New Delhi: He has promised to treat sportspersons at par with soldiers and much before taking over over as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi showed just how serious he is about that vision when he resolved the travel woes of India’s number one singles tennis player, Ankita Raina, in just one meeting.
Modi was still the Chief Minister of Gujarat when Ankita approached the state’s sports authority last year for help.
The budding player competed in just 11 competitions outside the country in the whole of 2013 due to financial constraints. But thanks to Modi’s intervention, she has already travelled for seven tournaments abroad in a mere five months this season.
“His reassurance to me was ‘you play, we will take care of the rest’,” Ankita recollected in an interview to PTI just before catching a flight to Uzbekistan to compete in her eighth event abroad this season..
It was a chance meeting but Ankita cannot forget how promptly Modi reacted when she approached him with her travel worries. After the meeting with Modi, the youngster was immediately made beneficiary of the state government scheme, Shaktidhoot Yojna.
She has already received financial support of Rs 15 lakh, which is helping her expand her horizons on the massively expensive circuit.
The 21-year-old recalled her meeting with Sports Authority of Gujarat DG Sandeep Pradhan to pursue her case for a sponsorship but how it brought her face to face with the man who is now the Prime Minister of India.
She explained to Modi how tough it was for a tennis player to compete in a sport, which demands extensive and expensive travelling.
“He gave me a patient hearing. I told him that I am India’s number one player and the first from Gujarat to achieve it but still struggle to get sponsors. I can’t travel much due to financial constraints. He promised me that something would be done.
And within a month I got a cheque of Rs 5 lakh and now all my travel expenses are taken care of,” Ankita said.
Ankita’s coach Hemnat Bendre, who was with her when the meeting with Modi took place, said the state government was conceptualising a policy to support Gujarat players from different disciplines at that time.
“It all happened very fast. They launched the policy within a month of that meeting and Ankita along with others started receiving the financial support. It was a fantastic move by them and I hope other state governments also follow the same policy,” Bendre said from Pune adding that Ankita has been promised support of Rs 25 lakh per year.
He has to give an assessment of her performance after two months.
The All India Tennis Association has been doing its bit by organising ITF tournaments for women players in India. Last year, 10 ITF events, out of which seven were USD 10,000, three USD 25,000 and one USD 15,000 level, were held.
The winner at a USD 10,000 event, the lowest tier, earns 12 ranking points while the finalist just 7.
Tennis is played throughout the year and a player who is ranked 300 or less faces financial issues which robs him/her of a chance to compete in greater number of events, thereby limiting the opportunities to earn ranking points.
Ideally, a player should have a 30-week competition schedule in a season and it is precisely in this context that Ankita is relieved that now she can travel and compete more which is essential for improvement and moving up the ranking ladder.
“Now I don’t have to worry about air tickets. That stress is gone and now I can focus more on my game. I just have to send my proposal to Sports Authority of Gujarat, listing the number of tournaments I plan to compete and I get money for my travel expenses,” the 290th-ranked player said.
It indeed is a big relief for the family too as Ankita’s parents had to forego savings and take loans to fund Ankita’s travelling.
“Ever since she started travelling at the age of 14, we had to take loans. Sometimes of Rs 2 lakh and sometimes of Rs 5 lakh. Sometimes we had to withdraw money from our PF. We are still repaying those loan amounts. We just can’t thank Mr Modi enough. He has solved a lot of problems with his timely help,” Ankita’s mother Lalita said.
She fondly remembered the day when they got a call that Ankita has to attend a function in Rajkot where she will be felicitated and given the cheque.
Ankita spent a week in Pune, training with coach Bendre before leaving for Fergana in Uzbekistan where she is competing in a USD 25,000 event, where the winner gets 50 points.
Bendre said that the biggest change he has noticed in Ankita’s game after getting this support is her fearlessness.
“Players are under pressure to go deep in the tournament when they know that they don’t have money to travel more. She is now fearless. Whether she loses in the first round or reaches the final, there is a positive attitude all the time,” he said.
Bendre said AITA President Anil Khanna had also promised help to Ankita and soon he will send his proposal to the national federation.