now end up becoming a kela wala (banana seller).’

Harendra Kumar, who won 1500m National Youth Championship in 2019 lives in Delhi with his coach Vipin Kumar, who trains underprivileged athletes. H. Kumar says that his mother had called him and said that she had developed pain in her knees by working in the fields. He feels sad and helpless because the training is also important for him, but says, if there is another call from his mother, he will quit the training.

Nineteen-year-old Trilok Kumar has a passion to achieve something great in sports. He has a goal; he is adamant with strong will power and perseverance. He doesn’t want to end up by becoming an auto driver. To fund his athletic training, he has started driving an auto. He puts on his auto-driver’s uniform over his sports costume, and leaves his home at 4:30 am for the ground. He is surviving on the free ration distributed by the state government. He says, he has to pay the rent for his auto whether he gets income from it or not.

The most affected one is Rahul, a 22-year-old man, who is the training partner of Meraj Ali. Rahul lost his father when he was four years old. Since then, he works in night shifts at the Delhi Milk Scheme facility as a crate loader. He starts his job at 11 pm and continues till 4 am. He cannot work during day time because he has college and training. He says that his body aches after the tedious work. Yet, after only two hours of sleep, he has to set out for his training. If he stops his work, he will have no funds for his bus fare. He further adds, that the virus outbreak has halved his salary since his working days have also been reduced.

Such is the plight of our talented heroes due to the spread of Covid-19. This is the right time that they should be supported by all means to encourage them. If social organisations join hands, then it would be the best investment for our nation. Otherwise, these youths would lose their hope and talents.

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