Exclusive! Paddlers G Sathiyan, Neha Aggarwal elated with response as they raise funds for TT fraternity amid pandemic

Avinash Sharma

New Delhi, June 29: India's top paddlers Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Neha Aggarwal are elated with the response they have been getting towards the noble cause to raise funds to help the people at the grassroots level.

The sports fraternity is one of the worst-hit sectors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The sporting activities in the country have been halted and as the cases continue to rise there is no possibility of any sporting activity in the near future. In such a scenario, those dependent on the sports, both directly or indirectly, are finding it hard to make ends meet.

Understanding the gravity of the situation, Neha, Sathiyan and Sharath Kamal decided to raise funds and help those in need. The trio, with the help of GO Sports, is close to achieving its target.

Talking to MyKhel over the phone, Sathiyan and Neha revealed how they came up with this noble idea and what has been the response from the fraternity and table tennis enthusiasts in the country.

About a week ago, paddler Neha Aggarwal came up with this idea and contacted her fellow teammates Sathiyan and Sharath to start a pan-India initiative. The trio took the help of experts who knew the ground realities better and set the ball in motion.

Neha, who represented India at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said: "Since I am a part of non-profit organisation Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), I was associated with former Hockey captain Viren Rasquinha doing a fundraiser for Hockey players, coaches, ground staff, etc. I was inspired by that and thought of doing the same for table tennis as well. I knew Sathiyan and Sharath were doing something similar in their state so I contacted them and learnt about the ground realities and asked if could give a pan-India kind of reach, they agreed to it immediately. I also discussed with some other people who could help us identify the beneficiaries. So, GO Sports has been helping us on the backend. So we identified 100 beneficiaries and the target is to raise Rs 10 lakh so that we can help them. COVID-19 has impacted everyone in some or the other way."

Talking about the response and support from the entire table tennis fraternity in the country, the 30-year-old said: "I think overall, the response has been positive. We have been contacted by current players, senior coaches, parents of players, sports lovers who wish to do well. Everyone has contributed, we don't have a big donour who has made the bulk of the donation. We have around 130-plus donours and it's good to see the entire community coming together. Its sort of like gives us the feeling of playing at the Olympics or Commonwealth Games where everyone gathers around to support us. Table Tennis is an individual sport where everyone is working individually most of the time, but this is like one time where the whole TT fraternity has got together. It's not just like me, Sharath or Sathiyan coming together it is almost everyone has chipped in, and we are very close to achieving our target now. I think in the next two days, we should be able to achieve our target."

Meanwhile, Sathiyan too was all praise for Neha and credited her for coming up with the noble idea. The World No. 30 paddler also told MyKhel that it isn't a favour, in fact, it's his responsibility towards the sport which has given him so much.

"We (he and Sharath) started helping small coaches in Tamil Nadu and it was an eye-opener for us. It was a small initiative (that) we started because a lot of lives were affected because of this pandemic and then we realised how many people are dependent wholly on this sport and their income has gone to zero during the lockdown. A lot of people were inspired by us and started such initiatives in their respective states which is heartening to see. Many came forward to help as most of them were wanting to help but were waiting for a trusted source," said Sathiyan.

The Tamil Nadu paddler lamented the fact that initially, no one paid attention towards sports sector which was badly hit and table tennis wasn't any different.

"The sports community has been badly hit due to the pandemic but it didn't get much attention early on. People were talking about private companies, corporates and daily wagers, but not much was being said about this community. The condition isn't getting to change much because there isn't a resumption of sports in the foreseeable future. And some people only get paid when the action returns. Parents are going to pay for the coaching fee if their kids resume activities, so such coaches' lives were badly hit. Suddenly their income of say Rs 20000-25000 went to zero, and that's a big loss for a family having two or three kids. So, that is something which hit us hard. We realised it's time to do something for the community," he added further.

Talking about the aim of this drive, Sathiyan said: "The main aim of this initiative is that we don't want the people to this sport and chose another profession. Table Tennis is on the rise in the country, this is perhaps the golden era for this sport, and we don't want parents to stop their kids from pursuing this sport out of financial distress and the coaches choosing some other profession just because of this pandemic. Such a development would be disastrous for the sport as a whole. Being a table tennis player, where I can afford, I thought it's my responsibility to give back to the sport which has given me so much. Whatever I am today, it is because of table tennis, so it was time for me to do something for my community and stand in solidarity with them. So, I think it was a great call by Neha (Aggarwal) who came up with this idea so Sharath and I also joined in. With three of us being here will have the trust of the entire table tennis fraternity. The support from the players has been phenomenal. The number of beneficiaries who came up from pan-India was something of an eye-opener for us. A lot of people were suffering to earn a day's meal during this pandemic. A lot of coaches and junior athletes were completely dependent on the sport and they are the ones badly hit due to this pandemic."

Explaining about who are the beneficiaries and how are they going to help them, Sathiyan said: "We have chosen 100 beneficiaries and we are giving them a sum of Rs 10000 per month so that they can take care of their basic requirements. This is a small help but the feeling of brotherhood that they are not alone in such troubled times will help them stay mentally strong and it will help them keep fighting this battle. The message that we wanted to send to the entire table tennis community with this initiative is that we'll keep moving ahead in this battle and not give up. I am really happy with the way the response has been. We've received a sum of Rs 6 lakhs within three days and we hope to make it a success and help the needy. Together we can fight this battle better and I am sure we'll come out of this."

Also Read:

Cricket South Africa gets Sports Ministry's approval to resume training

India's top TT players raise funds to help fraternity members amid coronavirus crisis

Exclusive: Kajal Dey India's only table tennis coach without hands, appeals to get affiliated as government coach