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Sporting for a Penniless Pride
"Neglect, lack of recognition and financial insecurity are perennial features that have come to stay with sports in Orissa. The sorry plight of the ailing footballer from Cuttack city is not the solitary example. There are many, both from the past and present, achievers in spheres of sports who are often meted out raw deal."
Subrat Swain : October 04, 2009
He continues to remain unsung and unnoticed. Neither the present generation nor the sports policy makers might have heard this name. Seikh Babu, Orissa’s ace footballer of yesteryears, who once wove magic by dribbling past defenders in soccer field is now fighting a seemingly uneven battle both against poverty and dreaded cancer.
This man in crepuscule of life is divulged and depressed. His stint with Orissa football team was for more than a decade. He had represented Orissa in Santosh Trophy from 1964 onwards. But that did not ensure his bread and butter. With a decent job on sports quota remaining elusive, Babu in sheer desperation had taken to butchery. Many see him selling meat on the streets of Cuttack, the erstwhile capital city of Orissa. Now with throat cancer he battles against heavy odds to survive. For laurels in football field, the state government however continues to dole out a miserly sum of Rs 1,500 as monthly pension! But is it enough?
The plight of Babu, the elderly footballer, has enough ingredients to jolt human emotion. But it has failed to stir up those at the helm of sports administration in the Orissa government.
Neglect, lack of recognition and financial insecurity are perennial features that have come to stay with sports in Orissa. The sorry plight of the ailing footballer from Cuttack city is not the solitary example. There are many, both from the past and present, achievers in spheres of sports who are often meted out raw deal.
Take the case of Sashmita Mallick. The women footballer, who represented country, is now in frantic search for a job as her football career is reaching its fag end. The dalit girl hails from Aul region of Orissa’s Kendrapara district, which has churned out over a dozen of skilled women footballers. But future insecurity continues to haunt them. Yudhistir Mallik, father of Sashmita, a plumber by profession had pinned much hopes for her daughter getting a government job in return for her services to state’s women football.
Likewise the predicament of rowing champion Mina Madhuri Topo, Women Power lifter Gitarani sasmal, Men Power Lifter Purna Chandra Bidika, Boxer Hrudananda Biswal and Footballer Mamali Das, athlete Namita Kabat are more or less the same.
From being lauded on the podium to ‘penniless’ struggle against cancer or standing in serpentine queues before the PDS ration shops, Orissa presents glaring as well as a classic tale of how it preferentially treats its non cricketing sports persons. The cricket stars like Debashis Mohanty, Siba Sundar Das who represented Team India and scores of other cricketers are proud job holders both in government and corporate sectors.
Last year, Mamali Das was selected to represent India in a championship organized by the Asian football confederation in Vietnam, but failed to obtain her passport on time. The reason was pathetic. She is an orphan and therefore could not submit the required documents to obtain passport.
Although a regular player of under-13 National Women Football Team, but Mmali is in crossroads between stadium and slum. She has no shed to stay, no earnings for livelihood. But Government has not extended their helping hand for Mamali, a slum-orphan Footballer. Growing up at an orphanage of Bhubaneswar and getting trained under ace footballer Sradhanjali Samantray and coach Nanda kishore Pattanayak, inspite of all odds Mamali expresses, "I feel very sad that I did not get the love and affections of my parents. But I no more live in past and am sure I will do well in football and make my Nation proud by my hard work."
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Mamali’s misery reminds those words of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, which he had lauded immediately after voted for a consecutive third term, “this victory is the impact of success of my government’s pro-poor programmes, that includes several safety-nets for the BPL population of Orissa like Two Rupee Rice Scheme, Gopabandhu Pension Yojna, and Mo Kudia Yojna (Housing scheme for poor) etc.” Though living under the nose of administration, Mamali still have no roof to stay. It really an irony.
How come the government success fails to give security to those poverty-stridden achievers who shed their lives to bring name and fame for their state and country?
Case of Purna Bidika, a silver medal winner in World Power Lifting Championship in South Africa in 2005, is also analogous. However Bidika manages to get a job of a messenger in a private bank to earn his bread and butter after several futile efforts to get a government job. A boxer of national repute, Dinabandhu Behera of Puri, who holds second position in All India Boxing Championship in 1968, died for starvation in last June. Whole town melted with sympathy. But nobody extended their helping hand to Dinabandhu while he was wandering penniless. Poverty and lack of financial support from Government forced him into begging and later he turned mad. Is this what he was deserving?
"After successful climbing of Mount Everest I met the Chief Minister and requested for a public sector job. Naveen Babu assured me and even he wrote a letter to NALCO in this regard. So far NALCO authorities have not taken any positive step. " Women mountaineer Kalpana Dash laments her experience, when asked about job opportunities for sports persons.
Can we hope for better? Would things change?
In 1985, the Government of Orissa had adopted a policy that one percent of the jobs in the Government and public sector organizations will be kept reserved for deserving sportsmen representing the State subject to their meeting the minimum educational requirements. But this policy seems to be adopted in pen and papers only. An official maintaining anonymity told TSI, ‘you may not even find a proper list of sports persons who have availed government jobs so far or applied for the job in Sports Directorate itself. When the amount of opening in government job is in double digit or less, then question of sports quota does not arise. This 1% reservation is a misnomer, just an eye wash.’ Senior Journalist and Sports Organiser Sambit Mohapatra say, “unfortunately, 30 of our sportspersons having notable achievement in international level are playing from other states or corporate houses. As government has failed to provide employment inside the state, the talents produced from Orissa have been migrated to other states which ultimately affects our performance in various sporting events.”
Asked to comment on the issue Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs Praveen Bhanja Deo said, “I am aware of what’s happening and we try our best to help sportspersons. However, one can’t compare other sports with cricket, for the simple reason that cricketers have a rich control body to take care of their needs.”
BJD legislator and a former sports person Subrat Tarai says, ‘ as this policy of reservation has failed to achieve its objective, government should adopt new ways to promote sports and sportsmen in the state. For instance, sportsmen can be provided facilities to become entrepreneurs through State Employment Mission. As this mission is developing specialized skills among youths to become self employed.’
Be it Footballer Sashmita Malick, Power lifter Purna Bidika or Everest winner Kalpana Dash, hundreds of sports persons who dare to think big for their country inspite of poverty, their plight remains the same. The pride that comes from winning laurels for the country soon goes bust when faced with such negligence and indifference. Their faith in the system has begun to waver.