The Telegraph
Sunday , August 10 , 2014
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Tough life after limelight
- Former Odisha sports stars struggle to make ends meet

Dutee Chand

Bhubaneswar, Aug. 9: At a time when athlete Srabani Nanda, weightlifter Ravi Kumar and gymnast Rakesh Patra from the state represented India at the recently-concluded Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, many other Odisha sportspersons appear to have no future.

The reasons for this are many — lack of support from the state government when it comes to education and jobs or incidents like that of Dutee Chand — when tests were conducted on the Odia athlete.

Though a system made by the state government is in place to select and groom young sportspersons, financial support often comes as a hurdle.

The support of the state government, when the state’s sportspersons face problems at the national level, are also in question in the wake of Dutee being dropped from the Commonwealth squad at the last moment.

Kids as young as 10 are selected through various sporting events held at the block and district levels by the sports and youth services department. Mostly coming from financially backward families, the promising children are groomed at the 12 state sports hostels across Odisha in the fields they excel.

Their performances from the U-13 level onwards gauges their career and they are either selected for the three centres of excellence or the three training centres of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in the state. Those who display great skills are picked up for the national camps and trained outside the state by SAI.

Often the hostel inmates, who train day and night for their discipline, keep busy in tours for events and championships. This affects their education, and they have nothing to fall back on other than sports. With short shelf lives, a career in sports, threatened by injury or sudden tests for doping or androgen levels or even decline in performance level for any reason, pulls many youngsters back to the hard life they came from.

Dutee, who hails from a poor weaver family in Jajpur, was chosen for a special camp for Commonwealth Games following successive brilliant performances at international events. But at the last moment, without any clear reason being stated, SAI chose to conduct tests for her androgen levels, and from an achiever who set national records, Dutee has now turned into an athlete staring at an uncertain future. She may return to the field if she gets medical assistance in decreasing the high androgen levels in her body, something the state sports department is helping her with.

At the same time, there are other achievers of the state from the field of sports who have been forced to see bad days, away from the cheers of spectators, sweating and slogging, not on the field but in their lives to make both ends meet.

Rashmita Patra, a 23-year-old international footballer from Odisha, now sells betel for a living. She represented India under-16 at the Asian Football federation (AFC) women’s qualifying competition at Kuala Lumpur, in 2008. She again played for the country in senior Fifa AFC qualification round in Dhaka in 2011. The same year, she played in Bahrain where senior national women’s team won the series 2-1. She was part of the state team that won the senior women’s football championship in Bhilai in 2010. But, 2011 was the last time Rashmita played in a major tournament.

“I could not get a job and after marriage, my family needed financial support. So I was forced to open a betel shop,” said the former footballer. Rashmita started playing at the age of 12 and is not even a matriculate — which made matters worse for her. “I sacrificed my childhood and education for sports,” she said.

Another athlete, Bibiana Kulu, a talented sportsperson from Sundargarh district, now works as a domestic help. She trained at the SAI Sports Hostel in Sundargarh since Class VII. Bibiana was part of a relay team that won gold at the National Youth Athletics Championship in 2010. With no job now, the 19-year-old has turned into a glaring example of the risk of taking up sports as a career in Odisha. Here again, education that had to be halted midway for training and grooming, has taken its toll.

A star athlete until just a couple of years ago, 24-year-old Jauna Murmu seems to have been forgotten by the state sports authorities. After a suspension following a failed dope test in 2011, the international athlete, who had finished fourth in the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010 and had won plenty of national medals, is now busy training younger athletes at her nondescript village in Mayurbhanj.

Her family still borrows electricity from neighbours and finds it difficult to even make a BPL card.

However, the courageous athlete has ensured she doesn’t leave her education midway and is pursuing her graduation through a distance course. “The sports department should now keep in place a system for all former or current sportspersons to get education easily,” said Jauna, who returned to the field last September at the Open National Athletics Championship.

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