With Covid-19 bringing sporting action to a halt since March, former players, coaches, and others in the system have suffered greatly due to the lack of income. While the Indian government is working on ways to resume sports at national centres, those operating at the grassroots level may have to wait longer before they can get back to their jobs.
To help sustain the Indian table tennis ecosystem, Sharath, Sathiyan, and Aggarwal identified 100 people – including junior players, coaches, support staff, umpires and other officials – and decided to raise Rs 10 lakh through donations so that a one-time contribution of Rs 10,000 could be made towards each person in need.
It all started with some of Sathiyan’s former batchmates in Chennai raising Rs 70,000. They did it through an informal campaign in order to help those coaches who had become jobless after the lockdown was imposed.
Sathiyan and Sharath decided to contribute as well and around the same time, former India hockey captain Viren Rasquinha launched a similar campaign for his sport along with Olympic Gold Quest and Go Sports Foundation.
Aggarwal, who is a part of OGQ, then reached out to Sharath and along with Sathiyan, the three of them planned a charity drive to help those associated with table tennis.
“We didn’t know how much money we needed to collect or how many beneficiaries were out there,” Sharath told Scroll.in.
“So, at first, we thought of targeting 100 people and collecting a sum of Rs 10 lakh. The initial plan was to get a couple of big sponsors, but we ended up getting Rs 6 lakh in the first three days itself. And everything was organic, it was just table tennis players and sports lovers who contributed after word of mouth publicity.”
Beneficiaries were found with the help of intermediaries like coaches and officials. For instance, Arjuna awardee Soumyadeep Roy helped out in Kolkata and the secretary of the Bengaluru association helped find more names as well. Apart from this, several former players and coaches have also reached out with a helping hand.
“Beneficiaries still aren’t reaching out to us themselves, it’s the intermediaries who are finding them,” said Sharath. “So, if we keep finding more people who need help, we may decide to keep moving forward and raising even more funds.”
Reflecting on why they decided to contribute with their campaign, Sharath said that they couldn’t overlook the immediate attention that was needed by those who depended solely on table tennis for their livelihoods.
“Tamil Nadu and Bengal are the two states in India where even financially weak families play table tennis. They continue to play just to find a living. They could be in search for jobs in sports quotas or some scholarship or even college admission. People from lower income groups believe the best way to get jobs is by playing sports. The good thing is that these people get a lot of help from former players,” said Sharath.
“In general, though, the fee structure for coaches in Tamil Nadu and Bengal is quite low. This is why you won’t see such charitable campaigns in places like Mumbai and Delhi, because over there the coaches earn a lot more. We could see right in front of us that the coaches were struggling and we wanted to reach out and help them. When schools, clubs and coaching centres were shut, these people didn’t have any source of income.”