What happened to my father shouldn't happen to any other sportsperson in India: Suromitro Basu, sports journalist

Suromitro Basu, the youngest Indian journalist to cover the Olympics, has come a long way. His childhood experience with the difficulties sportspersons face (through his father’s story) led him to choose a career as a sports journalist, and also use his reach to pre-act towards building a better future for sports in India. He launched the "Chak de Barf Pe" campaign that helped India’s Ice Hockey team participate in the Asian championship.

Suromitro Das shares his journey as a pre-activist with Jaago Re:

“Even if I become India’s top table tennis star, I won’t earn a penny”: Suromitro’s father, who was forced to quit the sport at the peak of his career

Can you imagine a budding 18-year-old international level table tennis player being asked to quit the sport? My father was a promising table tennis player as a teenager, but he was discouraged by the society and the authorities from taking up the sport professionally. Because of the lack of encouragement for sports in our society, my father could not fulfil his dreams, and India lost a talented young sportsperson. It’s the same story for thousands of young sports talent in India.

The glaring lack of a sports culture in India

What happened to my father shouldn't happen to any other sportsperson in India: Suromitro Basu, sports journalist

Suromitro Basu with gymnast Dipa Karmakar and badminton player Jwala Gutta at Rio Olympics 2016

Anyone who wants to be a cricketer in India has several avenues to do so, but what about other disciplines? What if I wanted to become a professional squash player or a professional ice hockey player, how do I progress? Where do I start?

The deeper I dug, the quicker I realized that not much has changed since my father's era, except for a handful of sports. When I first got in touch with the Indian Ice Hockey team, they didn't have a single rink to practice on, the only one that is located in Dehradun has been shut for the past five years because the Government didn’t have funds. The national team had qualified for the Asian Championship, but the Federation didn't have the money to send their players abroad. Many other sports face a similar, or worse situations in India.

Doing our bit - all of us have a role to play in building a sports culture in India

My meeting with the Ice Hockey team made me realise that if I didn’t help them, no one would. Hence, along with the Federation officials I launched a crowdfunding campaign titled, "Chak de Barf Pe". What ensued over the next 48 hours, is something that none of us were prepared for. Notable personalities such as Anand Mahindra and Gautam Gambhir, all came forward to support the cause, and the team eventually did book their flights for Kuwait. However, the most important aspect that emerged from this entire campaign was that India genuinely cared. It was us, the people of India that wanted to award the bravehearts who were giving it their all to represent their country abroad.

Since then, we (Sportskeeda) have sent junior sprinter Beant Singh to the World Championship and funded Shot Putter Inderjeet Singh's training - all this through crowdfunding.

However, it was important for the people of India to understand that it’s not just the established athletes that need money for infrastructure. For instance, till 2014, the Bengal junior Women's hockey team didn't have a ground to play on. They shared their ground with the cricket team, who used to essentially occupy the ground for the entire day. Hence, they practiced on the concrete often injuring themselves in the process.

Sportskeeda's reach helped me get such problems out onto the mainstream, which were then directly addressed by the local governing bodies. However, we as a society need to first understand that India's athletes are human beings with extremely realistic problems. The only solution is to have a culture of sports that is supportive of sports and sportspersons.

Can introducing sports from an early age to children make a difference to sports in India?

All our efforts are just small steps in the right direction. For uplifting the status of sports in India, change has to start right from the grassroots. I believe that if sports is made compulsory in schools, it is going to change the outlook and the direction of sports in the country.

Tata Tea has recently launched a petition to make sports a compulsory subject in schools across India. This will not only help children gain exposure to sports at a young age, it will enable a slow yet steady move towards a culture of sports in India.

To make this change possible, I urge the everyone to join the movement and sign the petition to make sports a compulsory subject in schools. Sign the petition here

Alarm Bajne Se Pehle Jaago Re!

More on the writer:

Suromitro Basu

At 24 years of age, Suromitro Basu is the youngest ever Indian journalist to cover an Olympic edition. His contribution to athlete fund raising has seen Indian sports create an unlikely revenue stream. He’s currently the Content Head at SportsKeeda Delhi.

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