CHENNAI: She lost her father when she was three. Before Covid lockdown, her mother used to work as a domestic help and also used to sell vegetables in the market. Now, because everything is shut, national champion in star wrestler Vinesh Phogat’s category, Nandini Bajirao Salokhe, is struggling to make a living.
“She lost her father when she was three. Her mother Sarita Bajirao used to work as a domestic help in her native town Murgud, Kolhapur to bring up the children (Nandini and her younger brother). With Maharashtra under lockdown, Sarita lost her job. She also used to sell vegetables, but that too is not possible now,” Dada Lavate, Nandini’s coach, told this newspaper.
Lavate trains these girls at the non-residential SAI sub-centre in the city.
The Maharashtra wrestler rose to prominence in January this year when she won the national crown in 53kg weight category. The title also established her as the back-up for Vinesh, India’s top woman wrestler and one of the medal favourites at the Tokyo Olympics. A few months later, while Vinesh is busy training in Hungary in pursuit of an Olympic medal, the 24-year-old Nandini is under severe financial distress. With the national camp suspended due to the pandemic, all wrestlers were asked to return to their homes.
While a few of them have regular employment to take care of their needs including dietary requirements, others including Nandini have nothing to fall back on. And Nandini is not the only upcoming wrestler struggling to survive. Others including Swati Shinde, 50kg bronze winner of the 2020 nationals held this year, met the same fate. “Both of them were sponsored by Dorf-Ketal Chemicals India Private Limited for the past five years.
They used to get a stipend of Rs 10,000 each per month but that had been stopped since the Covid-19 outbreak last year,” added the coach. Leave alone supplements, they can’t manage to arrange proper meals. “We have not got proper diet and nutrition since last year. We can’t think about supplements. I had even though of quitting the game once but coach asked me not to give up,” said Nandini.
With no solution in sight, relatives are even coming up with plans to get them married in hope of a better future. Nandini also competed in the Rome Ranking Series in March and finished fourth. With the spot in 53kg already occupied, she even took part in 50kg selection trials for the Olympic qualifiers. She was leading when an elbow injury forced her to concede the bout to Seema Bisla, who qualified for the Games. Apart from lending financial help, the coach is running from pillar to post to ensure they continue to wrestle. “Things will fall in place once they reach a level but I have seen a lot of talented athletes falling wayside due to the paucity of funds,” signed off Lavate.