BENGALURU: For sportspersons in India, getting through gruelling training sessions is not the only challenge. After overcoming stiff competition in their respective disciplines, they face the reality of little to no support from the government. With sponsorship deals hard to come by, self-sustaining is the only way forward. But not many can afford that. Rio 2016 Olympian swimmer Sajan Prakash is also facing a similar hardship.
The 25-year-old, who finished a creditable fifth in the 200m butterfly event at the Asian Games, is training in Phuket, Thailand on an International Swimming Federation (FINA) scholarship.
While he has earned that on his merit, it doesn’t seem convincing enough to secure continued support from the government. With his name removed from the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) after the Asiad, Prakash had to dig deep into his own pockets. He has to spend approximately `25 lakh a year on travelling cost for international meets. He barely makes 50 per cent of that amount from sponsorships.
“It’s getting increasingly difficult. The scholarship does take care of training and lodging but I’ve to spend from my own pocket for nutritional supplements and travelling,” said Prakash.
Last year, Prakash switched his Railways job for a police inspector’s role in Kerala for better support. But as his police training remains incomplete due to Commonwealth and Asian Games preparations, he is yet to receive his first salary. His mother, a former track and field athlete VJ Shantymol, who works as an APO at Neyveli Lignite Corporation, is the sole source of support for the swimmer.
“My mom (a single mother), has been supporting me. We’ve used savings and all that we have. But to train for Olympic qualifying events, you need more than that. Without government support, it would not be possible to do well at the biggest stage,” said Prakash, who has also trained for two months under Graham Hill, coach Olympic champion Chad le Clos of South Africa.
Supported or not, Prakash is fully focussed on clocking better timings in every event. He improved his 200m butterfly timing at the senior nationals in October, while also bettering the national record in 400m freestyle and 200m individual medley events. In November, he finished fourth in the 200m butterfly event at the FINA Swimming World Cup (short course) in Singapore.
Under the guidance of Spanish coach Miguel Lopez in Thailand and national coach Pradeep Kumar, he has shed over two seconds in his 200m butterfly event in one year. Now, the target is to clock 1.56.0 by the World Championships in July to get the ‘A’ qualifying standard (1.56.48) for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“I’m a second slower at the moment. I’m working on my speed under Pradeep sir and cutting down on the time at the front end under Lopez sir. The target is to get the qualifying mark by World Championships so that I can concentrate on training for Olympics,” said Prakash, who will be racing at the Malaysian Open and Singapore nationals.